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Khalen Saunders: 320-pound acrobat, impending father

MOBILE, Ala. – Khalen Saunders thought he’d spend these days at the Senior Bowl talking about his backflips. The 320-pound defensive lineman from Western Illinois gained a measure of fame last week when a video of his surprisingly athletic acrobatics went viral (with the help of a tweet from ESPN’s Adam Schefter).

Instead, Saunders drew attention Tuesday for another reason: His fiancée, Ayanna, was admitted to a hospital in Chicago on Monday ready to deliver their daughter. He found out about it when he saw a SnapChat of Ayanna wearing a gown in the hospital bed.

The baby was not due until later this month, and Saunders thought he could participate in the Senior Bowl and make it back for the birth. Instead, he’s had to choose between them.

And he’s chosen football.

“I obviously would love to be there with my baby girl,” Saunders said. “I really wish I could. All of this is for her. All of this is for my fiancée and my mom and for my family. That’s the biggest reason I wanted to stay.”

Saunders said that plan might change. He might stick around for a few days of practice and meetings and then skip the game. But for now, he’s remaining in Mobile, FaceTiming with the hospital room as often as he can, and waiting to see what happens.

As for the backflips, Saunders said: “I don’t want to be known as a gymnast.”

He solved that problem.

Sizing up Kyler Murray

Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who is coaching the North team this week, said he always had certain physical standards to evaluate quarterbacks back in the day.

“I used to have a prototype for hand size, height, arm length, all that stuff,” he said when asked how important stature is at the position. “I used to think that a lot until I saw Drew Brees twice a year in Tampa. Then I met Russell Wilson coming out of N.C. State. And now I’m watching this kid (Kyler) Murray out of Oklahoma and I am putting away all the prototypes that I once had.”

Murray, the Heisman Trophy winner listed at 5-10 but probably shorter, is not at the Senior Bowl, but he is clearly on the minds of NFL coaches and scouts as they go through their pre-draft evaluations. Murray, who also was drafted by the Oakland A’s to play baseball, declared for the NFL Draft earlier this month.

Gruden did not seem to think Murray’s lack of size will hurt him in April.

“We’re looking for guys who can play and do a lot of different things,” he said. “They come in all shapes and sizes nowadays.”

Senior moments

How deep do NFL teams dig into a player’s past? Missouri QB Drew Lock said he was surprised in one interview to be asked about a blemish on his high school transcript. He had to admit he was caught cheating on a ninth-grade geometry test … DE Jaylon Ferguson of Louisiana Tech, the FBS’s all-time leader in sacks with 45, said he interviewed briefly with the Giants on Monday. They asked him how he would like living in New York after spending his whole life in Louisiana. “I’m really country,” he said, “but the football field is still the football field.” Ferguson said he also had an interview planned with the Jets. Both teams are likely looking for pass rushers … Tuesday’s practices were in sometimes rainy conditions. With heavier rain in the forecast, Wednesday's were moved indoors at the University of South Alabama … While the focus of the Senior Bowl is on the college athletes, it was hard to escape NFL talk among the scouts and coaches, especially about the Saints’ loss to the Rams in the NFC title game and the non-call on a blatant pass interference that played into that result. “I talked to Sean Payton (Monday),” Gruden said. “It’s a disappointing way to lose a game, but I don’t know what the ramifications of that are going to be.” Niners coach Kyle Shanahan, coaching the South, said he’d like to see the league allow all plays to be reviewable. “When things are obvious and everyone in the world knows it,” he said, “we should be able to make it right.”

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