Critics, including some NFL scouts, downgraded Jones for inconsistencies in decision making and his inability to consistently play big in big games. But the Artesia, N.M., product fared better at OU than often given credit. Jones was 39-11 as a starter, a slightly higher winning percentage than Sam Bradford (24-7).
Jones has an NFL arm. He has confidence. But similar to his OU days, Jones must prove himself.
“He's a work in progress,” Tomlin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I like his attitude. He's a good communicator. He's a sharp guy in the classroom. But like all the others he's at the very beginning of his journey.”
Preseason games will be pivotal
For NFL veterans, preseason games are a tuneup for a grueling 16-game regular season and hopefully a run in the playoffs. For rookies like Jones, preseason games could be the only significant snaps he'll take all season.
After Saturday's preseason opener against the Giants, the Steelers will play the Redskins, Chiefs and Panthers.
“It's an opportunity to show the coaches what you can do in actual game situations,” Jones said. “Those are opportunities you want to take advantage of.”
Jones signed a four-year contract. The multiyear deal should increase his odds of making the team, but Jones will have to earn his way onto the roster.
Gradkowski, 30, has been in the league seven years. The Toledo product has played in 37 NFL games, including 20 starts.
Wilson, 27, was cut by the Falcons in 2009 as an undrafted free agent out of Alabama. He's spent time on Atlanta's and Jacksonville's practice squads but has never appeared in an NFL regular-season game.
Jones has no regrets, even if his draft stock slipped because he stayed for his senior year. He helped lead the Sooners win two Big 12 titles, including last year's co-conference championship with Kansas State.
“It's more about the people I met there,” Jones said. “I met my wife there. I made a lot of great friends and had some great teammates there. That's what I got out of the whole deal.”
His wife is former OU women's basketball star Whitney Hand. The couple recently celebrated their first anniversary.
Hand was drafted in the third round by the WNBA's San Antonio Silver Stars. Because of her past multiple knee injuries, Hand is weighing her options.
“She's living here with me,” Landry said. “When it's time for her to go down to San Antonio, she'll probably make a decision pretty soon (on future plans).”
Soon after the Steelers selected Jones it was revealed his father, Kevin, named his son after Dallas Cowboys coaching legend Tom Landry. Kevin rooted for the Cowboys, including epic battles against the Steelers that included three Super Bowl matchups.
In recent years Kevin hasn't been as avid a Cowboys fan. Last April he made it perfectly clear he's now a Steelers fan.
“Absolutely,” Jones said. “He was going to be a fan of the team that drafted me.”