NFL scouts and evaluators arrived en masse at Pittsburg's Los Medanos Junior College Thursday to see if Eastern Washington running back Taiwan Jones was as fast in person as he looked on tape.
Jones ran his 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds with one stopwatch recording a time of 4.28. The 196 pounder also recoded a 39 ½-inch vertical jump and, perhaps most impressively, had an 11-foot broad jump.
Give him a high degree of difficulty to boot. Not only were 27 teams watching him and him alone, including 49ers running backs coach Tom Rathman and 49ers director of player personnel Tom Gamble. Jones, who hails from nearby Antioch, had scores of family members in the stands snapping pictures and yelling words of encouragement - "You've got family!" - as he got into his stance to run his all-important 40.
"For the most part, this is what I've been doing all my life," Jones said when asked about the pressure he was under. "I was comfortable. I was confident."
Jones did not take part in most of the drills at February's scouting combine because he was still recovering from a broken bone in his foot that he suffered in December. Jones had a pin inserted at the time and was in a walking boot until three weeks ago. His agent, Doug Hendrickson, estimated that Jones was 90 percent recovered from the injury and would be at full strength in four weeks.
His numbers on Thursday stack up very well against running backs who worked out at the combine. His broad-jump score was better than any one else's at his position, his 40 time trailed only Maryland's Da'Rel Scott, who recorded a 4.34, and his vertical jump would have placed third behind Anthony Allen of Georgia Tech (41 inches) and Virginia Tech's Ryan Williams (40 inches).
The questions scouts have about Jones revolve around his size and durability. He suffered an array of injuries at Eastern Washington, including a fractured fibula, an abdominal bruise and a sports hernia. When he took off his shirt for his weigh in, he looked just like a defensive back - tall (6-1), long-legged, tapered with not an iota of fat on him. That's because Jones was a cornerback. He switched to running back early at Eastern Washington after wowing coaches with his kick-return ability on the scout team and because four of the school's running backs graduated.
Jones is busy adding extra padding. When he arrived at Athletes Performance in Los Angles in January, he weighed 178 pounds. By Thursday he had gained 18 pounds thanks to a 3,500-calorie-a-day diet. Travelle Gaines, the director at Athletes Performance, said he thought Jones would end up at 210-215 pounds without any loss of speed.
Gaines said that Jones had been working out twice a day, six days a week and has been rubbing elbows with the pros who train there like Terence Newman and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. One veteran who's taken a particular liking to Jones: receiver Terrell Owens. "Terrell and him will talk every day - 'This is what you have to do. This is my 17th year,'" Gaines said while noting that Owens and Jones both went to small colleges.
• Jones' hands measured in at a smallish 8 ½ inches. Scouts like bigger hands for ball security.
• Rathman was one of the coaches who put Jones through the running back drills, just as he did Stanford's Owen Marecic last month.
• Jones said he could only do six bench-press repetitions of 225 pounds when he arrived at Athletes Performance. He increased that to 13 at the combine and has done as many as 17 since.
• The only teams that didn't have a representative were the Vikings, Jets, Jaguars, Chargers and Ravens.
• Jones is expected to attend the 49ers local pro day Wednesday but will not work out. Cal's Cameron Jordan and Stanford's Sione Fua also will be there to talk to coaches but will not work out.
-- Matt Barrows