Pro day times improve for former Tigers
March, 22, 2012
By Gary Laney | ESPN.com
Gary Laney/ESPN.comFormer LSU defensive back Morris Claiborne speaks to the media following pro day.
Pro day is a process that takes hours, but for a trio of top NFL draft prospects, success in Thursday's LSU pro day could be measured in tenths of a second.
Because for cornerback Morris Claiborne, wide receiver Rueben Randle and defensive tackle Michael Brockers, the highlight of their day came in the critical slivers of a second they all cut off the 40-yard dash times recorded at the NFL combine in February at Indianapolis.
The hope is that the improvement will translate to another productive first day for LSU in the NFL draft in April. If nothing else, there were a lot of Tigers hoping for a career playing for pay. Twenty-one Tigers off the 2011 team, plus a handful of former players, worked out on Thursday.
And the biggest attraction there showed the scouts, GMs and three NFL head coaches in attendance - the Vikings' Leslie Frazier, the Jets' Rex Ryan and Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin - that his measurables are indeed better than what they were in Indianapolis.
"I knew (Thursday's 40) was 4.3 something. It was off the rail when I heard that," said cornerback Morris Claiborne, whose 4.39 40-yard dash shaved .11 seconds from a rather pedestrian 4.5 he ran at the combine, further solidifying his status as one of the top picks in the draft.
ESPN's draft rankings have Claiborne as the No. 5 prospect overall and Thursday did not do damage that perception.
"I ran a pretty good time in Indy, but it wasn't what I wanted to run," Claiborne said. "I wanted to come out here today and prove to everybody that I could still run that 4.3."
Improving the 40-yard-dash time was clearly the focus for the Shreveport, La., native. He skipped the bench press because of surgery scheduled for Friday to repair torn ligaments in his left wrist (he said the injury was suffered during LSU's regular-season win at Alabama).
For a cornerback, the wrist is not a big factor. What's bigger is battling a perception about his speed. In ranking him fifth on his overall rankings, Mel Kiper called Claiborne "a true technician," while noting that he was "not a total burner."
Perhaps Thursday's (albeit hand-timed) 40-yard dash will tweak that image.
While Claiborne helped maintain his status, Randle and Brockers may have done a lot to alter their evaluations for the better.
Both improved their 40-yard dash time from the combine. Brockers also showed up six pounds lighter than the 322 pounds he carried at the combine, a weight he considered too heavy to play with the agility he will need in the NFL.
For Randle, cutting a 4.55 combine 40 to 4.42 Thursday might help him chip away at the notion that he's just a big receiver (he was measured at 6 foot 3, 210 pounds Thursday) with average speed. A player many considered to be a possible late first-round pick, Randle entered Thursday ranked No. 55 in ESPN's player rankings, just one spot ahead of less-heralded LSU teammate Brandon Taylor.
"I think the coaches understood I was fast," Randle said. "Watching the film, they understand. They couldn't figure out how I ran what I ran in the combine looking at film. So today I just came out and showed I can run."
Brockers, ESPN's No. 14 overall draft prospect, didn't just shave time off his 40 (he ran a 5.15 40 Thursday after lumbering to a 5.36 finish at the combine).
"I improved in pretty much everything from the combine," a smiling Brockers said. "Today was a pretty good day for me."
For the 21 players toiling for a chance at a job playing the game they love, Thursday also was one final chance to work together. Since the loss in the BCS Championship game to Alabama, the players have gone their separate ways to prepare for the combine and draft.
Some stayed close to LSU to work out. Others left for personalized training regimens set up by agents. So, among other things, Thursday was a bit of a reunion.
"It was good to be back together with the guys, one more time," guard Will Blackwell said.
For the top prospects, returning to the familiar environment perhaps gave them one last chance at an LSU home-field advantage.
At the combine, "nerves got to me a little bit, new environment," Brockers said. "This is my environment and I did well. I feel like I wowed some coaches out there."