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Much improved



Published: Fri, April 1, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The former Warren Harding and Ohio State standout did much better.

By JOE SCALZO

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

BAZETTA TWP. -- Cincinnati Bengals running back coach Jim Anderson stood a few feet from Maurice Clarett on Thursday, gripping a stopwatch, watching Clarett perform an agility drill inside Farmer Jim's sports complex.

He didn't like what he saw.

"If you're gonna do it, do it right," Anderson shouted. "If not, let us all know, so we can leave."

Clarett nodded, said "Yes, sir" and, after taking a second to catch his breath, he did it again.

And he did it right.

Did everything asked

Over and over during Thursday's two-hour workout, Clarett did what was asked of him. Drills. Sprints. Interviews. This wasn't the immature man who refused to finish his exercises at February's NFL combine.

This Clarett was respectful, humble, professional.

"I think I did better than my last workout," Clarett said afterward, standing before a mob of reporters, including ESPN. "I just tried to give the coaches what they wanted."

Anderson, who ran the workout, didn't go easy on him -- "That coach from Cincinnati got on me," Clarett said, laughing -- but Clarett didn't complain.

"I got a little tired at the end," Clarett said. "It's been a long day.

"At the combine, you have 20 players, so you get to rest for about two minutes. They only gave me 15 seconds on everything."

Dash times improved

Still, he did better. After running between a 4.72 and a 4.82 in the 40-yard dash at Indy -- times better suited for a tight end or a lineman -- Clarett ran between a 4.68 and a 4.71, depending on the scout. The workout, originally scheduled for Warren's Deemer Park, was moved indoors to Farmer Jim's, an indoor soccer facility.

"I think he helped himself," said Bill Shunkwiler, a part-time scout for the Indianapolis Colts and former Warren Harding football coach. "His times were better. If you watched him in high school or college, you could see he can play.

"But how do you know? It's a crapshoot. But if you can load the dice with a body like that, you help yourself. He's physically impressive."

Two pounds heavier

Clarett weighed 236 on Thursday -- two pounds heavier than at the combine. He tapered his weight training in recent weeks and focused more on speed work. He looked muscular and fit, if not explosive.

His times were still not enough to impress scouts, but he took a step forward.

"The bottom line is, on a talent level and based on what he's done on the field, there's no way he's going to be drafted as high as he should be," said one of Clarett's agents, Josh Luchs. "He improved in every category, but we're not going to get his true value. We know that. We're really focused more on minicamps and training camp."

What is that value? Hard to say. Luchs, along with his partner, Steve Feldman, have a vested interest in seeing Clarett perform well, so they're going to promote Clarett as a future Pro Bowler. Case in point: As Shunkwiler was reading off Clarett's 40 times, Luchs walked over and started joking with him.

"I had him at a 4.29," Luchs said. "I don't know what he's doing. He must have a slow finger."

Eight NFL teams present

Luchs said representatives from "at least eight teams" were at Thursday's workout, including the Bengals, Browns, Steelers, Colts, Rams, Ravens and Steelers. Most were scouts, although Browns offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon was there.

"What do I read into that?" Luchs asked. "That it's a nice drive from Cleveland. I don't read into anything. They all have their own agenda."

So does Clarett. And for a long time, that agenda seemed to be selfish. Clarett's resume over the last two years includes NCAA investigations into his academics, his off-the-field income and his suspension for lying to NCAA and university investigators. He also lost a lawsuit against the NFL last April that would have allowed him to enter the draft early.

When asked if he thought his off-the-field behavior should scare away NFL teams, Clarett shook his head.

"I never had off-the-field problems," said Clarett, who helped lead Ohio State to a national title as a freshman in 2002. "I just had problems with NCAA regulations. But I never beat up anyone or anything."

Quit at combine

Clarett didn't help himself at February's combine, either. After posting slow 40 times, and struggling in several drills, Clarett quit early, damaging his already tenuous relationship with the league's brass.

"You only get one chance to make a first impression," said Clarett's other agent, Steve Feldman. "Hopefully, we can make a good second impression."

Thursday was the first step. The question is, was it enough?

"I think I did pretty well," Clarett said.

"Of course I'd like to go high [in the draft]. But that's something I can't control."

After the interview, Clarett walked up the complex steps toward the exit, where he found his mom, Michelle, waiting for him. He gave her a hug and, for one of the few times all day, he smiled.

It's hard to say whether Thursday's performance will do much to help Clarett in the draft, but it was a good first step.

And, as most football fans know, that's the most important thing a running back can have.

scalzo@vindy.com




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