US sprinter Gatlin recalls his NFL tryouts: 'It's so tough'


US sprinter Gatlin recalls his NFL tryouts: 'It's so tough'

RIO DE JANEIRO -- A decade ago, when Olympic sprinter Justin Gatlin was banned from his sport for a doping violation, he thought about spending his time playing professional football.

He tried out with the Houston Texans. And then with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Gatlin quickly learned that it takes more than just world-class speed to make it in the NFL.

"It's so tough," he told The Associated Press. "I would say that how track and field is built without a union and it's a dog-eat-dog world, that's how it is to get into football. It's the same thing: a dog-eat-dog world. I respect all those athletes who are trying to try out for teams.

"They're judged not only by their athleticism," he said, "but if they even need them."

But what if you did judge NFL players and Olympic athletes only on athleticism? What if you were to throw out everything but the barest of statistics - speed, strength, vertical jump?

Who would be the superior athletes?

Of course, such a simple question has no simple answer. Not even those involved in the debate seem willing to hazard a guess, perhaps trying to ensure that their separate sports receive their own due.

Make no mistake: They are separate. But comparing them - sprinters to NFL running backs, linemen to weightlifters, wide receivers to high jumpers - is at least an entertaining endeavor.

"Speed comes in all different kinds of forms," said Gatlin, the reigning 100-meter Olympic bronze medalist. "All the fast guys you can think of, we all can run - let's say we run 9.99 (in the 100). We all have different strategies and forms to run 9.99. We all get to the same point in different ways.

"For a football guy, he's explosive and powerful," Gatlin said. "So if we race in the 40 or 60 or something, I don't know exactly how it would turn out. They might have more explosive speed from the line than I would, because even though I'm a fast guy at the start, I might have to build my speed up because that's how I'm programmed to do it."

Rarely do NFL players run more than 40 yards at a time, which is partly why times for 40-yard dashes are such common descriptors of speed. The record at the NFL combine was 4.24 seconds in 2008 by Chris Johnson, the former Pro Bowl running back who once boasted he could beat Usain Bolt in a race of that distance.

Gatlin said he's run unofficial 40-yard times between 4.12 and 4.35 seconds.

"I would win on the tail end," he said, "but it would be good competition on the front end."

Trying to compare NFL linemen to weightlifters may be even more difficult.

The lifts done by football players tend to be the more common strength-training lifts such as the dead lift and bench press. In fact, the biggest strength indicator at the NFL combine is the bench press, where rookies-to-be are required to lift 225 pounds as many times as possible.

The record is 49 repetitions set by Redskins defensive tackle Stephen Paea in 2011.

"That's a worthy feat, so I can't make light of it," said Kendrick Farris, the lone men's Olympic weightlifter representing the U.S. at the Rio Games. "But if weightlifters focused on that particular exercise with that load, the results would be quite interesting."

Instead, they focus on two particular lifts: the snatch, in which the weight is lifted from the ground to overhead in one movement, and the clean and jerk, where the bar is lifted in two movements. The combined results of the lifts determine the placement in a competition.

Being strong is important, but technique is also a significant factor.

"If football wasn't my thing, I would probably pursue strongest man," Paea said, "because I've got the lower center of gravity, things like that. I'm pretty strong on the squat, too.

"Weightlifting, you've got to give it to them," he added, "but if it comes to like overall running, all those conditioning (aspects) with it, we'd probably give them a good run for their money."

How about comparing vertical leaps among NFL players to Olympic high jumping? Well, it's similar to weightlifting in that athletic ability and technique go hand-in-hand.

You won't see a wide receiver flopping backward over a bar while hauling in a touchdown pass.

"I know a couple of people in college who did the high jump and they have some springs, man," said Chiefs wide receiver Chris Conley, whose 45-inch vertical at the 2015 NFL combine is the record.

"They can definitely jump a lot higher than me. It takes a lot," he said. "Technique is the most important thing. At some point there's God-given talent, but when it comes to that level of jumping, the difference between the world record and that level of medaling is all in the details."

One thing all those athletes can agree on? They love watching their counterparts compete.

"We have a lot of swimmers from (my alma mater) Georgia that qualify every year and I know some of them," Conley said. "I like to watch because it's my background, but I also know people there as well."

How Seahawks' Russell Wilson beat 49ers' pass rush with play-action


How Seahawks' Russell Wilson beat 49ers' pass rush with play-action

The 49ers got to Russell Wilson in Monday night's 27-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Wilson was sacked a season-high five times at Levi's Stadium, posting his second-worst passer rating of 2019 (86.9) and a season-low 43.6 QBR. He also threw his second interception of the season and fumbled for the first time since Week 4. 

Yet Wilson did just enough to remain effective in spite of that pressure, showing why he is an MVP frontrunner when he led the Seahawks to their game-winning field-goal drive in overtime. Wilson also employed plenty of misdirection to keep the 49ers' dominant pass rush at bay, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. 

On the season, the 49ers have pressured QBs on 29.7 percent of dropbacks. That 17 percent pressure rate on play-action plays would be 30th-best in the NFL if extended over a full season, just behind the Cincinnati Bengals (17.1 percent) and just ahead of the Oakland Raiders (15.9 percent). 

For reference, those two teams have combined for five fewer sacks (30) than the 49ers have all season. 

Wilson's play-action success could give opposing teams something of a blueprint, and that could trip up the 49ers in their own division down the stretch. In addition to playing the Seahawks once more, the 49ers also will play the Los Angeles Rams in Week 16 at Levi's. Rams coach Sean McVay loves using play-action, and the Rams were far more efficient last season on play-action passes than traditional ones. The Rams have taken a step back this season and the 49ers kept LA's offense in check in Week 6, but play-action remains a big part of the Rams' offense and the 49ers will have to be ready for it.

[RELATED: 49ers ready to focus on Cardinals after tough Seahawks loss]

It doesn't stop with the Seahawks and Rams. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is known for his play-action abilities, too, while Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers also have been better in play-action this season. The 49ers play Green Bay and Arizona in each of the next two weeks. 

San Francisco has a difficult slate of QBs remaining on its schedule, including ones who succeed where Wilson did Monday night. That's one additional area the 49ers will have to shore up down the stretch. 

49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo's 'bad night' surprised NBC Sports' Peter King

49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo's 'bad night' surprised NBC Sports' Peter King

Despite the 49ers not suffering their first loss until Week 10, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo hasn’t exactly set the world on fire with his play in 2019.

He has done enough to lead his team to victories in all but one game this season, but the 49ers haven’t had to ask much of their signal-caller thanks to a dominant defense and a highly-potent running game.

His first chance to make a statement against a great team in prime time didn’t go as expected, as Garoppolo was just above a 50 percent completion percentage and had his worst QB rating (66.2) of the year in Monday night’s 27-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

"At one point, I remember looking up at the TV, and I said, 'I cannot remember Jimmy Garoppolo playing with happy feet like this,'" King told Mike Florio and Chris Simms of Pro Football Talk. "Look, this is whatever, like his 18th NFL start, so we don't really know him yet, but that was a bad night for Jimmy Garoppolo and for 49ers fans who want to love him, who want to have faith in him."

The 49ers might have fallen in the team’s first true test of 2019, but there are plenty of worthy opponents on the horizon for San Francisco.

[RELATED: Why 49ers fans should be optimistic after loss to Seahawks]

After hosting the Cardinals in Week 11, San Francisco will take on Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in a recently flexed matchup on "Sunday Night Football," followed up by trips to Baltimore and New Orleans in consecutive weeks.

So there will be ample opportunity for Jimmy G and his squad to rebound in front of a prime-time audience.