AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — The Cardale Jones relaunch campaign is cranking up.
He still looks and sounds like an NFL quarterback. He still believes in himself, despite what doubters think, and now he’s back in Indianapolis ready to prove his future is as promising as everyone once thought.
One year after putting his pro career on hold so he could return to Ohio State, Jones has finally arrived at the league’s annual scouting combine — minus some of the buzz.
“I can’t wait to shock ‘em,” Jones said Thursday.
There’s no doubt about Jones’ wow factor.
At 6-foot-5, 253 pounds, he is the heaviest quarterback in town. His arm is so strong, the Buckeyes nicknamed him “12 Gauge.” And after helping Ohio State fend off archrival Michigan in his first significant college action in 2014, all Jones did was win the Big Ten title game, a national semifinal and the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game in his first three starts.
The incredible feat — beating Michigan, Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon — set off a debate whether a three-game starter should consider leaving school early and jumping straight to the NFL.
Early projections had him rated among the top five quarterbacks in the 2015 draft, but Jones turned down the chance anyway.
Nothing has been the same since.
Despite beating out J.T. Barrett for the starting job in camp, Jones was benched after starting the season 7-0, and his draft stock has steadily slid. He’s not expected to go in the first round and may not be taken until the third and final day of the April draft.
“Would he have gone higher last year than this year? Yes, because of the momentum of winning a national championship,” said quarterbacks guru and ESPN analyst George Whitfield, who has been working with Jones. “Is he better off for returning? Yes. This year was more about being a front-line quarterback, they (defenses) know about you and their scouting reports are all about you.”
Granted that may be Whitfield’s hard sales pitch. But even Whitfield understands there is only one way Jones can recoup his losses: with a series of impressive performances between now and the draft
It could happen.
Jones plans to participate in drills when the quarterbacks take the field Saturday, the same field that Jones emerged as a rising star 14 months ago in the most lopsided rout in Big Ten championship history.
Back then, Jones was just trying to prove he could start in the NFL. This time, Jones will draw plenty of attention from decision makers all across this quarterback-hungry league.
Whitfield even compares Jones to another star quarterback he helped train for the draft, Cam Newton.
“I’m not saying he is Cam, but both guys are monsters (physically),” Whitfield said. “(Cardale) played 11 games, won all 11 and a national championship. (Cam) started 12 games, won all 12 and a national championship.”
The only thing that really matters, though, is how NFL decision makers evaluate Jones.
“You look at the junior year or the sophomore year, and really, you look at every year he has played,” San Diego Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said. “Really, you like to see them stay four years and mature mentally, both on and off the field.”
If Jones has learned anything over the past couple of seasons, it may be how to handle questions. When asked Thursday about some questionable Twitter posts, including one that questioned why college athletes should take classes, Jones acknowledged he has toned down the quips on social media.
When asked about being 3 pounds heavier than his listed weight at Ohio State, Jones insisted it will help him shake off tacklers instead of slowing him down.
When asked if he had any regrets turning down the NFL last season, Jones repeatedly said the additional experience helped.
“What I gained this past year, the size, the ability and my knowledge of the game (will help),” Jones said. “And my smarts, I don’t think I get a lot of credit for how cerebral I am as a quarterback. … Only time will tell.”
Whitfield believes his pupil will have a starring role Saturday.
“Now you’ll get reminded of how special he is,” Whitfield said. “You’ll bring him in and let him compete on the arena floor with all the other kids and see what he can do.”