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Blaze nab Kats' linebacker in dispersal draft

With the Austin Wranglers and Nashville Kats closing up shop prior to the 2008 Arena Football League season, the remaining 17 teams in the league raided their rosters on Friday.

The AFL held a dispersal draft for the Wranglers and Kats players. The Utah Blaze had the No. 8 pick and selected linebacker Liam Ezekiel, formerly of the Kats. Ezekiel, a 6-foot-1, 255-pounder, had 59 tackles and 1.5 sacks last season for Nashville. Ezekiel, who turns 25 on Sunday, was a college star at Northeastern and spent the 2005 season with the Buffalo Bills.

Cleveland — the AFL team formerly located in Las Vegas — had the first pick in the dispersal draft, taking defensive lineman Joe Minucci. Cleveland also traded up to get the 11th selection, choosing wide receiver Otis Amey.

Other notable players selected Friday included 2007 kicker of the year Mark Lewis, who went to the Columbus Destroyers, and All-Arena first-team defensive back Ahmad Hawkins, picked by the Grand Rapids Rampage.

While several teams added multiple players, the Blaze took only Ezekiel, trading or passing on their second-, third- and fourth-round selections.

The AFL's free-agency signing period begins Monday. The Blaze are still in the hunt to re-sign several of their own free agents — including star receiver Siaha Burley, WR/DB Ryan Dennard and LB/FB Frank Carter. They also expect to sign several free agents away from other teams.

In other AFL news, the league's board of directors has approved a rule change to take effect for the 2008 season that will allow a coach-to-player communication device for one defensive player on the field. This change makes the Arena Football League the first in professional football to allow a defensive player to have a communication device in his helmet. In the past, only the quarterback has been allowed to use a communication device to receive information.

"The atmosphere — and the energy that the fans emit — during an Arena Football game is such that both teams need to be on equal footing with communication from coaches," said Dallas Desperados chief operating officer Shy Anderson, who also serves as chairman of the AFL rules and competition committee in a press release announcing the change. "The main concern was competition, but we are excited as this will also provide ESPN an opportunity to allow the viewing fans to get a look at what both teams are thinking pre-snap."

Meanwhile, the Blaze have announced a new radio partner. After two seasons with 1280 AM (The Zone), the Blaze have now paired up with 1320 AM (The Fan) for the '08 season. Additionally, several games will again be broadcast on Ch. 14.


E-mail: lojo@desnews.com