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Olympic medalist helps football players prepare for Scouting Combine

ato-boldon Getty Images

As if anyone needed more proof of the disconnect between football and the underwear Olympics known as the Scouting Combine, the Associated Press explains that Olympic medalist Ato Boldon has been teaching incoming rookies to do something that they’ll do on a football field only when something really good is happening, or when something really bad is happening.

Run in a straight line.

“I am basically turning football players into sprinters for a while,” Boldon said.

Boldon got involved three years ago, and he wasn’t impressed with what he initially saw.  “My first thought: ‘Oh my God, these guys are awful,’” Boldon said.  “It was 95 percent their technique.  It was bad.  And I said, ‘Now I understand why they want to bring me on board.’

“At the Combine last year, my guys did not look like the others,” Boldon added.  “By the end of the Combine, I have the fastest guys.”

Boldon’s guys included cornerback Patrick Peterson, who covered 40 yards in 4.34 seconds.

But that’s why the results of the Scouting Combine can be so deceptive.  Guys are evaluated based on how they run without pads or opponents or a ball in the air or anything else that bridges the Grand Canyon between track and field and the football field.

That’s why a guy’s time in the 40-yard dash is simply one piece of a much more complex puzzle that can’t reliably be solved unless and until we see what these guys can do when they’re lined up against the best that college football has had to offer over the last decade, or longer.

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23 Responses to “Olympic medalist helps football players prepare for Scouting Combine”
  1. marvsleezy says: Feb 18, 2012 9:55 PM

    From what I understand you need a baseline speed time to compare everyone with, so why not 40 yards? It’s a fair test of how fast you can accelerate from nothing and reach top speed . So if you run a fast 40, chances are you will be fast in a 20 or a 60 yard dash as well. Maybe the media should tell us about the agility test around the cones more and add that time to the 40 for a more meaningful number.

  2. thesarcasm says: Feb 18, 2012 9:57 PM

    They should make them go through the combine in Pads… No contract drills, but make them do the 40, and all other tests in pads.

    They wear them on Sunday.

  3. dowhatifeellike says: Feb 18, 2012 10:07 PM

    Have them do the bench press, then let them play flag football for 3-4 hours. That’ll show just as much as the individual combine events.

  4. mrslay1 says: Feb 18, 2012 10:15 PM

    I think it’s a great thing to teach kids. Certainly most football runners do not run a straight line, but learning the from until it is a instinct can only help them. Even if only in certain situations. I have often wondered why so much was put on the 40 times. I think it is for break away speed or seperation maybe. But how quick you cover the first 4 to 7 yards in pads has always been the most important unless your a wide receiver and even then. The best running backs in history were never the fastest guys on the team. Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith are just a few. Fast yes but not speedsters.

  5. marvsleezy says: Feb 18, 2012 10:40 PM

    Why bother wearing pads? Do you really think some guys are that much slower in pads than another guy? Pads pretty much affect everyone equally, plus, a lot of guys don’t wear thigh pads anymore- and don’t you think guys would just wear the smallest pads possible? So are you going to dictate the size of the pads too? Once again, you just need a baseline where everything is the same for everyone.

  6. hutch119 says: Feb 18, 2012 10:49 PM

    It is a somewhat useful test although running it in pads would make much more sense, after all the reason behind the 40 is because that was the average distance of a punt. It was a means of testing if someone could cover punts or not.

  7. ajmojo says: Feb 18, 2012 10:51 PM

    So let me get this straight…an organization that generates billions of dollars in revenue and is seeking to determine a manner in which to determine 200 or so top college football players (not the top athletes) still uses the sprint, the broad jump, and the vertical leap to determine their ability as athletes. Transfer a million bones worth of bobble head sales to the dudes at Mythbusters and come up with some real world applicable tests you cheap bastards. A sprint through resistance pads, a broad jump with a 250 lb resistance band, a brick wall to run through, that sort of thing.

  8. ajmojo says: Feb 18, 2012 10:51 PM

    yes i said determine 3 times in one sentence…bourbon has its effects.

  9. babyhorsemorgan says: Feb 18, 2012 11:17 PM

    Ato acknowledged that while his big brother Anquan is “slow as a turtle”, he has done all right for himself in the NFL.

  10. larrycenters says: Feb 18, 2012 11:39 PM

    Who cares…look at the game tape. Can they play or not. All the measureables are well and good but if they can’t play; these don’t matter.

  11. johnnythek1 says: Feb 19, 2012 1:22 AM

    Wait a minute! Is that Jean-Paul Jean-Paul?

  12. funktron2x says: Feb 19, 2012 1:28 AM

    Excellent take, Mike. I think that one thing that highly underreported is split time. How fast a guy goes 0-10 and 0-20 is far more important than 40 time. Guys like suh and anquan boldin absolutely killed their 10-yard splits, and that kind of explosion is important. Boldin isn’t a burner, but his explosion off the line in his prime was deadly (along with strength of course). big pictue takes it all into account.

