Sunday, February 24, 2008

40 Yard Dash for Cash


You start running and stride, stride, stride, stride, stride . . . you are finished.

From here to there, a distance of 40 yards. Doesn't seem far, and it really isn't, unless you are the one running and you are running inside a domed stadium in front of NFL coaches, general managers and even the occasional team owner.

"It can be intimidating," Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Barrett Ruud said. "So much is at stake."

A slow one, and by slow think 5 seconds, can knock a prospect off a draft board. Five seconds. A fast one, and you are golden. Run in the mid- to low-4s, and you can get that house with the swimming pool and the indoor basketball court and small theater you've always wanted.

Fabian Washington ran a blazing 40 at the 2005 NFL Scouting Combine inside the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, burning up the turf in 4.28 seconds, a time that transformed the Bayshore High product from a projected second-day pick into the 23rd player selected in the 2005 draft and an instant millionaire.

Washington's combine run is legend around Manatee County.

Mike Jenkins has it on a DVD and watches it often. "That's probably one of the prettier runs I've ever seen," Jenkins said. "I've never seen anyone start like that. He just jumped out of the blocks and kept it going." Out of the blocks and all the way to the bank.

Jenkins, the Southeast High and South Florida standout, is one of the top cornerbacks in this year's draft, ranked either first or second depending on who is doing the ranking. He, along with cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Lakewood Ranch/Tennessee State) and safety Nehemiah Warrick (Bayshore/Michigan State) are at the combine, which started Thursday and ends Tuesday.

The trio will run Tuesday. They know what's at stake. "I know if I run a real low 40 it can really raise my stock," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "I think about that a lot."

The players participate in other tests of speed at the combine, shuttle and cone drills, but none carry the importance of the 40.

"It definitely can help. It's not going to hurt you," said Tom Shaw, who runs Tom Shaw Performance Enhancement at Disney's Wide World of Sports, a camp designed to get prospects faster for the combine. Jenkins and Rodgers-Cromartie spent the past two months working out with Shaw and about 40 other NFL hopefuls.

Warrick worked out in Atlanta alongside Kenny Phillips from Miami, who is considered the top safety in the draft. "He's running times that should boost his stock," said Kevin Conner, Warrick's agent.

For a safety, an above average time in the 40 is between 4.53 and 4.55 seconds. The average for a cornerback is 4.4. "Run an exceptional time and you will be compensated," Conner said. The emphasis placed on the 40 varies from team to team.

The Raiders, who selected Washington, love speed. "They may have an Olympic track team," Shaw said. "They recruit speed everywhere."

The New England Patriots are not quite as enamored with 40 times, according to Shaw, who was the Patriots' strength and conditioning coach on their three Super Bowl championship teams."(Patriots coach) Bill Belichick believes that if you have a guy who runs 4.6 at the NFL Combine in 70-degree conditions on FieldTurf in an enclosed building, when it's 30 degrees, that 4.6 turns into a 4.8. So you have a DB who runs 4.8, now he's a 4.8 guy," Shaw said.

Besides, it's tough to determine just how fast a player runs in Indianapolis. Players run the 40 twice, and they are timed by two stopwatches and an electronic timer that is started by hand. It's not the most scientific measure of a player's speed. Still, every team receives all six times, and it's up to the individual team to determine which is the most accurate - the fastest, slowest or an average of all six. Plus, coaches and scouts time the runners themselves from the stands.

And they also keep an eye on the shuttle drill, where the player runs five yards, changes direction and runs 10 yards and changes direction again to run five more yards.

Mike Gough, who runs Athletic Edge Sports Performance Conditioning in Bradenton, said this drill is every bit as important as the 40. "Teams want to see a blend of speed and quickness," Gough said.

A good shuttle time should be four-tenths of a second faster than the player's time in the 40. "That gives them an idea that he has speed straight ahead and the quickness to match that," Gough said.

The fastest 40 time belongs to Bo Jackson, who ran a 4.12 in 1986, when the combine was held at the New Orleans Superdome and the timing was done by hand. Deion Sanders was credited with running a 4.2 in 1989, but some believe it was closer to a 4.28, which doesn't seem like much of an adjustment, unless you are the person compiling a draft board.

"There is a big emphasis on the 40-yard dash because it shows explosiveness," Conner said. "Is it overemphasized? Yes. Can it help you? Unequivocally. Run an exceptional time, and it forces teams to say, 'Wow.' "

But it takes more than "wow" to land in the first round. Rondel Melendez of Eastern Kentucky ran a 4.24 in 1999 and still lasted until the seventh round when the Atlanta Falcons finally called his name.

"You still have to get kids who can run fast, but they still have to be good football players," Shaw said. "You might give up a tenth of a second to get a better football player." Jenkins knows he can stay at the top of the draft with an impressive 40 on Tuesday, he said he can do better than the 4.4 average for his position.

Still, even he knows a fast 40 time has a downside. "You go out there and run a great 40, a fast 40, and a lot of guys think that makes you a good player, when actually it may be a 4.5, 4.6 guy who is an awesome player, but he doesn't get that recognition because he ran a 4.6," Jenkins said.

"It's good and bad, but I don't think that's anything I have to worry about or Dominique has to worry about or anyone else coming out of our area has to worry about, because we produce speed. I don't know why. Maybe it's something in the water."

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