“I felt like it was finally a chance for me to take my career into my own hands,” Jones, 27, said in a phone interview of his decision to join the XFL after being released by the Seattle Seahawks last month. “It’s an opportunity to go somewhere and be ‘the guy,’ instead of being on someone’s practice squad, and continuing to take the most reps, which are very important to a quarterback’s development.”
A starting job in the XFL gives the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Jones a chance to further his career and perhaps earn another look from an NFL team. Jones had spent the previous two seasons as the third-string quarterback for the Los Angeles Chargers, but after the team signed veteran Tyrod Taylor as a free agent in March and drafted Easton Stick out of North Dakota State to compete for the backup job behind Philip Rivers, Jones became expendable.
“I felt like I had a pretty good camp, but not good enough,” said Jones, who completed 28 of 41 passes for 351 yards and one touchdown during the preseason and was among the Chargers’ final cuts before his brief stint with Seattle. “It’s a numbers game.”
Jones burst on the scene as a sophomore, when he made the first start of his college career in place of the injured J.T. Barrett in the 2014 Big Ten championship game. He passed for 257 yards and three touchdowns in Ohio State’s 59-0 rout of Wisconsin and started the Buckeyes’ wins over Alabama and Oregon in the College Football Playoff a month later. Jones was benched in favor of Barrett midway through his junior year, after which he declared for the NFL draft with an 11-0 record as a starter.
The Buffalo Bills selected Jones in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. He spent most of his rookie season on the bench, appearing in one game and completing 6 of 11 passes for 96 yards and an interception. After Buffalo relieved GM Doug Whaley of his duties the following summer, the team traded Jones to Los Angeles, where he was reunited with Chargers Coach and former Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn.
Whaley was hired as the XFL’s senior VP of football operations last November and played a role in bringing Jones to the league.
“He put that bug in my ear,” said Jones, who was introduced to Defenders Coach and GM Pep Hamilton by another former Bills staffer who joined the XFL, pro scout Gerald Dixon.
Hamilton, who played quarterback at Howard University, has more than 20 years of coaching experience at the collegiate and NFL levels, including four years working with Andrew Luck at Stanford and with the Colts. Jones said Hamilton’s track record of developing quarterbacks made signing with D.C. “a no-brainer.”
In February, Hamilton described his offense as “an attacking, fast-paced style of play that will feature the playmakers that we have on the team.” Jones said he won’t be heavily involved in the draft process, as Hamilton and his staff start to put together their 71-man roster beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Washington has the No. 1 pick.
Jones left Ohio State the year that Haskins arrived in Columbus, so he isn’t especially close with the Redskins’ rookie first-round quarterback.
“We never played together, but when we’re back at Ohio State, we bounce ideas off of each other,” Jones said of his relationship with Haskins. “I haven’t reached out to him since I’ve been here because I’m letting him focus on his rookie season. This is all new to me, too. I’m just letting him figure out the ins and outs of the NFL.”
Jones understands firsthand the challenge of adjusting to an NFL offense, especially after only starting the equivalent of one full season in college. He said “physical reps are more important than mental reps,” but acknowledged that some rookie quarterbacks benefit from spending time as a backup, as Haskins continues do to in Washington.
“It all depends on the player and how far along the coach thinks that player is,” Jones said. “It’s gone both ways. Look at a guy like Aaron Rodgers, who sat behind [Brett] Favre for a number of years and he’s going to be a Hall of Famer. And then you’ve got guys like [Patrick] Mahomes and [Deshaun] Watson that were thrown into the fire as young players. Look at the things they’re doing now.”
A projected starter for the first time since his college days, Jones is looking forward to doing big things in D.C.
“I’m just excited to play and represent the Defenders on the field as well as off the field,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a really good year for us.”
The other quarterbacks assigned Tuesday were Landry Jones, Brandon Silvers, Phillip Walker, Matt McGloin, Luis Perez and Jordan Ta’amu.
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