COSTA MESA, Calif. — Cardale Jones is already adjusting splendidly to his first few days in Southern California. He’s soaking in the summer sun at practice and asking fans on Twitter for the best sushi restaurants around Costa Mesa.
He’ll probably need a bit longer to get used to playing quarterback alongside Philip Rivers with the Los Angeles Chargers.
“He’s the only guy I’ve ever met — a celebrity, athlete, however you want to put it — I got star-struck around,” Jones said after his first practice with the Chargers.
Jones met the Chargers star last year while he was preparing for the NFL draft in workouts alongside Stephen Rivers, Philip’s younger brother. When Philip showed up to speak with Stephen, Jones immediately realized he was in the presence of a role model.
“Because of how attentive to detail he is about his craft, that’s what I want to be one day,” Jones said. “If I even touch half of that, I’ll be a pretty good player. He’s just a guy that it feels good that I can look over to my right in the room and ask him any question, and he’s going to have the answer and more for me.”
Los Angeles acquired Jones from the Buffalo Bills last week on the eve of training camp, dealing a conditional seventh-round draft pick for the right to take a long look at the tall, talented passer from Ohio State. Jones famously led the Buckeyes to the national championship by starting the final three games of the 2014 season.
He spent his rookie season on the Bills’ bench, but played in the season finale after Anthony Lynn took over as their interim coach. Lynn then landed the Chargers’ head coaching job, and he gave his approval for Los Angeles’ interest in the powerful prospect.
“He’s young, he’s got a strong arm, and he’s more mobile than what people give him credit for,” Lynn said. “And he’s been a winner. He was a winner in college, and I had a chance to spend a year with him last year. I just think he’s a good fit.”
Jones knows he is competing for one of the least busy jobs in football — at least in recent years. Rivers has started 176 consecutive regular-season games since winning the job in 2006, and the 35-year-old star doesn’t show many signs of slowing down.
Rivers welcomes the chance to work alongside new players like Jones.
“These guys, some of them were in grade school, middle school when I was playing here,” Rivers said. “It’s good to be around them, get to know them, see what makes them tick.'”
Kellen Clemens has been Rivers’ backup for the past three seasons, but has thrown 10 passes during that stretch. The Chargers didn’t even carry a third quarterback for the past two seasons, and it’s unclear whether they plan to do it this year.
Jones’ training camp performance might be the decisive factor in the Chargers’ decision to carry three passers, so he has every reason to get up to speed quickly.
Although Jones is still learning the playbook, the Chargers have already thrown him into competition during the first two days of training camp. He has participated in the team portions of drills, throwing a pick-6 during one segment but also making several solid completions, including a pair of deep balls.
The trade caught Jones by surprise, but he is adjusting on the fly. If he earns a role with the Chargers this season, he expects he’ll be even happier about the move when the calendar flips to winter and the sunny weather stays the same.
“I got drafted by Buffalo, so I had a soft spot for them,” Jones said. “But on the flip side, I’m going to be in the same room with a Hall of Famer, and being with a coach I’m familiar with, being with players I’m familiar with. It was mixed emotions, but I’m glad I’m here.”