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Mario Alford's pro day wowed the Bengals

CINCINNATI -- Gather around, it's story time.

How did the barely 5-foot-8, 180-pound Mario Alford become a prime pre-draft target for the Cincinnati Bengals?

Because of his pro day.

From running routes to how he caught passes to the way he performed in on-field tests, Alford had what the Bengals felt was an impressive overall day at West Virginia in March.

One member of the Bengals' scouting party who was there said the team was most impressed with the way he performed during a series of 40-yard sprints. By the end of them, the Bengals convinced themselves if Alford was on the big board in the later rounds, they had to pounce on him.

Cincinnati's coaches knew there was a chance the mid-round projections many outsiders had on Alford early in the draft process probably wouldn't stand because so many teams would be turned off by his size. So they had a hunch he'd be a late Day 3 selection.

They were right, because as you now know, they ultimately were the ones who took the Greenville, Georgia, native in the seventh round Saturday. Alford was the 238th overall pick.

Get this. During the 40-yard timing session, Alford ran three times. If you're thinking, "But I thought players were only permitted to run the 40 two times at a pro day?" you're right.

After blazing through a first trial run that had most team scouts murmuring among themselves about getting 4.31-second readings on their stopwatches, Alford stepped up to the line for his second run, trying to better the 4.31 and the 4.43 time he had at the combine.

He dug his feet into the turf. And took off.

The coach conducting the exercise didn't like the way Alford had started. So he started yelling. He wanted Alford back to the starting line to start over.

But the speedy receiver/kick returner was having none of that.

As if wearing massive noise-canceling headphones around his ears, Alford ignored the coach's pleas and kept sprinting toward the end line. Most scouts hadn't stopped their watches. By the time Alford crossed the finish, many of them murmured again among themselves.

He had run a 4.27.

Still, because of the false start, Alford was forced into running one more time to ensure he really was at a 4.27 and that he didn't shave a couple of milliseconds because of the favorable start.

On the third try, with a clean start, Alford dashed by scouts even faster than he did the first two times. The Bengals looked down at their watches: 4.25 seconds.

It was one of the fastest times any player had posted during this year's pre-draft process. Miami's Phillip Dorsett also ran a 4.25 a couple of weeks later at his pro day in Coral Gables, Florida. Alford said on a conference call with Bengals reporters Saturday that his 4.25 was the fastest 40 he's ever recorded.

What most impressed the Bengals' scouting crew was he got faster the more he ran. It was a subtle sign the "high motor" term you hear bandied about too often this time of year really existed within Alford.

If the rookie makes the team coming out of training camp, he probably won't have many regular-season receptions. But the Bengals feel comfortable using him at any of the receiver positions and getting him in space. He also has clear return ability, as his two kickoff returns for touchdowns indicate.