Arizona defensive ends coach Jeff Hammerschmidt had a pretty good story to tell every NFL scout that asked about Ricky Elmore’s 40-yard dash time.
Estimated early on in the draft process as a middle-rounds pick that would be asked to transition from end to outside linebacker, Elmore ran a slow 4.9 seconds in the 40 at the scouting combine in February. It threw up a red flag, one reason he was available to the Packers in the sixth round despite compiling 21½ sacks over his final two years in the Pac-10 Conference.
The slow clocking surprised Hammerschmidt because he’ll never forget the Wildcats’ final day of training camp at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Ariz., a couple of years ago.
That day, the team was watching an attack-dog demonstration performed by a professional trainer, who asked for volunteers to put on a protective suit and act as chase bait for the dog.
First up was speedy halfback Nick Grigsby.
“He jumps in one of those attack suits and the dog catches him in about 20 yards and pulls him to the ground,” Hammerschmidt said.
Then Elmore, the outgoing sort who has posted YouTube videos of his various athletic feats, took a turn.
“Ricky is 260 pounds, puts this big suit on and takes off, and he outruns the dog,” Hammerschmidt said, still laughing at the memory. “He swerves and runs, and the dog kept snipping but couldn’t catch him. We were all like, ‘Holy cow.’ I didn’t realize he ran like that, but he can turn it on and really run.”
That’s the pass-rusher Hammerschmidt saw attacking quarterbacks off the edge the past two years in the Pac-10 along a talented Arizona defensive line that included two other pro prospects.
Brooks Reed (second round, Texans) and D’Aundre Reed (seventh round, Vikings) also were drafted this past April. Brooks Reed played end and projects as an outside linebacker in the NFL, too.
With Brooks Reed the more highly touted draft pick, the conventional dismissal of Elmore was that he racked up all those sacks while his teammate rushing from the opposite side attracted all the attention. Plus, look at that 40 time.
It’s not that simple, according to Hammerschmidt, who prefers to see Elmore’s production as more a reflection of his own athletic gifts.
“When we get into passing situations and you watch him come off the ball and anticipate the snap, then you understand,” Hammerschmidt said. “He has the great ability to look at the formation and know what the possibilities are and make a play. He just has something about him.”
Still, the transition from a hand-on-the-ground defensive end to a stand-up linebacker won’t happen overnight. For playing time opposite Clay Matthews, Elmore will be competing with the likes of Brad Jones, Erik Walden and Frank Zombo, a rookie last year who made the same transition, only Elmore won’t benefit from a full offseason of preparation due to the NFL labor situation.
“It’s just getting in the playbook and going,” Hammerschmidt said. “Get him in the system. He’s smart enough, a high school quarterback and all that. He’ll get the system.”
Once he does, he’ll continue to refine the skills that helped him get such a great jump at the line of scrimmage in college. Hammerschmidt said Elmore was really adept at reading an offensive tackle’s stance or a running back’s look prior to the snap to anticipate what was coming.
If he read pass, he was charging ahead. Sure, his over-aggressiveness cost him on a draw or screen play every once in awhile, but it’s still hard to argue with 21½ sacks in 26 games, even if his top-end speed remains up for debate.
“If he sees a shot, he’s going for it, and he has the ability to really turn it loose,” Hammerschmidt said. “Maybe he just needs a dog to chase him all the time.”
For more feature stories on the 2011 draft class, click here.