Two of the NFL draft’s top quarterback prospects bolstered their case a bit while leading the North squad to a 34-24 victory in Saturday’s Senior Bowl.
Jones then led a second-half comeback with a touchdown run and a scoring pass to help make up for some of his practice struggles earlier in the week.
“It helps him,” North coach Jon Gruden of the Oakland Raiders said of Jones saving his best performance for the end of the week. “I’m sure he wanted to start the game. We looked at the game as if it was two different games. The first was gonna be started by Lock, and the second game would be started by Jones.
“But he showed a lot of mental toughness. He had some tough moments — he threw two interceptions in 7-on-7s in practice, which is uncommon. But he came back the next day, and the next day and the next day. And he shows the right stuff.”
Jones, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound redshirt junior from Duke, has been projected as anything from a potential top-15 draft pick to a second-rounder early in the draft evaluation process. But he said he hopes the way he handled the hectic Senior Bowl week will help his prospects.
“Hopefully, each practice, each opportunity, I showed progress, showed improvement, and played my best on Saturday,” said Jones, who completed 8 of 11 passes for 115 yards and a TD, while also running for a 1-yard score. “I had some bumps here and there, but I think everyone went through that, trying to learn a new system with new plays and a new team. And hopefully, I showed an ability to learn and keep progressing.”
Jones, who actually trains in Mobile with his longtime QB coach David Morris, said he’ll take some of the things he learned from this week, “and then hopefully, by the time I see Coach Gruden and those guys in Indianapolis [for next month’s NFL scouting combine], I’ve made even more progress.”
Lock, meanwhile, has his sights set on becoming the top QB drafted in April. A 6-foot-4, 226-pounder out of Missouri, he didn’t significantly help or hurt his stock during the week, as analysts seemed to grade his practice performance slightly ahead of Jones.
Lock completed 9 of 14 passes for 57 yards on Saturday, including one pretty deep ball into the end zone that his receiver wasn’t able to hold onto.
“I think I [helped my case this week],” Lock said. “Being able to talk to teams, really get to know them on a personal level, that was a big thing I was looking forward to. And then just improving every single day in practice. So, I was happy with this week.”
As for his improvisational skills on that underhand throw, Lock said, “That was my first time doing that one today.”
“Defender in between us, tight end was behind me, it just made sense. So, I just took it, rolled the dice on it. It worked out,” Lock said. “But that’s just the kind of player I am.”
Saunders’ fiancée, Ayanna, went into labor a little earlier than expected and gave birth to their baby girl, Kambridge, on Tuesday in Chicago.
Saunders flew home after Thursday’s practice to meet his daughter before returning in time to record a sack in the first quarter of Saturday’s game to cap off an impressive week that appeared to vault his draft stock.
Saunders actually went to the wrong Chicago airport on Friday night and wound up having to spend the night in Atlanta before making it back to Mobile on Saturday morning. But he was beaming after the game, while describing the time he spent with his daughter and how he thinks she recognized his voice when he got there.
Saunders said it was tough to miss the birth, but he and his fiancée had agreed that he would stay in Mobile if she went into a labor because it was such an important opportunity for his career, and therefore the family’s future.
“It’s been busy, to say the least. A lot of excitement in different ways,” Saunders said. “I’m just happy and blessed that I got to go through it.”