Ball improves 40-yard dash at UW Pro Day
MAR 06, 2013 4:43p ET
Yet the number that stood out most when Ball arrived for Wednesday's Pro Day inside the McClain Center had nothing to do with his on-field exploits for the Badgers.
The number was 4.66, representing Ball's 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 24. The mark was deemed not good enough to warrant Ball a spot as a first- or second-round tailback because it ranked 19th out of 33 running backs at the event.
On Wednesday — 10 days after the Combine — Ball had one more opportunity to showcase his speed in front of more than two-dozen NFL personnel. And by any measure, he knocked it out of the park.
Ball clocked in at 4.46 seconds on his first 40-yard dash attempt and 4.49 seconds on his second attempt. Those two-tenths of a second put him back in the discussion as a first-round running back and almost certainly earned him some extra cash.
"I was very excited," Ball said. "I knew I was capable of getting under a 4.5. I was very proud of myself and just happy."
According to Ball, the key to shaving so much time off his 40 was rest. During the Combine, he was recovering from a sinus infection and was still taking medicine for the illness. The sickness, coupled with the all-day grind of the event, drained Ball by the time he was to run.
"I think just a lot plays into running in Indy," Ball said of the Combine time. "You're a little tired because of waking up early and stuff. Doctors poking at you, pulling at you. The last day they want you to get out there and run. That's kind of the process that they do. They want to see how you can work under pressure."
Although the pressure to perform Wednesday was considerable, Ball was able to run in a familiar space, which helped ease his stress. He was the first participant to arrive through the McClain Center entrance at 11:46 a.m., gym bag in hand while wearing dark blue jeans, a dark gray hooded sweatshirt and a pair of white "Beats by Dr. Dre" headphones.
Less than an hour later, following a series of stretching drills, he was the first man up for the 40.
Ball's teammates weren't surprised he trimmed his time so drastically.
"I knew he would run that," Badgers departing senior cornerback Devin Smith said. "I was training with him for two months straight. I think once we got out here, he knew he was going to run that."
Smith was among a group of six Wisconsin players off last year's team to participate in Pro Day. Others were offensive linemen Travis Frederick and Rick Wagner, cornerback Marcus Cromartie and safety Shelton Johnson. Linebacker Mike Taylor is still recovering from sports hernia surgery and will hold his own Pro Day on March 27.
Taylor suggested the turf in the McClain Center, where the Badgers practice, was slightly faster than other venues but lauded Ball for his effort.
"It's definitely a fast time no matter where you run," Taylor said. "It's good to see these guys come back and do well."
Following Wisconsin's Rose Bowl loss against Stanford on Jan. 1, Ball left to train at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. He returned to Madison after the Combine to continue training with his primary focus on improving his 40 time. He said he focused on the first 10 yards of the 40, particularly getting out of his crouch strong.
Ball also said he improved his short shuttle time on Wednesday, running in 4.11 seconds. He ran in 4.40 seconds at the Combine. Ball chose not to participate in the bench press after lifting 225 pounds 15 times at the Combine, which tied for last among running backs.
"I'm going to let that go," he said.
On Wednesday, Ball did participate in the long shuttle at the urging of Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson, who struck up a conversation with Ball as the drills finished and congratulated him on his college career.
Ball said he believed the Packers were interested in him as an NFL prospect.
"You hear whispers they're looking for a three-down back," he said. "Hopefully I've shown that in my four years in college and today."
The 5-foot-11 Ball weighed in at 210 pounds, down four pounds from his Combine weight. He played his senior season at Wisconsin around 215 pounds but said he liked where he stood now.
He especially likes his standing now that he has tackled his toughest test of the offseason.
"My whole life, people have been saying I'm not fast enough," Ball said. "They said I wouldn't be a good college running back, a great college running back because of my speed. I think I proved them wrong there and I plan on doing the same thing in the NFL."
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