This summer Landry Jones watched his past briefly intersect with his future in Norman. Locked-out Rams quarterback Sam Bradford—Jones's predecessor at Oklahoma, the 2008 Heisman trophy winner and the NFL's No. 1 draft pick in '10—had returned to his alma mater to work out, once again casting shadows across the Bud Wilkinson Practice Facility. Jones, who would arrive at the field to train on his own, found himself stopping to chat with the alum whose statue now stands outside Memorial Stadium. "But we didn't talk about football," Jones says. "We'd just hang out a little bit." And then the junior would head back to work.
For the Sooners' newest star QB, working hard and gaining separation from Bradford have long been twin pursuits. A 6'4", 229-pound four-star recruit out of Artesia (N.Mex.) High, Jones once called his redshirt freshman season one of the most trying times in his life. He's spoken about that experience at church congregations in Oklahoma, and even credited it with rekindling his Christian faith. "That year was humbling for Landry," says wideout Ryan Broyles. "There was a lot of negativity coming in: not Sam Bradford this, not Sam Bradford that. But he's matured, mentally and physically. And now everybody's bought in."
After throwing 26 touchdowns and 14 picks in 13 games in '09—he played only because Bradford got injured—Jones flourished as the full-time starter, with 4,718 yards, 38 TDs and 12 picks. But it is those 12 interceptions that drove him to the film room with co--offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, determined to clean up the mental mistakes on his reads and the footwork that wobbled his passes. "He's got so much more control and an understanding of what we're doing," Heupel says. "Landry's more confident, and a lot more efficient."
All of which makes Bradford an inevitable comparison again. But Jones is intent on cutting a path all his own. "You can throw for a lot of yards, throw for a lot of TDs, but all that matters is whether you won or lost games," he says. And his expectation today, as realistic as at any time during Bradford's tenure, is something the Sooners haven't realized since 2000: a national title.