Darrin Simmons isn't married to the stopwatch, but he's been pretty serious about it and after his sweet 16th NFL Scouting Combine this week the Bengals special teams coach continues to be adamant about speed.
"When it comes to special teams," Simmons said when he got back, "it's the only play that every snap is at least 40 yards. So you better be able to run. I'm looking for size-speed guys."
He not only helped coach the kickers and punters during their on-field work, but he went back into the stands to watch returners, blockers, rushers and tacklers. Because of his very position, no coach on head coach Marvin Lewis's staff clocked more 40-yard dashes than Simmons during the week under the roof in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Simmons hits all the players but the offensive linemen, holding his watch while sitting in the same seat: opposite the 40-yard finish line at about the 30-yard line.
The same guys have been sitting together for years, dating back to the RCA Dome. Simmons and a couple of other special teams coaches, Jerry Rosburg and Danny Crossman, along with another old special teams coach, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. Harbaugh and his brother, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, have always sat next to each other long before this month's Super Bowl showdown. New Chargers head coach coach Mike McCoy, who coached with Simmons in Carolina at the turn of the century, also checked in.
"He sat with us one day and then I guess he went back up in the box," Simmons said. "But you at least have to make an appearance. You have to pay your dues."
The watches may come and go, but Simmons continues to be impressed.
"It's amazing to me how bigger and faster they've gotten," he said. "The best times may not get lower, but more guys are running fast. But there's functional speed. How fast do you play? It's all track speed at the Combine. You have to look at it, but you can't be over the top with it. There are guys that run fast, but don't play fast."
While Simmons's watch may differ ever so slightly from the official time kept electronically, or other watches held by the Bengals scouts and other coaches, it suits his purposes because "it's all relative.
"Everybody is running on the same surface. That's what is unique about the Combine," he says. "It's the best gauge. They're all on equal footing. They all have the same conditions."
From what Simmons could see (and he's not looking at the O-line or the defensive tackles), the pundits have it pretty much right: a deep draft with no top 10 players.
"A lot of good players, but no one really stood out at their position like a sore thumb like some years," Simmons said. "(Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner) ran well, but he needs surgery. (Texas safety Kenny) Vaccaro didn't run the way he wanted, I'm sure. There are no big wide receivers like A.J. Green or Julio Jones; not yet anyway."
If Simmons liked anybody, he won't say. He did get a good look at the "Honey Badger," former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, but he wasn't really looking at the clock when it said 4.5. The fact Mathieu is 5-9 has him labeled as a nickel corner and a special teams dynamo on some draft boards and that won't get him drafted all that high. But the biggest knock on him are the failed drug tests that got him dismissed from Baton Rouge.
"I don't think there are a lot of questions about what this guy can do athletically," Simmons said. "It's more socially.
"From the moment they walk out there on the field, you see everything they do. How they stretch. How they interact with the guys at their position, the coaches, their body language. You look at all that."
As much as Simmons covets speed, he says it only counts for about six to seven percent of his final grade. The largest chunk is reserved for the prospect's game tape at 75 percent with 10 percent for the interview and 15 percent for the Combine workout, with the 40-yard dash counting for nearly half of it.
"I think the interview is a big part of it," Simmons said. "Right now, I'm just getting to know these guys. Putting a name with the face and the stats. But it gives you a chance to get to know these guys and that still means a lot. The other stuff, the Underwear Olympics, you can't get too wrapped up in it."
In fact, what Simmons has seen in his last 11 Combines with the Lewis Bengals doesn't please him. He's not a big fan of the intensive, pre-Combine training that all prospects now go through in the six weeks leading up to Indy and he would love to see the league change up the drills and the standardized testing so that they can't prepare for it so thoroughly.
"It's like taking the ACTs already having the answers," Simmons said. "The last time I checked, football is about making adjustments. How they adjust on the move. In the last 10 years, you see how coached these guys are on everything. The drills. The interviews. You can still find out things, but you have to dig harder. It's like knowing the answers before taking the test."
Still, there is something pristine about the watch on the same surface. It showed that this one guy was particularly very fast and …
"Never heard of him," Simmons said.
He was smiling.
The 40 still counts for something.