PITTSBURG — Taiwan Jones didn't wear a suit and tie to the most important job interview of his life Thursday morning.
In fact, for several moments, he was bare-chested.
It all began about 10 a.m. in a cramped exercise room at Los Medanos Junior College. NFL scouts and a few assistant coaches ringed the room and Jones, a speedy running back from Eastern Washington University, stood near the center. Beside Jones was Marv Sunderland, a gray-haired scout from the Tennessee Titans who held a tape measure.
As Sunderland called out numbers, the scouts scribbled, filling in the details of Jones' resume.
Jones offered his hand. "Eight-and-a-half hand," Sunderland announced. Scribble.
Jones splayed out his arms. "Twenty-nine and five-eighths on the right ... his elbow doesn't straighten all the way," Sunderland said. Scribble.
There was more. Jones' wingspan (71 1/8 inches). His height (6 feet, 7/8 inch).
And, finally, his weight. For this, Jones, prior to stepping on a scale, took off his shirt to reveal 196 pounds of washboard abs and barrel chest.
The evaluators stared, presumably approvingly, and then scribbled.
Welcome to an NFL pro day, which, in effect, provides job interviews for college prospects in the weeks leading up to the three-day NFL draft, which begins April 28. From Columbus to Corvallis, NFL evaluators flock to college towns to poke, prod and grade players they might consider employing in the not-too-distant future.
For many prospects, the process begins in late January at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and continues at the NFL Combine in late February. Then come the pro days, which began March 3 and ended, essentially, on April 7 with events for prospects at Notre Dame and Jacksonville State.
This brings us back to Jones, who was late to the party due a broken left foot he suffered in December. He was invited to the combine, but wasn't healthy enough to run. He also missed Eastern Washington's pro day on April 1.
After rushing for 1,319 yards and averaging a gaudy 7.9 yards a carry as a junior this past season, he might be one of the electrifying and fastest running backs in the draft. But that assessment is based on what scouts have seen on tape.
The question on Thursday: Will he have the same game-changing speed he possessed prior to his injury?
To get the answer, 27 NFL teams sent out representatives to Pittsburg, near Jones' hometown of Antioch, for the one-man pro day. The 49ers, who have declared they are in the market for a third running back, sent director of player personnel Tom Gamble and running backs coach Tom Rathman to see Jones test his foot with a series of drills that included the vertical jump, broad jump and, most importantly, the 40-yard dash.
If the scouts were anxious to finally see Jones in action, so was the star of the day, who, despite his injury, began prepping for his pro day three months ago. In January, he left for Los Angeles to train at Athletes' Performance with NFL stars such as Terrell Owens and sure-fire first-round picks such as Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green.
Thanks to a strict 3,500-calorie-a-day diet and plenty of perspiration — five hours devoted to working out and rehab, six days a week — Jones added 18 pounds to his 178-pound frame.
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