TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Forget the appetizer.
It was straight to the main course at Alabama’s pro day when Mark Ingram toed the line and took a three-point stance to open the workout portion of the event Wednesday.
A crowd of 50-plus NFL scouts -- stopwatches in hand -- representing all 32 teams stood 40 yards downfield in the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility.
Redemption was at stake for the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner. In a world where hundredths of a second in gym shorts make a difference of a few million dollars on draft day, Ingram had little room for error.
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Though known more for power than speed, a disappointing 40-yard dash time at the February NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis could create doubt on draft day.
Shedding his T-shirt just before the start, Ingram dropped a few fractions of a second to walk away satisfied.
Times varied from 4.47 to 4.53 seconds on Ingram’s two attempts at the dash, but they hardly evoked memories of former Alabama offensive lineman Andre Smith’s sans-shirt pro day run two years ago. Whichever time was official, it was an upgrade from the 4.58 and 4.62 Ingram ran in Indianapolis.
“Any mistake is crucial,” Ingram said. “I didn’t think I ran a great race at the combine, so I was really determined to come out here and show that I was faster than I showed at the combine.”
Ingram was one of just five who ran the 40 Wednesday and the only one among the projected first-rounders. There were more than 10 who ran it at last year’s event. Defensive lineman Marcell Dareus opted to let his 4.94/4.92 recorded in Indianapolis stand.
Julio Jones, Greg McElroy and Preston Dial were injured and unable to run in Tuscaloosa.
Jones watched the events from the sideline on crutches after having surgery on his broken right foot. The injury wasn’t severe enough to keep him from turning heads with a blistering 4.39 at the combine.
He said Wednesday that he bettered that already impressive time in pre-combine training.
“I told myself if I go out there and break it, I’m going to have to have surgery anyway,” Jones said.
Jones smiled when declining to reveal just how fast he ran out West, saying only “it was faster than that.”
His former Alabama teammate Kareem Jackson knows exactly what an impressive 40-yard dash time can do to a draft status.
Once viewed as a second-round prospect, the defensive back’s 4.41 time at the 2010 combine helped bump him to the 20th pick of the first round in April. He chose not to run at the Tuscaloosa pro day, knowing he had nothing to gain.
As a former NFL assistant and head coach, Nick Saban has been on both sides of the NFL draft tryouts. He’s not totally sold on the importance placed on the 40.
“I mean I coached Emerson Walls when he was I don’t know how old, and I would be afraid to say what he ran the 40 in and played corner really well,” Saban said.
“But I would not want to know what he ran the 40 in at that stage in his career, but he could still play football. He was the best player we had. All I can tell is when they get out there on the field, they’re really fast, they’re fast enough, or they’re slow.”
Ingram, who is training for the draft in New Orleans, shares Saban’s skepticism to some degree.
“The 40, I think it’s important, but sometimes you have to turn on the tape. The difference between a 4.4 and a 4.6 is like that,” Ingram said holding his hands inches apart. “On the football field, that kind of evens out a bit.”
Saban couldn’t write off the event completely, though.
“I know it’s a big emphasis in the draft, and it’s a big emphasis for us when we recruit somebody to try to verify their speed because it’s the only judgment that you have not to know the guy is too slow right off the bat,” Saban said. “But once you get them, what makes the difference what they run? They’re either fast enough or they’re not.”