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Blaze getting prepared for the expansion draft

This was supposed to be a big week for the Utah Blaze.

The expansion Arena Football League team was anticipating signing a few free agents and filling its roster with AFL veterans.

Instead, the AFL pushed the signing date back a couple of weeks because of Hurricane Katrina. The Blaze, and every other team in the league, will be allowed to sign free agents starting Oct. 1. And while negotiations with free agents will continue, the Blaze also are gearing up for next week's AFL expansion draft.

"We have been looking forward to this day," Blaze coach Danny White said. "The talent in the AFL has improved dramatically from my first years in the league where now teams are deep enough that they can't protect everyone."

The expansion draft will take place Sept. 26 starting at 11 a.m. and can last as long as 20 rounds. The Blaze are the only team selecting players this year, and each of the other teams can protect only 16 players. With free agency, there are three teams without 16 players currently under contract.

There are also some intriguing names Utah can add to its roster.

Former Florida State quarterback and AFL rookie of the year Adrian McPherson was left unprotected by the Nashville Kats. Former NFL quarterback Eric Zeier is also on the list of available players, but the Blaze may opt to go after a free-agent signal-caller. Arizona starter Sherdrick Bonner and backup Joe Germaine are free agents, and White has said he's been in contact with agents for most of the big-name players in the league.

One free agent White will have no problem getting in touch with is former Utah State linebacker Jermaine Younger. After having played with the Georgia Force for the past few years, Younger has relocated to Utah where his son lives and wants to join the Blaze.

At the open tryouts last month, Younger showed up just to make himself known to White.

"I've played in the league for a few years, and they know what I can do," Younger said. "I want to play here because my family is here."

White is well aware of the talent available to his team.

"The free-agent market is loaded with players that have solid arena experience," White said. "We just held our first open tryout last month and hosted over 200 quality players. This is going to be fun, starting from scratch and building a competitive team."

The Blaze will add players via the expansion draft, possibly trade some of those to other teams and then start signing free agents — starting with former Utah safety Morgan Scalley.

Utah will also host an invitation-only tryout for free agents Oct. 7-8.