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View from the 'ville
Friday, April 22, 2011

By Al Myatt

Ruff sides with players on NFL impasse

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

East Carolina has some prominent football players on the next level. Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans is one of the most dynamic running backs in the game. David Garrard of the Jacksonville Jaguars has proven himself as an NFL quarterback. Defensive lineman C.J. Wilson of the Green Bay Packers became a Super Bowl champion in his rookie season.

Right now, the pay-for-play boys are on hold. The NFL owners and players union did not reach a collective bargaining agreement as the deadline came and went over a month ago. Now federal mediators are involved and a judge is yet to rule on the players' request for an injunction on the owners' lockout.

ECU football coach Ruffin McNeill welcomed pro agents and players' parents for introductions and an information session involving ECU compliance officials and the football office on Friday before the spring game on April 16.

The impasse between NFL players and owners that had extended into mid-April had not had a direct effect on the Pirate program, according to the Pirates coach.

"On pro day you had some different things you had to abide by," McNeill said. "You'd like to have Dominique (Davis) throwing to Dwayne Harris when he came up, but because of that we were not able to do that.

"It's really a disappointing thing. I know everybody has picked their sides. There's a lot of money being made. Me being a former player, I see the players side of it to a large extent — making sure they're taken care of. If I had one thing that I could emphasize, it would be taking care of the retired players and their spouses. I'd like for those things to be upgraded if I had one decision to make for them. They just need to get back together, Football is a great sport. There's enough money being made.

"I'd appreciate them getting together and just sort of ironing things out. When you have mediators, it tends to interfere with discussions. I think if you get man to man and get in a room, take the mediators out of it, even take the commissioner out of it — get the owners and the players together, I think a lot of things could get worked out."

McNeill said both sides stood to lose more than the money they were haggling over.

"The fan support and interest level was at a high," said the ECU coach. "I love the sport and I'll still love it even when they get back together. There's a lot more to lose than the dollars and cents of it but I understand the dollars and cents of it, too, where that comes into play. You just wish the guys could get together and discuss it. Like I mentioned, mediators or, even with coaches, agents can be an obstacle in discussions that can be handled relatively quickly."

The owners want to add regular-season games.

"I think that would be dangerous," McNeill said. "Eighteen games, that's a long season. Sixteen (the current number) is a long season. You talk about injury prevention. The preseason could be shorter. Eighteen games is a long season and then you add the playoffs in there. Then the Super Bowl. That's a lot of beating for the bodies of those guys up there."

Vonta makes return for spring game

ECU alumnus Vonta Leach, who has played seven seasons in the NFL, was back at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium for the spring game. He spent part of his Pirate career as a linebacker but was converted to an offensive back in the John Thompson coaching era. Leach made the Pro Bowl in the final year of his contract with the Houston Texans in 2010 as a fullback. Leach is a free agent but he and representative Ralph Vitolo of Fayetteville are playing a waiting game at the moment.

"Hopefully, both sides can come together and come to some kind of agreement," Leach said of the situation. "Hopefully, we can get this football season on. We would feel blessed to work out so free agents, such as myself, can sign a new deal. There's a lot of people involved in this so, hopefully, we can work it out."

Everyone, including Leach, has a lot to gain when the issues separating players and owners are resolved. There's a lot to lose in the meantime.

"Something's got to give," Leach said. "Something's going to have to work out. We're in mediation right now. We filed an injunction with the courts, so hopefully something will work out in the players' favor. Right now, I'm a free agent. I can't talk to anybody. Soon as the lockout gets over with, I'm free to negotiate a contract with any team. I want to be back with the Texans but we'll see how that goes."

There has been speculation that wherever Leach ends up, he will become the highest-paid fullback in the league.

Davis catches flak

Former ECU receiver Dwayne Harris and fellow senior, running back Jonathan Williams, were among a group standing near the flag pole as current players filed into the Murphy Center after the spring game.

Williams saw Pirate quarterback Dominique Davis and threw his arms up as if seeking an explanation.

"Hey, man, I came to see you," Williams said with a huge smile.

Davis played only the first series and drove the offense for a score. Davis' abilities are established and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley wanted to see backups Brad Wornick, Shane Carden, Rio Johnson and true freshman Cody Keith perform. Johnson may emerge as Davis' understudy. Keith is headed for a redshirt year, according to Riley. Wornick, last year's backup, apparently slipped behind Carden and Johnson in the spring.

Harris rated as mid-draft pick said Harris, who is listed at six feet, is actually a shade over 5-10 and ideally should be faster than his 4.53-second time for 40 yards that he showed at the NFL combine.

What do the old schoolers say? You can't measure heart? Harris showed plenty of that during a record setting career at ECU.

According to the web site, there is an 18 percent chance the New York Jets would draft Harris in the first round. There is a nine percent chance he could go in the first round to the Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles or San Diego Chargers next Thursday night.

More than likely he will be taken in the third or fourth round and will develop into some team's third or fourth receiver, according to the site's appraisal. The evaluation said Harris can have an immediate impact as a returner. He is rated 14th out of 294 draftable wide receivers and as No. 131 out of 2,086 in the draft pool.

Williams has run a 4.45/40 and is listed 44th among the 159 available running backs. Giavanni Ruffin is listed 74th among running backs. Norman Whitley, who played sparingly at the close of his ECU career, is listed 89th among the ball carriers.

Dobson emerging

Speaking of running backs, rising sophomore Michael Dobson ran 16 times for 80 yards in the spring game.

"It felt good," Dobson said. "As a running back, of course I want carries. We're a passing team and run second but anyway I can help out the offense, whether it's passing, running or catching — I'll do what I've got to do."

Dobson said the offensive line improved significantly during spring.

"They're physical and they get after it," he said. "I see positive things from them from here on out."

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04/22/2011 02:14 AM


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