In a scene that looks eerily similar to the swoon by Kevin Jones last season, Texas' Cedric Benson suffered through one of this offseason's most damaging predraft workouts Wednesday.
Despite working out in the familiar surroundings of the Longhorns' practice field, Benson posted 40-yard dashes in the 4.6- to 4.65-second range and struggled during pass-catching drills. It's clearly a stumble for a player who chose not to work out at the scouting combine, then sat idly as Auburn running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams posted superb workouts. Benson was expected to offer something in the 4.45 to 4.5 range.
"It was rough, but he plays better than he looked," said a scout who watched Benson, along with "60 to 70" other team representatives. "Nobody came here expecting to be blown away, but it wasn't a good day for him."
One comparison the scout drew was last year's performance by Jones, the former Virginia Tech running back who was expected to run around a 4.4 in the 40. Jones surprised everyone by running around 4.6, and his stock dropped dramatically.
Originally thought to be drafted between 15th and 20th overall, Jones slid all the way to Detroit at No. 30 behind Oregon State's Steven Jackson and Michigan's Chris Perry. He was the only one of that threesome to rush for 1,000 yards as a rookie, finishing with 1,133.
"There's a little bit of a difference because [Jones] was expected to be really fast, and Cedric Benson is clearly a power back," the scout said. "You can't erase what he did in college in one bad day, but of course it is going to be a factor."
It's just the latest bump for Benson in what has been a rocky journey toward the draft. He skipped the combine workouts, which wouldn't have looked bad if Brown and Williams (also considered top selections) hadn't participated. And while Benson seemed to have done well in team interviews – addressing questions about some off-field legal troubles – teams still were anxious to see his workout. Clearly, if he wanted to catch Brown as the No. 1 running back in the draft, he needed a sub-4.5 time in the 40 and to show he could catch the football.
Now he's going to have to contemplate possibly running or working out one more time, in hopes of staging a last-minute boost in his value. Not that it would change how teams are going to look at his most recent performance. Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who was attending the owners' meeting in Kapalua, Hawaii, on Wednesday, said this latest performance should be a fair enough indication of the 5-foot-10, 225-pound Benson's true numbers.
"When somebody opts to work at their place, that's what they are," Angelo said. "He's not going to run a month from now, a week from now, and run much better. I've seen it enough times now. There are guys that run at the combine who run slow, and then they work out at their place and they run a lot better. I've never seen a guy that ran at his place, and then ran a month later and ran fast.
"That's what his time is. That's what his speed is. That's what he is. You could rationalize the combine time sometimes – you know, with the travel, that type of thing, and think, yeah, he might run faster on his home turf. Well, when a guy runs on his home turf, that is his time."
As for how it will affect Benson's stock?
"Each team will just have to assess it," Angelo said.
In other pro day news …
- The other big Texas product, linebacker Derrick Johnson, had another impressive workout, despite standing on his 40-yard-dash times from the combine. Teams still question whether the 6-3, 243-pound Johnson is big enough to be used as an inside linebacker – though some are optimistic he could be a star in a 3-4 scheme if placed next to a big, physical linebacker on the inside.
"You need at least one Ted Johnson type – that guy that can hammer," Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. "Tedy Bruschi, he's not big enough, either, but he makes plays. Sometimes a guy's instincts – his football ability – you've got to take that into consideration."
- There has been some significant backing off from the rave reviews over the workout of Utah quarterback Alex Smith.
After it was highly publicized as a smashing success, a few personnel people put the brakes on the praise in the following days, with one personnel man insisting of Smith on Wednesday: "He's not ready-made. Whoever gets him, there is work that has to be done. His drops [into the pocket] and getting the ball out faster, that's far from perfect."
- With blustery conditions, scouts didn't walk away with a ton from Georgia's pro day on Tuesday.
Players ran wind-aided 40-yard dashes, which skewed some results. Defensive end David Pollack didn't run, sticking by the 4.75 seconds he posted at the combine. But several others did, posting significantly better times on what was considered a fast surface, even without the wind. Safety Thomas Davis, who ran a 4.6 at the combine, registered in the 4.5 to 4.53 range, but looked good in his drills and didn't lose any ground on his first-round grade.
