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Senior Bowl stars share bond with Bears players

Bears quarterback Justin Fields and receiver Darnell Mooney
Bears quarterback Justin Fields and receiver Darnell Mooney

MOBILE, Ala. – There aren't many bigger Justin Fields fans than Dawand Jones—and not only because the mammoth offensive tackle measured in at 6-foot-8 and 375 pounds this week at the Senior Bowl.

Jones played two seasons with Fields at Ohio State in 2019-20 and watched from afar in 2022 as his former college teammate blossomed into a dynamic impact player in his second year with the Bears.

Fields rushed for 1,143 yards—the second most by a quarterback in NFL history—and eight touchdowns and threw for 2,242 yards and 17 TDs. He set a single-game record for rushing yards by an NFL quarterback with 178 against the Dolphins and became the first quarterback in league history with three TD runs of at least 50 yards in a career, let alone a season. 

"It was exciting," Jones said. "He's back there looking like Lamar Jackson. He didn't get to do that [much running] at OSU. Of course, I saw it in practice, but not everybody else did."

Jones lauded Fields for the leadership he displayed in Columbus.

"He did great things for Ohio State," Jones said. "He's a leader on the field and off the field. I think that's the best thing about Justin."

Jones isn't the only NFL prospect at the Senior Bowl who teamed with a current Bears player in college.

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker played with running back Khalil Herbert at Virginia Tech in 2020 and receiver Velus Jones Jr. at Tennessee in 2021. Hooker said he recently spent time with Herbert and Jones in Los Angeles.

Hooker was a junior at Virginia Tech when Herbert transferred there from Kansas. As a fifth-year senior, the Bears running back established career highs in all rushing categories with 1,183 yards and eight touchdowns on 155 carries.

"Khalil is one of the most hard-working players I've ever played with," Hooker said. "He's one of the most cerebral guys too. I remember he was the first running back I've seen get in the film room and understand where the cutback lane was."

When Hooker transferred to Tennessee, he moved in with Jones.

"I didn't have a place to stay at the time," Hooker said. "It was the middle of the school year. He had an open room and let me come stay with him, and from that day on we've been tight. We were the last to leave the facility all spring. We almost missed dinner sometimes. He caught a thousand 'JUGS' every day and made sure I threw a hundred balls every day."

Jones, who is from Mobile, Ala., attended a Senior Bowl practice earlier this week and spent time chatting on the sideline with Hooker, who isn't participating in drills or the game while recovering from a torn ACL.

Hooker described Jones as "like my brother."

"We don't think blood could make us any closer," Hooker said. "Anytime that we get a chance to talk, which is every day—we send each other either a DM or Instagram of a funny video or something—we're always having a good time."

Tulane running back Tyjae Spears played one year in college with receiver Darnell Mooney before he was selected by the Bears in the fifth round of the 2020 draft.

"He's probably one of the coolest guys ever," Spears said. "He's a big brother, he's a leader. He's a humble guy. He leads by example. He doesn't do too much talking. He's probably the best person you can be around. He's going to shoot you straight. He's very honest."

Linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. played with Bears defensive end Dominique Robinson for three seasons at Miami (Ohio) from 2019-21 before Pace transferred to Cincinnati in 2022. Robinson participated in the Senior Bowl a year ago and helped Pace prepare for this year's event.

"Giving me all the information and insight—like what's going to happen, how the coaches are going to talk to you—it really helped me out a lot," Pace said.

Robinson arrived at Miami as a quarterback, switched to receiver as a freshman in 2017 and was moved to defensive end as a senior in 2020.

"He's an athlete," Pace said. "He's a big strong man. It was nice playing behind him, playing at the Mike and Will [linebacker positions] and him playing on the edge."

Pace is excited about following the same path as Robinson from the Mid-American Conference to the NFL.

"It's a big inspiration, just knowing that you can do it from anywhere," Pace said. "All it is is effort and energy."