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A pro day in the life of Cardale Jones

Cardale Jones threw 72 passes in 31 minutes during Ohio State's pro day. He gave himself a "B plus," but despite his big arm he still remains one of the biggest mysteries in the NFL draft. AP Photo/Paul Vernon

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A Dodge Charger rolls into the parking lot at 7:14 a.m., and the NFLs draft's biggest mystery man parks it a few steps away from the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

Decked out in a black Ohio State sweat suit, Cardale Jones throws on some headphones, strolls into the facility and begins mentally preparing himself for the most crucial job interview of his life.

Jones checks into the facility more than four hours before he steps into the spotlight for his on-field audition in front of about 125 NFL representatives. But the buzz is already building well before he throws his first pass while the scouts, general managers and coaches finish off their coffee and doughnuts in Ohio State's meeting room.

How healthy is the injured hamstring that limited Jones at the combine last month? Can he show off a little touch to balance out that rocket-powered arm strength? Is he committed to learning the intricacies of an NFL offense at the next level? Will he take snaps from under center?

Jones has heard all those questions, and he's ready to provide some answers. But first he's got some time to kill, so he turns up his music, strolls down the side of the practice field and ducks into the locker room.

"Am I nervous?" Jones said with a smile. "Not yet."

'Come out and do what you need to do to answer the questions about you'

If scouts were interested in evaluating his confidence, Jones would easily pass with flying colors.

Being pressed into the starting lineup for the first time with just one week's notice ahead of the Big Ten championship game and the College Football Playoff didn't rattle him as a redshirt sophomore, and throwing on the air without any defenders didn't appear to faze him at all, despite the overflowing crowd of people who hold his future in their hands. His workout was also broadcast live by two different networks, adding to the three-ring circus vibe for one of the most anticipated pro days ever hosted on a college campus.

Calling Jones the main attraction is perhaps something of a stretch, considering there were as many as seven potential first-round picks being measured physically and analyzed during position-specific drills at Ohio State. But there's no real argument about the draft stock of guys like defensive end Joey Bosa or running back Ezekiel Elliott, which on this Friday morning makes Jones the center of attention as teams try to get a feel for what exactly to do with a guy who made just 11 starts in his career.

"You don't need a lot of film to see the skill set he has," an AFC assistant coach said. "And one of the first things that really comes through is his love for the game.

"What you have to find out is if he's willing to learn what he doesn't know."

Under the NFL microscope as teams try to figure that out, even the fact that Jones and his cast of receivers took a play sheet out to refer to between periods of the workout would become a slight mark against him according to one NFC scout who wondered aloud why he'd need it. Jones' quarterback guru, George Whitfield, had an easy answer for that after going through "19 versions" of a script that kept changing after input from multiple NFL offensive coordinators and the various receivers who wanted to run certain routes. The fact that something as seemingly trivial as referring to a list of plays after six or seven throws would be an issue, though, served as another reminder of just how much scrutiny Jones is facing during his draft process.

"The questions he's getting have been coming through like a sub-woofer," Whitfield said. "One, how consistent are you? Just in terms of throwing the ball and making plays, rep after rep after rep, how consistent are you? They win and dominate [at Ohio State] largely from the shotgun, but all the polos and jackets that were here watching are going to want to see him under center. Hamstring, no hamstring, we need to see evidence that you understand timing and rhythm and protocol, 7-step drops, 5-step drops. I don't think they questioned the power, but you still want to show and remind them about it.

"His whole job was twofold, come out and do what you need to do to answer the questions about you. What people didn't see on tape or questioned about you, get that answered. ... He rose to the occasion."

In some ways, he had to rise to the challenge even before the clock started on his throwing session. There were always eyes on Jones, and even in the final few minutes before his official workout at least five NFL representatives left position drills featuring defensive backs just to watch Jones warm up.

'That's an elite arm'

At 11:39 a.m., with sparkling new white cleats, a sleeveless workout shirt with his name on the back and compression leggings underneath his shorts, Jones finally was done shaking hands and making small talk. He stepped out to introduce his center and targets by name, serving as the de facto project leader for a presentation that everybody had been waiting for all morning.

After working up a sweat zipping through 72 passes over a blistering 31 minutes, Jones grabbed a purple Gatorade and a towel and gives himself a grade of "B-plus." In all, 10 attempts hit the turf thanks to a few overcooked deep balls and a couple drops, but Jones made just about every throw that could conceivably be required of him -- and reinforced that perhaps no quarterback in this class can match his arm strength.

"That's an elite arm," the NFC scout said. "Incredible arm strength. The question will still be what will the mental side look like? I've seen a lot of guys look good with nobody out there on defense."

Jones has looked just as impressive at times with defenders bearing down on him instead of pads being hurled at him by Whitfield. He is 11-0 as a starter, and his performance on the way to the national title is evidence of his upside against truly elite competition.

There are also some struggles on his résumé thanks to his trying final season competing with J.T. Barrett for the starting job and eventually finishing his career undefeated -- but on the bench.

That's one reason the lines to chat with Jones were so long on Friday morning. At least three different members of the Pittsburgh Steelers came over to shake hands and get to know Jones before he worked out. One staffer from the Buffalo Bills had his request to meet Jones' daughter, Chloe, granted as she hung out on the sideline. At one point, even Ohio State quarterbacks coach Tim Beck found himself receiving attention as two guys from the Arizona Cardinals flanked and peppered him with questions.

Even after Jones was done throwing, one representative from the Cleveland Browns hung around the field hoping to get 15 minutes with him. And after going through his media obligations with three different networks and local beat reporters, Jones grabbed a shower and left out for a meal with a few folks from the San Diego Chargers, who mostly focused their questions on Ohio State's offense and his football intelligence.

Jones said most interviews were teams making sure he knew the offense and just "talking ball," but he was prepared for one off-the-field query that ultimately didn't come, with his well-publicized tweet about "playing school" as a freshman apparently not much of a concern in this professional process.

"I figured it would," Jones said. "But it hasn't really, they understand when you're a freshman, stuff happens. As long as you learned from the lesson, it's not an issue or a problem.

"I don't really know what else I could say about it at this point."

After answering a few lingering questions on the field with a productive pro day, there seemingly isn't much else Jones would need to answer about his arm, his physical tools or his ability to deliver under pressure.

But then again, there is still six weeks left before the draft. And that leaves plenty more time for NFL personnel to try to solve their biggest mystery man and figure out just what to do with him.