They say speed can't be taught. Tell that to the fastest first-rounder in the NFL draft.
Patrick Peterson is the last prospect that needs a lesson in running, but that's just what the dynamic cornerback from LSU signed up for before the Scouting Combine. Through a combine prep service, Peterson worked with four-time Olympic sprint medalist Ato Boldon, whose business venture involves preparing players for those make-or-break four-and-a-half seconds of the pre-draft process: the 40-yard dash.
"I believe [Boldon's tips] made me faster and helped me drop my 40 time significantly," said Peterson, a projected top-10 pick, by phone while visiting Denver, which owns the No. 2 pick.
Boldon's credentials shine. He won bronze in the 100 and 200 at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, then took home silver in the 100 and bronze in the 200 at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
Boldon, 37, brought Peterson and about 15 other draft hopefuls up to speed on the track at Florida Atlantic University a couple months ago. Last year, Boldon had a couple clients go to the combine but neither posted notable times. This year was a different story.
"My results were kind of crazy," Boldon said.
• Peterson ran a 4.34, tied for No. 2 overall
• Maryland running back Da'Rel Scott also ran a 4.34
• Syracuse center Ryan Bartholomew ran a 4.97, second-best among offensive linemen
• Arkansas State tackle Derrick Newton ran a 5.01, good for third-best among offensive linemen
Boldon said his guys shave an average of two-tenths of a second off their 40 times after a few weeks of every-other-day sessions. The program isn't just repetitive sprints. First comes film study of Olympic sprinters. Maurice Greene and Tyson Gay jumping out of the blocks correlates to running the 40.
"The first 20 yards, how they come out of the three-point stance into running -- there's a way they're taught to transition from down to up," Boldon said. "That's something that started in my group 15 years ago when I was a track athlete."
After technique, Boldon turns to endurance training. Even in a 40, stamina is an issue. So his athletes train by running 60.
"The first time I went to the combine [in 2010], I realized half of those guys were almost out of gas by the time they got to 40," Boldon said.
Peterson was Boldon's prized pupil. Like an agent seeking the No. 1 overall pick, Boldon wants the fastest of the fastest, if for nothing else than personal satisfaction. Chris Johnson's combine record -- 4.24 -- is stuck in his head, and he would like to see that mark fall by way of one of his clients.
"I thought Chris Johnson's record was really under threat," he said of Peterson. "If I give Patrick an instruction, I immediately see it shown back to me in what he does. It was kind of a dream. I was joking with my family, if I had 20 to 25 of him, I could rule this business. He is the most coachable athlete I've had in track or football."
Peterson's biggest improvement with Boldon may be measured by pounds, not fractions of seconds. Listed at 222 on his 2010 LSU bio, he trimmed to 210 by training's end. But at the combine, Peterson was back up to 219 pounds, too much of a difference to challenge the record. Johnson weighed 195 when he ran the 4.24 in 2008.
"4.34 while nine pounds heavier, I'll take that," Boldon said.
Boldon's brand is booming. Along with combine prep, he trains NFL veterans like Kris Jenkins and Cullen Jenkins in the offseason. A prolonged lockout may breed more clients, though it could also create conflict as Boldon transitions to doing more of his other job, track commentating, this summer.
Boldon isn't the only former sprinter training NFL clients. Michael Johnson, who torched Boldon at the Olympics, operates a center for prospects in Texas. Johnson is less hands-on but landed Ndamukong Suh last year. They're both following Loren Seagrave, the veteran track coach who worked with draftees for two decades while also taking on sprint reclamation projects Ben Johnson and Justin Gatlin.
Inevitably, football players want to know how they stack up to Olympic medalists. Boldon said he's been challenged to races by his players, but he doesn't oblige.
"I'm smart enough to know I'm 37 and been retired for seven years," said Boldon, who never considered giving football a try nor timed himself in the 40 (though he did the math and said Usain Bolt's 40 time would be in the 4.0-4.1 range).
Peterson didn't request a race against Boldon -- he's pretty confident who would win -- but did make a different offer: for Boldon to be part of his entourage at Radio City Music Hall on April 28.
That offer was accepted, quickly.
"For a guy like me who has been around the world, been there, done that for everything ... When his agent told me that, I was like, don't kid me," Boldon said. "Now that I have my ticket, headed to New York, I'm like, wow, it's not some place I ever thought I'd be."