MADISON––Ten yards was a very important distance to two people on Wednesday.
One of those people was Wisconsin running back Montee Ball who was on a quest to make up for his average to poor showing in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in February, a clocking of 4.66 seconds that ranked 19th among running backs and left observers disappointed.
Ball went back to the drawing board after coming back from Indianapolis. He knew that if he could just get off to a quicker start and get a better jump, he would be able to improve his overall 40 time.
“The first 10 yards is the whole 40,” said Ball. “Just getting all that down, you’ll be able to cut all the other times down.”
The other person interested in those first 10 yards was Packers general manager Ted Thompson, the architect of the Green Bay roster and the person who makes the final decision when it comes the players selected in the NFL Draft.
While a boatload of other NFL scouts stood at the finish line of the 40-yard dash, Thompson stood at the 10-yard line interested in getting the 10-yard split from Ball.
Thompson has been around football enough to know that the 10-yard split is just as important, and maybe more so, than the 40. It’s the first 10 yards when a player shows of the explosiveness they’ll need on gameday. After all, it isn’t very often that a player runs 40 yards in a straight line during a football game.
After all the negative publicity that Ball received at the NFL Combine, he put a lot of doubts to rest on Wednesday by getting out of his stance quickly over the first 10 yards and improving his 40 time rather significantly.
“A lot of the scouts had me between 4.46 and 4.49, but you know how that goes,” said Ball afterwards. “They average it out and come up with your official (time), so we’ll see.”
Official 40 times weren’t available at Wisconsin’s indoor McClain Center and neither were the 10-yard splits, but if the times Ball recited are accurate, he took off a tenth to two tenths off his Combine time.
Ball cited a sinus infection suffered two days before the Combine as impairing his ability to run a better 40. He also thought having adequate rest helped as well after going through several days early wake-up calls, interviews and medical tests in Indianapolis.
His performance on Wednesday certainly helped his cause. After his 40, Ball took part in approximately 15 minutes of position drills by showing off his footwork and hands as he caught passes out of the backfield.
While he says he’d be happy to be drafted by any team in any round, Ball gets the impression that the Packers could be interested in his services.
“I think they are because you hear whispers they’re looking for a three-down back,” said Ball, “and hopefully I’ve shown them that in my four years of college and today.”
The Packers haven’t had much of a running game since Ahman Green’s heyday back in the middle part of the last decade, instead relying on the arm of Aaron Rodgers and the passing attack.
Currently on the Packers roster at running back are DuJuan Harris and a bunch of other question marks. Harris ended the 2012 season on a roll with a good late-season run, but there are questions about his ability to carry the load with a frame that’s 5-8 and 203 lbs.
Also under contract are Alex Green and James Starks, but each of them missed time last year due to injury and neither was overly impressive.
Aging veterans Cedric Benson and Ryan Grant are both scheduled to become free agents at the start of the new league year, and neither has a spot guaranteed in Green Bay next season.
So perhaps there’s an opening for Ball. To hear the Badgers running back tell it, Thompson apparently likes what he sees.
“He just talked to me about all the good stuff that I’ve been doing on tape,” said Ball. “He said, ‘You know how to play football. You’ve been doing the right things.’ And he’s very excited about it.”
As to what round the Packers would invest a draft choice into Ball, it’s all speculation at this point. But if Wednesday’s workout is any indication, he may have just climbed a little higher up draft boards than anyone thought after the NFL Combine.
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.