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November 1, 2012

Speed alone doesn't guarantee success

MORE: Rivals250 | Mind of Mike

Every football coach covets players with speed, but that asset alone is not enough.

Coaches desire durability, dependability, toughness and, maybe most importantly, passion.

A concoction of speed, grittiness and lack of fear of hits is what coaches want, and it's what makes the scholarships flow.

Three Pac-12 coaches who know something about recruiting speedy players and running wide-open, spread offenses all said similar things on this topic: Recruiting fast prospects is not enough. If they don't care about football, have a desire for the game, and if they can't take a hit without going to the trainer's table, then they move on to the next recruit.

"If I recruit a guy that just has raw speed ... I try to make sure they're tough," Washington State coach Mike Leach said. "If they're just raw speed and talented, but football doesn't mean a lot to them then I don't recruit them."

Track times are nice but only play a minor part in the evaluation process for Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who has burners at almost every position.

The Ducks average more than 53 points per game, with a majority of their yards coming from the running attack. Kelly's team averages better than 330 rushing yards per outing.

That is welcome news to four-star running back Thomas Tyner, an Oregon commit who re-opened his recruitment earlier this month only to re-commit to the Ducks days later.

Tyner, also a track star, is pushing again for five-star status after rushing for 2,325 yards and 29 touchdowns on 183 carries so far this season. There have been questions about Tyner being injury-prone throughout his career but no questions about his speed and toughness, two attributes that set him apart from other running backs in this class.

"Our questions about Tyner were never about avoiding contact or shying away from big hits," said Rivals.com recruiting analyst Mike Farrell. "They were always about nagging injuries, track injuries, hamstring issues, the kind of thing that can make a stellar talent never live up to his potential."

The Ducks' preference to run means players are getting hit, tackled and piled on, so Kelly needs tough, hard-nosed guys who can take a pounding. Just because he runs a fast offense -- Oregon has outscored its opponents 427-155 but is trailing in time of possession -- doesn't mean Kelly isn't looking for maulers.

Toughness is a key factor, a major consideration, when Kelly recruits players.

"You take a track kid who runs 10.5 but doesn't want to get tackled or get hit, he's not going to be a good football player for you," Kelly said. "We're looking for football players first and foremost.

"We believe we have a system that accentuates their speed, we have a great strength and conditioning coach that can improve their speed while they're here. You can't just look at a kid and say, 'He's fast, let's take him' and I know he's not tough. You can't teach him that. You can improve a kid's speed but you can't improve a kid's toughness."

To narrow the focus even further, speed mixed with toughness might not be enough. It's football speed that matters most. Running as fast as possible is for track, not the football field where sometimes a second is needed for a hole to open, or a stutter-step is necessary to fool a cornerback.

Going up and down the field quickly might take a little bit of patience. A move might have to wait for blockers to set up. Players have to start and stop, go in motion, be decoys, wait just a second and then make something big happen, make that explosive move downfield fearlessly.

That's football speed and to Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, whose Wildcats upset USC last weekend, that is a crucial aspect of speed in football.

"You want fast guys, but you want fast guys who can play," Rodriguez said. "Some guys have football speed. If you time them in the 40 or the 100, they might not be fast but you turn on a film and they get from point A to point B really quickly whether on offense or defense.

"Whether that's straight recognition or desire, you want guys who play fast rather than guys who are just fast. If you get a fast guy who plays fast, then you have everything you want."

The market is there for athletic prospects. But if a prospect shies away from getting hit or sometimes taking one on the chin, forget about it. Coaches will pass that recruit over for someone else.

Coaches want speed at key positions. They want toughness everywhere.

"Everybody wants explosive players," Rodriguez said. "You want guys who are explosive, but also have a desire and love for football. Football is a tough sport so you want guys who want to put the work in, that aren't afraid to mix it up whether on offense or defense."

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