In a perfect world, the Arizona Wildcats would place a sprinter at wide receiver and ask him, simply, to go deep. Usain Bolt would find a loophole in NCAA rules, develop a craving for Sonoran hot dogs and relocate to Southern Arizona.
"I'd love to have him," first-year coach Rich Rodriguez said with a grin. "Send him on a few 'go' routes."
Until then, however, the UA will rely on its in-house options to make the new spread-option offense and 3-3-5 "odd stack" defense work. Among the team's training camp contributors, wide receivers Garic Wharton and Tyler Slavin and running backs Ka'Deem Carey, Daniel Jenkins and J.T. Washington seem to be among the fastest.
But "football speed" is about more than just foot speed, Rodriguez said. The UA's coaching staff relies on these three rules - and many more - when evaluating speed and quickness.
1. It's better to be consistently quick than occasionally fast. The 40-yard dash is still the best way to gauge football speed, Rodriguez said. But the UA's first-year coach does things a bit different: He prefers his players to run seven or eight sprints in a row, the better to gauge how fast a player runs when he's tired.
Rodriguez told his players last week that he expects them to run the same speed - all-out - on every play.
"If you have speed and can only do it on one play, it's not really going to help you out. You need to do eight or nine 40s in a row," said Wharton, arguably the UA's fastest player.
"Coach Rod always uses Jerry Rice (as an example); Jerry Rice ran a 4.6, but it was a 4.6 on every play."
Wharton has never been officially timed, but said he runs the 40 in about 4.4 seconds. The Las Vegas native set the state high school record in the 200 meters (21.1 seconds) and 100 meters (10.39 seconds) before coming to the UA. Being fast "is important" in the new offense, Wharton said.
"But it's not as important as being in shape," he said.
2. Track is nice, but not necessary. Rodriguez said he looks for multisport athletes when recruiting. While track and field experience is a plus, players don't need to be runners to catch his eye.
"If you're talented enough to play multiple sports, I encourage you to do it," the coach said. "But there are guys who are really good football players who never run track, and there are really good guys in track who try to play football and can't play dead in a Western.
"I think it's just a matter of whether the guy really loves the game of football."
3. Fundamentals matter. Speed and athleticism is certainly a plus, given Arizona's spread-option offense and 3-3-5 "odd stack" defense. But understanding the finer points of football is more important.
Take Washington, a freshman tailback who gained 31 yards on four carries Saturday. While the speedy Floridian wowed his teammates, he relied a bit too much on finesse. It's a common trap of those players blessed with blazing speed. Washington "likes to push that circle button on the PlayStation and spin every time," Rodriguez said.
Washington and the Wildcats' other young skill-position players should only improve as they get more experience. Fortunately, the Wildcats have a good starting place.
"Our strength," Jenkins said, "is speed."
• Linebacker Rob Hankins (concussion) continues to be limited in practices, Rodriguez said. No timetable has been set for his return. The Wildcats will try to build depth behind him: freshman Keoni Bush-Loo has been playing both linebacker and defensive end in practice. Greg Nwoko will line up at linebacker and running back when he returns from his leg injury.
• The Wildcats will practice twice today, once Wednesday and twice Thursday before finishing camp with a bit of a break. The freshmen will put on a talent show Friday night, and the team will cap training camp with a scrimmage Saturday.
Rodriguez is keeping his expectations for the talent show understandably low.
"I don't think we've got any 'American Idol' contestants," he said.
• The UA's first "two-deep" depth chart will be released early next week.
Training camp: Day 10
At Kindall/Sancet Stadium
• Temperature at start: 86 degrees at 8 a.m.
• Walk-on watch: Quarterback Nick Isham transferred to the UA this summer after spending his freshman season at Louisiana Tech. Isham played in seven games for former UA offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes last fall, completing 155 of 257 passes for 1,457 yards and eight touchdowns. Isham will sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules, but should compete for a starting job in 2013.
• The big number: 2. Number of practices today, marking the third of four scheduled two-a-days of training camp. The Wildcats will hold their final "double-day" on Thursday.