A Walk In the Park ..
MURFREESBORO — Benny Cunningham called it a “walk in the park.”
But his NFL pre-draft workout was far faster than a leisurely stroll.
Cunningham, an MTSU running back, clocked 4.51 seconds in the 40-yard dash during a one-hour individual workout Monday at MTSU, and that was only at about 75 percent strength following knee surgery that cut his senior season in half.
The 40-yard dash time, along with an extensive workout showing lateral movement and quickness, admittedly gave Cunningham a jolt heading into the NFL Draft, which begins Thursday.
“I was excited about the workout, but I already knew where I stood,” Cunningham said. “It just came down to me showing them. I hope everyone sees that and realizes how well my recovery has gone. There’s no question I will be at full strength when (NFL training) camps start in July.”
One scout and one running backs coach attended Monday’s workout, but that’s not quite representative of the interest in Cunningham. This close to the draft, scouts wind down travel and huddle in team war rooms.
Most NFL clubs requested footage of Cunningham’s workout, which was filmed and provided by MTSU’s video crew. And several teams have already interviewed Cunningham and visited him both during and after the season.
“Some teams told me they wanted the film of the workout. Other teams told (MTSU), and different teams told my agent,” Cunningham said. “I hope everyone sees it. I wasn’t shocked that I ran a 4.51, but I was shocked that I did it at this percent (strength in knee). Since I’ve been here (at MTSU) I have always been clocked in the low 4.4s or high 4.3s. So after running this time, I expect to be right back there for camp.”
MTSU strength coach Jason Spray said he was impressed by Cunningham’s speed and change of direction only two months after a metal support cable was removed from his surgically repaired knee.
“Either you can run or you can’t, and Benny can run,” Spray said. “He looked really good, very fluid. And he’s gotten his normal running gate back now. The only thing he still needs is that burst that makes him special. Benny is like a sports car, he can go zero to 60 real quick. At 75 percent, he doesn’t have that burst back at this point, but from how he ran, you can tell it’s on its way back soon. He’ll be full strength for camp.”
Cunningham tore his patella at midseason during his 2012 senior year when he was projected as a possible mid-round pick. He still rushed for 600 yards and 11 TDs in only five games, and his well-rounded skills had drawn scouts from every NFL team to MTSU’s campus.
Showing a snippet of his ability, Cunningham rushed for 217 yards and five TDs against Georgia Tech, and he followed that with 230 yards against Florida International – the nation’s 36th-ranked rush defense – before suffering the knee injury.
His time of 4.51 in the 40-yard dash would have ranked sixth among 15 running backs at the NFL Combine this season. And the 5-foot-10, 212-pound Cunningham is bigger than four of the five backs with a faster time.
Cunningham’s 26 reps on the 225-pound bench press at MTSU’s Pro Day would have also ranked sixth among running backs at the Combine.
Cunningham also ran a 60-yard shuttle in Monday’s workout and went through an extensive script of offensive plays with former MTSU quarterback and 13-year NFL veteran Kelly Holcomb. Cunningham, lauded as ar, top-flight pass blocker and receiver ran a variety of running plays and pass routes to show his versatility and the status of his knee.
“It felt great,” Cunningham said. “I really prepared myself for this and worked hard. Like I said, it was a walk in the park.”
Six months after suffering the knee injury, Cunningham, a former Mr. Football recipient at Goodpasture, said he chose the right support team in his rehab.
Spray already trains several NFL players on MTSU’s campus in the offseason. MTSU’s award-winning athletic trainer, Robbie Stewart, oversaw Cunningham’s rehab. And Cunningham had the knee surgery done by renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews.
“This recovery was very important, so I surrounded myself with the best at what they do,” Cunningham said. “Robbie and Spray know exactly what I can do, and they care about how I do. They knew how to push me, and that’s how I got to this point. I’m excited. This was a great day.”
Should be some heated competition amongst our group of running backs. It will be interesting to see how many Fish keeps on the final roster.