A quickness guy, getting in and out of the cuts, moving laterally, like a linebacker, getting off the line of scrimmage, like a defensive end or wide receiver, takes explosive power. There is a difference. Usually if a guy is fast, he's usually quick, but there are exceptions to this. For example, James Lofton, who is one of the fastest wide receivers ever was not very quick at all. Conversely, it's not usually the other way around. I've seen some very quick athletes who weren't real fast. They would run a 4.5, 4.6 (seconds) in the 40-yard dash, but you couldn't touch them off the line of scrimmage.
If I were a recruiter or scout, I would look at a guy's explosive power – their speed in the 10- and 20-yard dash. That's going to coincide to football speed and a player's overall lateral and quickness, instead of the 40-yard dash. I think the 40-yard dash is overrated. I've seen some guys run 4.2, 4.3, 4.4 40s that couldn't get off the line of scrimmage to save their lives, or couldn't make a tackle because they couldn't move laterally very quick, or get in and out of their cuts as a defensive back or wideout. But yet I've seen some very quick guys that run 4.6, 4.7 40s make a good living in the NFL, like Jerry Rice. Rice is probably as explosive of an athlete within 10 yards as anybody. But in the 40, at his best, he's probably 4.55, 4.6, which is average. Yet, he's the best to ever play that position. So, I would look at a guy's quickness and explosive power than I would 40-yard speed.
If an athlete has that rare combination of the two, you're probably looking at an elite athlete. A good example of a player who has that rare combination of quickness and speed is Packers running back Ahman Green. Dorsey Levens was quick out of his cuts and stuff like that, but he wasn't going to run away from anybody. Green hits the hole explosively. He has great vision, great lateral speed, but then if he gets in the open field, he's hard to catch. That's a rare combination. Barry Sanders, Gale Sayers, and Marshall Faulk are guys who have quickness and speed whereas guys like Levens or the late Walter Payton have great quickness but not great overall speed. The ingredient Payton had, which made him elite, was heart. I would take that over anything. Green makes a big difference in Green Bay's overall speed on offense from years past.
The trend with wide receivers has gone to 6-foot-2, 6-3, 6-4 guys that can run. I think you loose the quickness ability of getting off the line of scrimmage or working across the middle, being a slot guy. But the Packers now have a combination of the two. They have Javon Walker and Robert Ferguson, taller lankier guys who can run downfield, and then they have slot guys in Terry Glenn and Donald Driver. So, they have a great combination of the two right now. That certainly is going to make for a potent offense in the Packers' passing game this season.
Defensively, I think the Packers are quicker than they have been in years past. Darren Sharper can make cuts and get in and out of his break and move laterally, yet he can run, too. He's probably a 4.4 guy, extremely fast. The same with safety Antuan Edwards. Cornerbacks Tyrone Williams and Mike McKenzie are very fast. In the defensive backfield, I think the Packers are as fast as ever.
Linebacker? There too the Packers are quicker. Bernardo Harris, George Koonce and Brian Williams could run and were great linebackers, but they lacked what Na'il Diggs, Hardy Nickerson and Nate Wayne have, and that's overall quickness to the ball and speed.
The defensive line also is faster than it has been in years. Defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila wins most of his battles because he is so explosive. He is a little undersized weight wise, but nobody can block him because he can get around those 300-pound tackles because of his burst off the line of scrimmage.
As the season progresses, a team usually gets faster for a couple of reasons. I think in the older years, a team usually got slower because players' bodies got beat down and beat down. It was harder to maintain. Nowadays with the speed training that teams have during the off-season and during the in-season with lifting, conditioning, and speed drills, players are able to keep their speed and even gain some during the season.
Another reason players get faster is because during the first part of the season you're kind of just feeling your way around. Sometimes players are a little slow because they are not sure where to go. As the season goes on and you get more comfortable with the offense or defense, you start flying around more. You know where you're supposed to be. You've seen every scheme. Once you're comfortable, believe me, you get to the ball faster, or you run a route faster because you're not thinking about what you're doing, you're just reacting.
Plus you're in better game shape. Terry Glenn, let's be honest, he's not in great game shape right now because he didn't play a whole lot in the preseason and he hasn't practiced a whole lot. As the season goes on, you'll see him playing some more reps and playing at a faster speed. You think the offense played well against Atlanta, wait until Glenn is in shape.
Green Bay's receivers should get faster as the season progresses. Hopefully they're "hungry." Javon Walker seems like a guy that wants to be great. I think he has the right attitude. It doesn't seem like he thinks, ‘Hey, I'm from Florida State. I know the game. I'm the team's first round draft pick. I'm fine. I've made it.' He doesn't seem like that kind of guy. He seems more like a Jerry Rice who wants to be one of the elite players in the league. With that kind of desire and ability he's only going to force himself to work out harder during the season and the off-season. You'll see him get faster because he'll find ways to make his game better. That's only going to prolong his career.
I've played with guys who have been high draft picks, but they come in with the attitude that, 'I don't really need to work out. I've made it. I'm here.' And they don't work out very hard in the off-season. During the season they give it a half-effort. They end up playing three, four, five years and that's it. If you want to play a long time in this league, you have to improve your quickness and speed. You have to improve how you play the game and everything. The guys the Packers have now seem like the type who want to improve. Barry Rubin (strength and conditioning coach of the Packers) has done an excellent job of getting these guys ready for the season.
With that kind of an attitude the Packers will win many of their NFL battles this season, if not the war.
Editor's note: Former wide receiver Don Beebe played for the Packers in 1996 and '97. He was a member of the Packers' Super Bowl XXXI Champion-ship team. Beebe's column will appear bi-weekly this season in Packer Report.