The 40 takes the spotlight |

The 40 takes the spotlight

INDIANAPOLIS ” Mike Williams ran. Matt Jones ran fast. Jerome Mathis ran very fast.

Maurice Clarett ran, but looked as though he was walking.

Oh, what 120 feet can do for a football career.

The NFL combine is all about interviews, physicals and drills. But the focal point always is the 40-yard dash that many ” but hardly all ” prospects run.

During the weekend, Williams, who originally said he would pass on the 40, changed his mind and ran a pair of 4.59s. Not great for a wide receiver, but at least Williams put himself on the line and produced a time, something several other wideouts didn’t. Including the top player at the position, Michigan’s Braylon Edwards.

But many did perform ” and perform well.

“It was good to see Mike out there running,” Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said of the Southern Cal receiver who sat out last season in the fallout from Clarett’s failed legal challenge go the draft. “It’s great for the clubs to see so many guys running.”

Williams wants to play wide receiver in the pros, although some teams believe he could be a tight end or H-back. Two definite wideouts, Miami’s Roscoe Parrish and Oklahoma’s Mark Clayton, ran swift 4.43s.

“Clayton earned himself a lot of money by doing that,” NFL draft expert Gil Brandt said.

Mathis, who played at Hampton in Virginia, was the fastest wideout at 4.32. Brandt and Cowboys coach Bill Parcells caught him in an incredible 4.25, which would have broken the best registered combine time of 4.28 by Deion Sanders.

That time could shoot Mathis’ value way up. A small college All-American, Mathis certainly improved his stock. He already had a big Gridiron Classic, scoring on a 26-yard reception and a 38-yard run off a reverse. Mathis had 108 yards of total offense in that game.

Jones has become an intriguing prospect. A quarterback at Arkansas, where he also played basketball, his 4.41 time was the fastest ever by a quarterback at the combine.

“Very impressive,” Fisher said.

Jones is looked at as a wideout or an H-back by many pro teams. He apparently has very good hands, too.

Of the true QBs, former Florida State player Adrian McPherson ran a 4.72 before he tweaked his quadriceps. That was the quickest at the position.

Courtney Roby of Indiana sped to a 4.36 to trail Mathis among wideouts.

All of them would have left Clarett in the dust. The former Ohio State sensation ” for one year at least ” badly set back his cause with slow 40s. His best was in the 4.75 range, with no official time released because he wasn’t in the top five in his running backs group.

While fellow running backs J.J. Arrington and Ronnie Brown were running very quickly, impressing scouts and personnel directors, Clarett botched his opportunity.

“It was a rough one,” Clarett told NFL Network. “I’ve been working so long to get to this day, doing better at practice, and I kind of mess it up. I’m frustrated. I’ve been working a long time, waking up at 5:30 and going back at 12:30 and then at 7 o’clock, and I totally busted.”

He certainly didn’t make any teams think about drafting him in a big-money slot. Instead, he claimed he aced the interview sessions with the teams, then bungled the physical stuff.

“A lot of coaches said I was a lot more humble and approachable,” he said. “I thought they’d ask a lot more about what happened in the past.”

Such as challenging the league’s draft rules in court, winning early, then seeing an appellate court overturn the decision, making him ineligible for the 2004 selections after he missed the ’03 season under Ohio State suspension.

Or pleading guilty to lying on a police report after claiming $10,000 in merchandise was stolen from his car.

Or accepting benefits in college to which he was not entitled.

Or accusing Ohio State of arranging for a no-work job and providing improper academic aid.

Or showing up unprepared for last year’s combine.

Or not playing football in ’04, either.

Those things are on his resume, however. So is his spotty workout Saturday in which he skipped several drills after his slow run.

“I think we were all as disappointed in his time as he was,” Titans general manager Floyd Reese said. “It looks like he’s in better shape than last year. It wasn’t quite what he hoped when he ran 40s. And it doesn’t help when guys around him run 4.4s.”

Including a quarterback.

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