NORMAN — Landry Jones' mistakes will not define him.
That's what quarterback builder George Whitfield Jr. told him after an interception, a fumble and two sacks, along with over- and underthrown passes contributed to Oklahoma's first loss of the football season.
Jones and Whitfield have talked ever since spring break, when Jones emailed Whitfield that he wanted situational coaching: how to withstand pressure in the pocket, how to become more mobile. The teacher and the pupil hit the practice fields for a week in Palo Alto, Calif., and Norman, where Jones participated in some of Whitfield's unorthodox teaching methods that he's been using since 2005.
After his playing career in the Arena Football League, Whitfield thought about going to law school. He set out in search of a job at a marketing firm in San Diego to make money while he went to school. But when the company owner saw his resume, she asked Whitfield to coach her son. He was a fifth-grade quarterback.
Now Whitfield's clientele has grown to include No. 1 draft picks Cam Newton and Andrew Luck, along with current college stars such as E.J. Manuel, Tajh Boyd and Logan Thomas.
Sessions run between $150 to $300 depending on the extensiveness of the training.
Jones found himself with the bristles of a broom wielded at his chest, his feet and his head. He had beanbags thrown at him and tackle dummies move in and out to help simulate a game in a “quiet, serene practice setting,” Whitfield said.
“We try to throw curve balls on top of curve balls on top of fastballs,” Whitfield said.
“He could have easily been sitting on the couch with his family … but no, this guy puts on cleats and does two-a-days and travels somewhere just to try and get himself improved.”
Oklahoma fans have seen Jones' situational testing put to work. During the Sooners' game against Kansas State, Jones threw an interception and then fumbled a ball that was scooped up by the Wildcats and returned for a touchdown.
Some called for Jones to be benched. Why is he getting sacked if he worked on his mobility? Others shrugged their shoulders. Same old Landry. He throws at least one pass per game straight into the arms of the defender.
Whitfield watched that same game with a USA TODAY sports reporter while also watching his other quarterback projects. The QB guru said nobody should jump off the Oklahoma football “plane” just yet.
The loss to Kansas State really bothered Jones, but he's not a player who will wear it during media interviews.
“He's never going to be the guy that's going to jump up and talk trash and do all that type of stuff,” Whitfield said. “He's a ruthless competitor … The guy will gnaw your arm off to get a chance to win this thing.”
Jones and Whitfield talked after the first two wins and Oklahoma's first loss of the 2012 season.
“I don't think there's been a game yet this year that he's been excited about (his performance),” Whitfield said. “That's incredible. That's how competitive he is.
“He said, ‘We won, but we have to improve on A, B, C and I've got to improve on A, B, C, D, E, F.' He's not settling, but I know how much that Kansas State loss bothered him.”
Whitfield told him to look at the NFL at that moment. Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers? They were all 1-2. Drew Brees was 0-3.
“Those are your best quarterbacks in the NFL, and they didn't even have a winning record coming out of the blocks,” Whitfield said. “All these guys have Super Bowl championship rings and they're all off to a tough start.
“You guys took your first one on the chin in a very, very closely contested game and yeah, you guys had some plays out there you want back and you guys gave some plays that put you guys in some chance to win the game. But if those (NFL quarterbacks) are going to put their helmets on and lace it up and go play the next weekend with a short-term memory, you've got to the do the exact same thing.”
What about the fourth-year starter's ability to handle pressure in the pocket? The Kansas State defender said they could tell Jones wasn't comfortable in a tight space.
Whitfield said that's a perception of how Kansas State felt about Jones.
“I wouldn't say that's the gospel,” Whitfield said. “But there is no such thing as a quarterback being immune to the pressure.”
Whitfield's example was to look at New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. When the Giants play Brady, they say the same thing about seeing that he's nervous in the pocket — but New York has one of the best defensive lines in professional football.
So how do you get rid of a majority of the pressure? The quarterback has to be clean in the pocket and confident. Whitfield wouldn't talk about the latter, though, saying it was a subject that was “going to pass over anyway.”
“To his credit, that's something he wanted to work on,” Whitfield said of Jones. “He wanted to be able to contribute to the team by being able to do that. It's emergency-type training. We call it chaos.”
As for the sacks, it's not realistic that Jones will never be sacked. It's going to happen. It's part of football.
But Whitfield said it's something Jones continues to work on.
“You were in a great fistfight (against Kansas State),” Whitfield said he told Jones. “You didn't land the last shot in the fight … This will be an interesting footnote three months from now if you can bounce back from it.”