Hank Bullough and Dick Jauron were Green Bay assistant coaches when they touched down in Columbus, Ohio, in the spring of 1988.
They were there to work out a Spielman. They got two for the price of one.
“I used to leech off Chris,” said Rick Spielman, the older brother by three years.
Chris was preparing for the draft as the decorated All-America middle linebacker from Ohio State. Rick was the out-of-work linebacker who had played at Division I-AA Southern Illinois, went to camp with the Chargers in 1987, got cut and still thought he could play.
“When teams used to come and work Chris out, I would run, too,” said Spielman, now preparing for the Vikings’ rookie minicamp as the team’s general manager. “I’d run two-tenths faster than him [in the 40-yard dash]. And I’d jump the vertical jump [better than him].”
Rick was 2-0 against Chris in those time-honored springtime NFL measuring sticks when Bullough moved them on to another test of athleticism.
“In 10 yards, you had to take three jumps and try to cover those 10 yards; like a broad jump,” Rick said. “Chris got out there and he got to like 8 ½ to 9 yards. So I’m at like 7 ½ on my second jump. I thought, ‘Oh, man. I’m going to beat him again. Three times in a row.’”
But Rick never completed his third jump.
“Sure enough, I was in midair and Chris came from the side and just like clocked me,” Rick said. “Just clothes-lined me and said, ‘This is enough of this. Let’s play football.’ ”
Chris became a second-round draft pick, going 29th overall to the Lions in 1988. He played 10 seasons, earning four Pro Bowl berths and three All-Pro honors.
Rick had one more shot at a training camp. He was cut by the Lions and never played in the NFL. But he has crafted a nice career out of being entrusted to differentiate a Chris Spielman from a Rick Spielman.
“I was way faster than Chris,” Spielman said. “But I couldn’t change direction like him. I didn’t have the savvy that he had.”
Spielman just completed his 10th draft with the Vikings. It was his fifth as general manager with final say on personnel. Friday through Sunday at Winter Park, the eight draft picks he chose last week will go through a rookie minicamp. They’ll be joined by 10 undrafted players who were signed as free agents and rookie free agents who were invited to try out for the team.
No 40-yard dashes, broad jumps or vertical leaps will be featured. The stop watches have been put aside in favor of football-related activities, sans pads, of course.
Soon, we’ll start noticing whether the rookies play faster than they ran or ran faster than they play. In one particularly important pick — Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell at No. 23 overall — the Vikings are convinced the young man plays a whole lot faster than the 4.63-second 40-yard dash he ran at his pro day.
In some cases, the Vikings discount the 40-yard dash in favor of other factors, none more important than game film.
“Some of the stuff we do, the 40 isn’t the most important thing,” Spielman said. “It may be a flying 20. It may be the hand size. It may be how a guy scored on psychological testing and self-efficacy. There’s a whole different combination of things that are maybe giving us a tool to say, ‘Hey, don’t just look at this 40 time. This is what this player can be.’”
Fifth-round pick Kentrell Brothers is another guy to keep an eye on. He led the nation in tackles at Missouri, but he also ran a 4.82 40-yard dash, which is why he was still on the board at the 160th pick.
In other words, Brothers is considered a slow middle linebacker who stands 6-foot, 245 pounds. Kind of like Chris Spielman, who was 6-foot, 248 pounds and the last-place 40 finisher among linebackers in his family.
“If you ask my brother, he was the slowest middle linebacker to ever play the game,” Spielman said. “He thinks he got screwed [on his 40 time]. But it comes down to football speed, too. If you want go out and just get all 4.3 and 4.2 guys, we’ll go out and start scouting the Olympic track team. They have to have the savvy and the smarts when it comes to knowing how to play the game. And that’s the most important thing when you’re going through this evaluation.”