Chris Johnson and the Legend of 4.24
The guys with the letters "WO" (for wideout) and "RB" on their workout shirts sit in hallways, awaiting their physicals and their interviews, and they talk about the 40-yard dash -- the signature drill of the Combine. They talk about how fast they think they're going to run it, who's going to run it the fastest.
And inevitably, all of this talk turns to Johnson, who ran the thing in 4.24 seconds two years ago to set an all-time record and give the speed guys their ultimate measuring stick.
"That's a good number," Ohio receiver Taylor Price said. "That's a good number to shoot for. It's tough to run it here, but it does give you something to shoot for."
Trindon Holliday is shooting for it. The blazing LSU kick returner and running back didn't flinch when somebody asked him what his goal was for a 40 time here at the combine.
"My goal is to run a 4.23," Holliday said. "It's not really a competition. I'm just going to try and come out and run as fast as I can. But I am going to try to (break Johnson's record)."
Holliday may be able to pull it off. He claims to have been clocked at 4.21 in the 40 within the past couple of weeks. His best officially recorded time is 4.27, and there's a story about him running it in 4.28 in high-top sneakers for LSU coaches when he arrived at the school.
But Holliday isn't the only one with the right to think he has a chance. He finished second in the 60-meter dash in the 2009 NCAA Indoor Track and Field championships, and the winner that day was Jacoby Ford, who played wide receiver at Clemson and is also running the 40 here at the combine on Sunday. Ford was asked if he had a goal for his 40 time.
"Yes I do," he said. "But I feel like I need to keep that for myself."
The best 40 time on Ford's resume is a 4.37, which matches that of his star teammate, Clemson running back C.J. Spiller. (Asked directly, Ford said he was faster than Spiller.) Price of Ohio boasts a 4.36. And Kansas State wideout Brandon Banks lists his best 40 time as 4.28.
"Speed kills," Banks said. "They're not going to hit what they can't catch. If you've got speed, you've got a huge advantage on the field."
It also, if Banks is any indication, helps your confidence a little bit.
"Any time I touch the ball, I think I can score, from any distance," Banks said. "I just think I'm electrifying."
That may not be the kind of talk he's using when he's waiting in those interview lines with possible first-rounders like Golden Tate and Dez Bryant. But the speed guys here at the combine are all talking about the 40, at least a little bit.
"People talk about what they're going to run," Price said. "There are some guys here we're all looking forward to see. I know everybody wants to see Jacoby run. It's going to be an interesting day."
Price said he ran "low 4.3s" at Ohio's pro day last spring, and when asked what he expects to do Sunday he said, "It's going to be fast."
Some guys are more realistic. Tate, the former Notre Dame star, is hoping to beat 4.5 seconds, though he admits he's "got a little work to do to get there." Florida's Riley Cooper said his goal is 4.44. Emmanuel Sanders of SMU is hoping to break 4.44. Everybody's got their own goals and expectations, and they're hoping they match up.
"If you've worked hard and trained right, you should have some idea what you're going to run," said Fresno State wideout Seyi Ajirotutu, who's hoping to break 4.5 but is very much looking forward to watching the guys who are going to smoke him. "Obviously it's a competition, but you get a kick out of watching guys and guys do pull for each other to do well."
The problem, they all say, is that the scouting combine is a really tough place to run your best 40 time. There's an avalanche of pressure, dozens of eyes on you at all times, and the whole thing is structured to break you down and force you to perform under difficult circumstances.
"You're nervous, you're running around, you're not getting enough sleep," Ajirotutu said. "I mean, (Thursday) night, I got to bed at like 11:30, 12:00 after I was done with all my interviews, and I had to be up at 4:00 for a drug test. So it's crazy, and it's pretty hard to perform at your best. That's what makes (Johnson's 4.24) so impressive."
It's also what makes it, this week, for some of the fastest young dudes in the game, a target.