Bruce Arians has said it. So has his general manager.
It's an adage as old as the NFL -- You can't teach speed.
But on March 6, the Arizona Cardinals hired two-time Olympic gold medalist hurdler Roger Kingdom to be the team's speed coach. Apparently, you can teach it.
“Through improved mechanics and strength work you can teach speed,” Kingdom said. “Depending on where the guys are within their genetic makeup is going to determine how much better they get. If they already maxed out in their genetic makeup, then teaching them speed and so forth will help them become more efficient and consistent right where they are.”
Teaching speed, Kingdom said, is easier than people think.
First, it's about mechanics. Fix a player's fundamentals and he'll naturally get faster, Kingdom said, especially if he's either on the bottom or tapped out his genetic makeup. And Kingdom didn't just talk about shaving a few milliseconds off -- he said a player could go from a 4.5-second 40-yard dash to low 4.4 or even high 4.3-seconds.
Once the mechanics are fixed, Kingdom said his job gets even easier.
Football players, Kingdom added, work in a lactate threshold.
“Everything that they do, in other words, is anaerobic and done within a six-second interval,” Kingdom said. “And the average play takes about three-point-something seconds. That's why I said it's easy. All I have to do is create short, explosive workouts that's going to help these guys be faster and quicker.”
Those workouts will consist of drills that will re-train the players' central nervous system “just like training a kid how to walk all over again.”
While it's easy to Kingdom, making players faster is a process, he said.
The next step is getting them aligned and once that happens, players start running more efficiently. Once they have an efficient foundation, Kingdom and the Cardinals strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris will start them on a weight room regiment to complement their new speed, which will include sled pulls and power exercises.
“That's one of the reasons why speed can be trained,” Kingdom said. “Speed can be trained.”
One of the major differences between training football players and runners is the time Kingdom has to make his transformation. With runners, he can take two or three years to completely rebuild their form and workout program to make them faster.
In three years, a football player's career can be over.
Because of a smaller window of opportunity, Kingdom, who played football for two years at the University of Pittsburgh where Morris was his strength and conditioning coach, admits it's easier for teams to sign faster guys and it's even easier for him to help them make greater strides. It takes a longer time for slower players to rebuild their mechanics and get caught up to speed.
“I know if they all listen to me they will all be able to get faster and more efficient and that's just through their improved mechanics,” Kingdom said. “And thank God that myself, coach Morris and also (assistant strength and conditioning coach) Pete Alosi, we're all mechanical nuts so we all believe in improved technique. That's one thing we're going to hammer home to all those athletes out there.”