In the world of NFL Draft preparation, a mere two-tenths of a second can be the difference between being an early-to-mid-round selection and going undrafted.
Former Kentucky linebacker Micah Johnson was disappointed after running a 4.99 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine earlier this month, but Johnson redeemed himself at UK's Pro Day on Wednesday.
Since official times are not released and scouts from the 15 NFL teams had their own stopwatches, it's difficult to get specific. But Johnson said scouts told him that he was clocked in the 4.7-4.8 range, a vast improvement over his showing at the combine.
"I think the biggest difference was my nerves," Johnson said. "I was a lot more comfortable being around people I know. After the combine I went back to Florida (where Johnson has been training) and corrected my mistakes that I made when I ran.
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"I ran a 4.9 when I was in the ninth grade. It kind of hurt my feelings a little bit. But I'm glad everything came together out here today."
Running back Alfonso Smith also helped himself by showing off his blazing speed. Smith said he was clocked in the high-4.2 to low-4.3 range by scouts
Smith said he was asked by several teams why he didn't play more as a senior at UK. He started the first two games, but a thumb injury and the emergence of Derrick Locke limited his action down the stretch. Smith finished the year with 60 carries for 245 yards and two touchdowns.
"I had my chance," Smith said. "I think I came back from the injury, but since Locke was on a roll, they wanted to keep him out there and I can't fault that. I just knew that I had to come prove something to scouts because there were a lot of question marks. I just wanted to come out and run the best time I could, and I feel like I did that."
Senior cornerback Trevard Lindley ran a 4.5, which is around what he ran at the combine.
Defensive tackle Corey Peters ran well, timing in the 4.8-4.9 range. Linebacker Sam Maxwell was timed in the 4.9's. Fullback John Conner had an impressive showing at the combine (4.72 40-yard dash, 24 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press) and just participated in position drills Wednesday.
Some of UK's underclassmen also ran the 40-yard dash, with Locke reportedly running in the 4.3's and Randall Cobb running a 4.55.
Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said that while all coaches and scouts look at 40-yard dash times, it's just one of many factors when determining whether a guy can play.
"Trevard's never going to be a 4.4 guy, but he plays fast enough to play in any league," Phillips said.
UK strength and conditioning director Rock Oliver said he's never put much stock in the combine or Pro Day.
"I want to see them at spring ball and see them at (fall) camp," Oliver said. "If I wanted to look at something pretty I'd go home and look at my wife. I want to know who can play."
Just having so many scouts on campus for Pro Day is the biggest benefit for the UK program. Sixteen Wildcats have either been drafted or signed free-agent contracts over the past two years, and judging by the fascinated looks of the UK underclassmen as the seniors went through drills, the NFL has become a bigger part of the Kentucky football culture.
"They've all got big eyes, and we like that," Phillips said. "They're now starting to watch the combine. You hear all your kids everyday talking about it, and that helps us. Our kids are starting to know what it to takes to train to get to the NFL."
■ Phillips said that Matt Lentz will move from safety to strongside linebacker in the spring. Lentz had 22 tackles and an interception in 12 games at safety in 2009. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound sophomore is known as a hard hitter, and Phillips thinks he'll make a smooth transition to linebacker.
"We needed to get faster on defense, and we just made ourselves faster at linebacker," Phillips said.
■ Phillips said senior-to-be Moncell Allen will spend more time at fullback in UK's two-back sets in 2010. Allen has played primarily at tailback but has played some fullback in goal-line situations. He will probably be held out of contact this spring as he recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery.