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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, September 28, 2007

By Bethany Bradsher

Career ladder slippery in 'the league'

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Coaches in college football stand on shifting sand, but for their players life is relatively stable.

Collegiate athletes commit to a school like East Carolina and — if they work hard at practice and keep their grades at a reasonable level — they can be sure that for four or five years they’ll be a Pirate.

In the Pirate Nation, where fans can be assured that Van Eskridge is a sophomore with 33 tackles and next fall he’ll be a junior with lots of tackles, the uncertain environs of the NFL can seem distant. But at least nine former Pirates are on some point of the NFL continuum that ranges from highly valued team member to also-ran.

Two of the safest pros these days, but players who are not strangers to the other side, are David Garrard and Vonta Leach. The starting quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the starting fullback for the Houston Texans, Garrard and Leach are the personification of the classic NFL dream: hard work and talent leading to gridiron glory.

After he led the Jaguars to a 23-14 victory over Denver on Sunday, Garrard was being touted as the offensive star of the team where he labored for five years as Byron Leftwich’s backup.

“Who is this guy?” wrote Vic Ketchman on “Is this model of efficiency the same guy who nearly trashed his career with a barrage of turnovers late last season? Three games into this season, Garrard has yet to throw an interception. A week ago, he keyed a 13-10 win over the Falcons by driving his team 80 yards for the eventual game-winning touchdown.”

Leach might not get as much individual press as Garrard, but his team has been in the spotlight, as pundits have named the Texans one of the league’s teams to be reckoned with this season.

A former Packer who was the subject of a bidding war between the Texans and the New York Giants in March, Leach is right in the thick of it at fullback, with one carry and seven pass receptions for 30 yards so far.

Another ex-Pirate who is accustomed to the rarified air of an NFL starting post is Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Roderick Coleman, who has become a pillar of the Falcons defense but is currently listed as third on the depth chart because he had arthroscopic surgery to clean out debris from his knee early this month.

Next are the middle-of-the-road players, those who are less certain of their contributions but are still part of an NFL team where their fortunes could turn on a dime with the right break or impact play.

Aundrae Allison is the second-string wide receiver for the Vikings with one catch for 11 yards, and Terrance Copper with the New Orleans Saints is also the second wide receiver on the depth chart, but he has already caught 3 passes for 29 yards.

Guy Whimper, in his second year with the Giants, is the backup left tackle behind David Diehl.

So to see those six, just tune in to the NFL telecasts this weekend. But for a few other favorite former Pirates, you’ll need to keep your eyes trained on the tiny type in the daily sports section, the one that details NFL transactions.

Eric Graham was released from the Panthers on August 26, and two days later the Steelers released Richard Koonce. But the most startling roster move within the Pirate Nation came from Baltimore, where Brian Rimpf was released Sept. 2 after three years of contributing to the Ravens.

“My agent said he was pretty sure I would get picked up,” said Rimpf, a three-time first team All-Conference USA selection in his ECU days. “It’s just a matter of when.”

Many NFL teams keep 10 offensive linemen, and when Rimpf came to the Ravens three years ago they kept nine. This year they only kept eight, with Rimpf out of the loop as the ninth. So he and his family are effectively on hold while Rimpf keeps working out and waiting for the right team with a need for an offensive guard to call.

“We’re just waiting,” he said.

In the ever-fluid world of the NFL, he’s not the only one. Just check the NFL transactions column, with new comings and goings every day.

Send an e-mail message to Bethany Bradsher.

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09/28/2007 03:08:36 AM

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