Kyren Williams 'can't complain' after fine all-around performance at Notre Dame's Pro Day

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Three weeks after a disappointing showing at the NFL Scouting Combine, Kyren Williams was back in his element. 

Smiling and laughing Friday at the Irish Athletic Center on Notre Dame’s Pro Day, Williams put on a show in pass-catching drills with his former teammate, Jack Coan. Williams also shaved more than a tenth of a second off his hand-timed 40-yard dash, paring it down to 4.54. 

That would have placed him 18th among the 27 running backs tested in Indianapolis, where 40 times were captured electronically. Williams’ 40 time at the combine was the slowest in his position group.  

“It ain’t no 4.65,” Williams said. “Yeahhh. That’s what I was going for. I can’t complain about that.” 

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Williams, the only two-time 1,000-yard rusher of the Brian Kelly era, said it was his goal to “change the narrative from the combine.” He credited his improved showing to being among friends and former teammates, saying that “good energy” put him in the right mind frame. 

“I definitely balled out,” he said. “I left everything on display. Everything that anybody had doubted, I put it on the field and let them see it. Now it’s up in God’s hands. The pressure is off my shoulders. I did what I had to do.”

Kyren Williams runs the 40-yard-dash during Notre Dame’s NFL Pro Day event on Friday, March 25, 2022, in South Bend.

Williams worked with noted sports trainer Pete Bommarito at his facility in South Florida. Two days after his combine setback, Williams was back at it, working to improve his sprint time. 

“That’s how much I trust Pete,” Williams said. “I even went back to him after I ran a 4.65 at the combine. He really knows what he’s talking about. He’s really a scientist.” Hit and Miss for Kevin Austin Jr. 

It didn’t take long for Kevin Austin Jr. and Coan to show they still had the same on-field connection. 

“Jack threw amazing today,” Austin said after running routes for about 20 minutes. “Everything was on the money.” 

A few extra days of preparation seemed to pay off for both NFL hopefuls. 

Mar 3, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Notre Dame wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr (WO02) goes through drills during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

“We were here all this week, just preparing, trying to get on the same page again after having such a long break off,” Austin said. “We had a script. We had an idea of what we were going to throw, so it was just focusing on that script.”

Sharing reps with Williams and Noah Thomas, a former Division III standout at Rose-Hulman in Terre Haute, Ind., Austin wanted to show off the precision of his route running out of both the outside and slot positions. 

Austin tested better than expected at the combine, including a 4.43 showing in the 40-yard dash — 14th out of 32 participating receivers — so he opted out of the other aspects of Friday’s schedule. The only disappointment for Austin was the return of his old bugaboo: dropped passes. 

He counted two, but some observers would place that number at four, including a pair of over-the-shoulder attempts and one on a shallow crossing route. 

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“Just focus drops,” he said. “I have a tendency to try to run before I catch sometimes. So just focusing on catching it first and then running.”

Did he expect to be perfect? 

“Yeah, of course,” he said. “I honestly expected to be perfect, At the same time, just focus drops. I’m not going to let that deter me from the rest of the route-throwing session.”

Troy Pride Jr. explains function vs. form

While Williams was among those to keep their left hand high on the starting blocks, former Notre Dame cornerback/track star Troy Pride Jr., is a proponent of a different approach.

“The first thing I think about is where their hand is,” Pride, two seasons into his NFL career with the Carolina Panthers, said during a break in Friday’s program. “A lot of guys have had their hands really high, but what that does is it allows clocks to start earlier, as soon as (the hand) starts to move. That’s where the (electronic) 40 clocks are looking.”

Hand-operated stopwatch times were the only method used Friday. Pride, who ran a 4.40 at the 2020 combine, believes in keeping things more compact at the start. 

“If your hand is tighter, you’re able to have it in front of you more to start better,” he said. “From there, it goes into your 10-yard start and how low you are, how much drive and push you get out. Basically how much leg strength in your quads you have to push out. From that point, it’s just running. Everybody can run pretty much.”

Notre Dame’s Troy Pride Jr. (18) makes an interception in front of Navy’s Jahmaal Daniel (25) during the Notre Dame-Navy NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN

But the hand placement, Pride said, “is everything, honestly. It’s so intricate, so small.” 

Along with former Irish safety Alohi Gilman, now with the Chargers, Pride was back in town to support former Notre Dame teammate Donte Vaughn, an NFL free agent invited to participate in Friday’s program. Vaughn was clocked at 4.57 seconds in the 40. 

Hand-timed 40s are more prone to “human error,” Pride said, and tend to be faster than those measured with a laser.

"Teams obviously trust their scout guys to get accurate hand times and they trust their times," Pride said. "Sometimes guys start later or start earlier. That’s why we saw a lot of 4.2s last year at the pro days."

Either way, he’s an advocate of the low-hand starting method. 

“People teach different techniques; I’m not singling anyone out,” Pride said. “When you’ve got your hand right there at your waistband and you explode out with it and it’s coming forward, it’s more the natural running motion as well.”

Now it's official 

Other 40-yard times from Friday’s session included Thomas (4.55), Kyle Hamilton (4.56 seconds), linebacker Isaiah Pryor (4.58), Toledo linebacker and Notre Dame grad transfer Jonathan Jones (4.62); linebacker Drew White (4.67 after a recent hamstring injury); NFL free agent Asmal Bilal (4.69); nose tackle Kurt Hinish (4.96) and former Marshall grad transfer Cain Madden (5.63). 

Hinish led the way in the 225-pound bench press with 31 reps. Pryor was next with 27, followed by Madden with 24. 

The Kansas City Chiefs had travel issues and were believed to be the only NFL team without a scouting presence on Friday. 

No NFL head coaches were on hand, but that was understandable considering the annual league meetings are set to start Sunday in Palm Beach, Fla. Saturday is the arrival date for most team officials.

Staff writer Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for ndinsider.com and the South Bend Tribune. Email him at mberardino@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.