  13. johanneschimpo says: Feb 19, 2012 1:30 AM

    You mean Michael Phelps is teaching them how to put down the bong for a few months?

  14. thesarcasm says: Feb 19, 2012 2:13 AM

    Obviously marvysleezy has no experience in comparing players in and out of pads.

    Pads make a difference.

    If a guy is 4.2 out of pads and 4.5 in pads
    compared to a guy
    runs a 4.3 out of pads but a 4.4 in pads.

    They effect everyone differently.

    If you want a base line, then make it one that is more inline with Sunday.

  15. vikesorgtfo says: Feb 19, 2012 3:25 AM

    Whether the time is skewed or not is irrelevant – the important part is it shows who is faster than who. Obviously Patrick Peterson wasn’t expected to run a 4.34 on the field while covering someone, but they know he is physically more gifted than the other CB’s they may have been looking at. You can assume if he is faster than the competition without pads that he should be with pads as well.

  16. brasho says: Feb 19, 2012 7:47 AM

    Running pads? Seriously fellas, that’s ridiculous. A guy would simply elect to run with the world’s lightest pads, or inflatable pads to get an edge on the competition.

    As for athletes hiring sprint coaches to help them… don’t you think that them learning to use better technique might have a long-term long-lasting effect and make that athlete faster both off the field AND on? It does. I used to train athletes in becoming faster, more agile, more athletic, and it wasn’t to be tested in the 40, it was to become faster, more agile, and more athletic in their sport. But yes, we used the 40 as a test to see how much faster they were getting.

  17. lemmam says: Feb 19, 2012 8:20 AM

    this boldon guy that coaches running, does he have a brother named Michael who sings?

  18. FinFan68 says: Feb 19, 2012 8:40 AM

    I agree with the premise that using pads in order to evaluate the combine athletes would be better. For those that say the players will tweak the system to gain advantage: standardization is possible to a degree. I have never been a stat/measurables guy. There are things that happen between the ears that separate good football players from good athletes. In the end, the only thing that matters is what the teams’ scouts/personnel people believe. If they want to keep it as is, they will.

  19. rmc1995 says: Feb 19, 2012 10:44 AM

    This is a good indication that a player can be coached up and uses the instruction to improve his technique. Technique is huge in every other aspect of football as well. Guys who already know they are fast and are willing to change to improve results will be willing to change how they run routes, how they block, how they rush the passer, or how they cover pass patterns. Watching film is nice but seeing how these guys prepare and how the react to instruction is valuable.

  20. dragonrider2300 says: Feb 19, 2012 10:45 AM

    Every year, there is some player who is a ‘combine superstar’-a guy with big pecs who lifts a lot of weight, or a guy who sprints a fast 40. Then, the same guy puts on the pads and can’t do anything in an actual game-like that Gholston guy who flopped for the Jets-great in the combine, zero impact on the field.

    The combine should be modified to include drills where the players are wearing full pads and helmet, and have these players do ‘live play’ drills with NFL quality players. The WRs would have to run patterns against an NFL cornerback, and try to catch the ball. Put a QB prospect behind some offensive linemen for a live passing drill, and have some pass rushers coming at him as he throws (they would not tackle the prospect, it is more to see how the QB moves in the pocket and throws against NFL quality pressure). Have RBs run through a gauntlet of real defenders who try to strip the football. Run a drill to see how well a RB picks up a blitzing DE. Have defensive players demonstrate their ability to tackle in the open field. Obviously take precautions to avoid the prospects being injured, but put them in pads and have them demonstrate real football skills. Padded drills would be most useful in evaluating players who are coming from smaller schools and lower divisions-do they have the ability to strap on the pads and play in the NFL? I am not sure how much you really learn by watching a guy run around in his underwear.

  21. ghjjf says: Feb 19, 2012 10:54 AM

    When will the pole vault and shot put be added to the Combine?

  22. granadafan says: Feb 19, 2012 12:45 PM

    A 40 is a good standard measure of general speed. However, only a foolish scout or GM pays a whole lot of attention a 40 time or even the rest of the combine/ pro day numbers. Workout wonders are gym rats, but not football players. The only ones getting all up in arms over combine numbers are ignorant fans and draft commentators like Mel Kiper, Mayock, Evan Silva, etc.

  23. craggt says: Feb 19, 2012 3:00 PM

    From my understanding having a good 40 time is as much about technique as it is about actual speed, and that the technique doesn’t really transfer all that well to the actual NFL.

    But if you were a NFL prospect you would be stupid not to train like this. It can probably drop a tenth of a second off your 40 time.

    Although since the Raiders have no draft picks left it’ll probably be less important this year.

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