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Scouts impressed with moves, hands in workout

4/6/2004

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On a day when it might have been easier to tunnel into Fort Knox than to have gained access to the school's football complex, Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett likely earned himself a bit more gold in the 2004 NFL draft, turning in a credible performance in his first full-scale audition for scouts.

The workout, in front of dozens of curious talent evaluators, was more solid than it was scintillating. It did, however, go a long way toward answering lingering questions about Clarett's maturity, physical conditioning and overall quickness in football-related drills.

"He is a good football player and he demonstrated that," said Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.

Clarett, who looked to be in better shape than some skeptics had predicted, was clocked in the mid- to high-4.5s, according to the consensus of four scouts in attendance, all of whom spoke to ESPN.com. One of the four scouts said he timed the former Buckeyes star at 4.56. The other three had him in the 4.58-4.59 range. A fifth scout, not in the consensus group, got a high time of 4.62 in one of the three 40-yard sprints that Clarett performed.

The tailback, scouts noted, also ran in the 1.7s for 10 yards.

Given the lack of access -- even Clarett's representatives, who were not permitted into the workout, sat at a local grille with some friends while their client auditioned -- information was sketchy at first. But as scouts headed to the airport or to their hotels, the overall take on Clarett's performance became clearer. The general feeling was that Clarett was more focused than some scouts anticipated and that he understood the significance of satisfying some of the doubts surrounding him.

Clarett said he was "pretty happy" with the results.

"I felt like I was prepared and, while you're probably never completely satisfied, it was a good workout and a good experience," Clarett said.

In many draft classes, his times might be considered pedestrian, but the 2004 pool at the tailback position is hardly rife with sprinters. So, while not eye-opening, the times were certainly as good as, if not better in a few instances, than those of prospects considered as the top four tailbacks in the 2004 draft.

Those four tailbacks -- Steven Jackson (Oregon State), Kevin Jones (Virginia Tech), Chris Perry (Michigan) and Greg Jones (Florida State) -- all ran between 4.53-4.62. Kevin Jones' time was disappointing enough in his first "pro day" workout, that he convened a second audition.

"He answered some questions, for sure, and he's probably a first-day guy now," one scout from an AFC team said. "He moved better than I thought he would and he had a better change of direction than I had seen on tape. Plus he caught the ball well. I could see him maybe going in the second (round) now. Probably no worse than the third (round)."

In addition to the 40 results, Clarett performed 19 "repetitions" of the standard 225-pound bench press. He had a 36½-inch vertical jump and he registered a long jump of 9 feet, 6 inches. His time in the "short shuttle," a drill designed to display change of direction skill, was in the 4.3-second range, relatively average, and one scout noted that Clarett looked a bit "tight" in the hips.

Perhaps most notable about the Clarett workout: His conditioning and the manner in which he caught the ball.

Clarett measured 5-foot-11 3/8, actually one-eighth of an inch shorter than at the combine. But his weight, 230 pounds, was seven pounds less than it was in Indianapolis, and 12 pounds less than Clarett conceded he weighed five days before his combine appearance. There had been concerns that Clarett, who opted in recent weeks to train closer to home, might be overweight, but 230 pounds is what Ohio State listed as his playing weight in 2002.

Although not noted for his hands, Clarett had just one drop in the receiving drills.

Scouts have been anticipating the Clarett workout, some of them fairly eagerly, since he declined to participate in the drills at the Indianapolis combine two months ago.

One team that does not want to be identified had a private audition with Clarett last week, ESPN.com learned, and was impressed by his performance. Clarett did not run a 40-yard sprint in that private workout, but was said to be generally more athletic than expected.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.