Uncertainty was always going to accompany Jamir Jones as he prepared for a shot in the NFL.
When Jones finished his Notre Dame football career with a 33-9 victory over Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28, he didn’t know if he would be selected in the 2020 NFL Draft. He didn’t know if he would be invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. He didn’t know if NFL teams would covet a defensive end with four career starts to his name.
Jones knew one thing for sure. He would have a chance to prove himself one last time at Notre Dame’s Pro Day.
Now even that is uncertain.
With the coronavirus pandemic shutting down college campuses and putting sporting events on hold, Jones has already started to operate as if he won’t receive that chance after all.
Notre Dame’s Pro Day, which was previously scheduled for April 1, hasn’t been canceled yet. A Notre Dame spokesperson said Thursday the Irish football program is still considering options for its NFL prospects.
While at home with his family in Rochester, N.Y., Jones has already hatched a Pro Day plan for himself and other local prospects. In a couple weeks, they hope to host their own Pro Day which would include the likes of Maine wide receiver Earnest Edwards, Indiana University of Pennsylvania wide receiver JoJo Gause and Dartmouth quarterback Jared Gerbino.
None of those players were invited to the NFL Combine. As fringe draft prospects, every opportunity to showcase themselves is vital.
Jones wasn’t invited to join his nine Notre Dame teammates at the combine, but he wasn’t too disappointed in the moment. He understood that his lack of starting experience would likely prevent him from making the list of 337 combine invitees.
It’s a tougher pill to swallow now.
“I just wish I would have had a chance, especially now with the coronavirus,” Jones said. “I wasn’t really too mad about it because I knew that at our Pro Day, all 32 teams would be there. I wasn’t too worried about it, but now with everything that’s happened it’s kind of sad.”
Jones did receive the opportunity to impress NFL scouts at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl in January, but even that was cut short. After two practices in Pasadena, Calif., Jones dealt with swelling in his left knee and decided to shut himself down for the rest of the week.
Jones said his knee, on which he had an arthroscopic procedure in the middle of his Notre Dame career, is feeling fine now. He just didn’t want to risk an injury so early in his NFL Draft preparation.
After the Collegiate Bowl, Jones returned to Birmingham, Ala., where he trained with Kevin Brown of Xtreme Fitness and Performance. He went home to Rochester last week to meet his oldest brother’s new daughter. Jones planned to head to Notre Dame during the final stretch to train for his Pro Day, but instead he’s working out in Rochester with Bruce Johnson of Pursuit Performance.
Jones will have to hope that NFL scouts take a magnifying glass to his performance as a senior. Despite entering the season expecting to play in only four games to meet the redshirt maximum and return for a fifth-year, Jones was thrown into the regular rotation during the Virginia game when fellow senior defensive end Daelin Hayes went down with a season-ending shoulder injury. Jones didn’t even play in the first two games of the season against Louisville and New Mexico.
Jones responded to the playing time by recording a sack against Virginia and one more sack in each of the next three games against Bowling Green, USC and Michigan. He suddenly went from redshirt to relevant.
After Julian Okwara, another senior defensive end, broke his leg against Duke, Jones became the No. 1 weakside defensive end on the roster. He made his first career start the next week against Navy in the 41st game of his career.
Through his first three seasons with the Irish, the first two of which he played primarily on special teams as a reserve linebacker, Jones recorded 24 tackles. In 11 games and four starts as a senior, he more than doubled that output with 26 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, four quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one pass breakup.
Was it enough to catch someone’s eye?
“They can see that I’m a very physical player who does his job, who’s reliable and always in position to make plays,” Jones said. “Hopefully I have enough film to show my position versatility. I can rush the passer effectively, stop the run and drop back into coverage.”
Jones will play whatever position he’s asked, but he said he’s pitching himself to NFL teams as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. That would allow him to maximize his versatility as a former linebacker turned defensive end.
Whether Jones gets selected in the draft or signed as an undrafted free agent will likely depend on NFL personnel being convinced that Jones hasn’t reached his full potential through a journeyman college career. He will try to land in the NFL while his older brother, Jarron, who played defensive tackle at Notre Dame from 2012-16, hopes to secure a spot as an offensive lineman.
After bouncing around the NFL without finding playing time, Jarron Jones was selected by the New York Guardians in the XFL Draft. Jarron Jones played in all five games for the Guardians on the offensive line this year before the season was cut short.
“He’s done an unbelievable job making the switch to offensive line,” Jamir Jones said. “This year in the XFL he proved that he’s able to do it and that he loves the game. You should definitely see him in the NFL next season for sure.”
Maybe there will be room for both Joneses. All they’re asking for is another shot.