Overall, Pollack and Davis still are expected to be first-round picks, while wide receivers Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson have solidified middle second-round to early third-round grades. Linebacker Odell Thurman, who is a bit short and light for a middle linebacker at 6-foot and 230 pounds, ran his 40 at about 4.6 seconds and still is hovering between the second and third rounds.
- Teams would have liked it if Michigan's Braylon Edwards had run a little faster than the 4.45 to 4.50 times he clocked at the Wolverines' pro day, but he still is the No. 1 wide receiver on the board.
Edwards was said to have had a good overall workout. He didn't drop any passes, caught the ball away from his body and looked fluid while running in and out of his routes. One general manager in attendance said Edwards would be a "stud" at the next level.
USC's Mike Williams wowed teams during his individual drills earlier in March, but Edwards apparently matched that effort and still should hold a slight edge. He met separately with several head coaches, including Miami's Nick Saban, Chicago's Lovie Smith and Detroit's Steve Mariucci.
One player who continues to draw the "value" tag from the Wolverines is cornerback Marlin Jackson, who also ran his 40 at around 4.45 seconds. Teams like the fact that Jackson spent parts of his career as a full-time cornerback and full-time safety, giving him experience as the "general" of the secondary. He sprained his wrist during workouts, but it doesn't appear to be serious.
Safety Ernest Shazor ran pedestrian 40s, some as high as 4.73, and likely hurt his stock. Before those times, he was expected to go as high as the second round, but he clearly is slipping. He likely will have to run again to regain that status.
- While Auburn running backs Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown have already solidified themselves as top-10 draft picks, the Tigers have two more fast movers: cornerback Carlos Rogers and quarterback Jason Campbell.
Rogers had a dead-on pro day, looking fluid enough that he likely has cracked the 1-2 vice that West Virginia's Adam Jones and Miami's Antrel Rolle have held on the draft's cornerback position. While it's doubtful Rogers has overtaken Jones, he might get tabbed before Rolle. The Kansas City Chiefs could be looking at Rogers with the 15th overall pick.
As for Campbell, he finally went through much-anticipated workouts after skipping all of the drills at the combine. Though not overwhelming, he showed plenty of arm strength and accuracy, and he has put pressure on Akron's Charlie Frye to have a good workout later this month. Like Frye, Campbell is still considered a work in progress, but he could sneak into the bottom of the first round as the third quarterback taken behind Cal's Aaron Rodgers and Utah's Smith.
- Alabama-Birmingham receiver Roddy White has solidified himself as a first-round pick, and the Atlanta Falcons are believed to be very interested in him with the No. 27 pick. The Falcons might have to trade up, considering White isn't likely to fall that far.
White, at 6-1 and 204 pounds, ran his 40-yard dashes around 4.45 seconds and showcased a 41-inch vertical jump. Twenty-seven teams were on hand for the workout last week.
- The New England Patriots continue to canvass the country looking for linebackers. They seem likely to pick one with the No. 32 selection.
Head coach Bill Belichick met recently with Florida linebacker Channing Crowder, whom most feel fits the mold as a Patriots "flex" linebacker with the ability to interchange at outside linebacker and defensive end. One concern was that Crowder weighed in at his pro day workout at 235 pounds – 10 pounds lighter than his combine weight. He'll have to play in at least the mid 240s in the NFL. The Patriots also have shown a great deal of interest in Georgia inside linebacker Odell Thurman, particularly since the recent health problems of linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
One additional tidbit on Crowder – he will run his 40-yard dash one more time on March 31, along with Florida running back Ciatrick Fason, in hopes of improving their previous workout numbers, which were recorded in adverse conditions. Earlier this month, Crowder registered his 40 in the 4.65-second to 4.7-second range, while Fason posted in the 4.55- to 4.6-second range at an earlier workout.
- It will be very interesting to see what happens with Hampton wide receiver Jerome Mathis, who is getting a remarkable amount of attention since a solid combine workout that included blazing 40 times of 4.25 to 4.28 seconds.
Though only 5-11, Mathis is believed to have drawn serious interest from no less than a dozen teams – particularly Jacksonville, Philadelphia and San Diego. It's doubtful he'll sneak into the first round with the bevy of talented receivers available, but it would be a shock if Mathis lasted beyond Round 2.
- Maurice Clarett – remember him? – will make one more go of it on March 31 with a private workout in Warren, Ohio. The most intriguing aspect might be who actually shows up for the event.