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View from the 'ville
Thursday, April 24, 2008

By Al Myatt

Scouts eye C.J.'s supporting cast

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

With millions of dollars to spend on top selections, NFL personnel make it their business to know as much as possible about potential draft choices and free agents.

Fayetteville-based pro sports agent Ralph Vitolo, whose clients include Houston Texans fullback Vonta Leach and Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Joe Horn, says an interesting phenomenon has occurred as pro scouts have broken down tape of East Carolina running back Chris Johnson.

The scouts' evaluations have resulted in some interest in Pirates tight end Jay Sonnhalter, offensive tackle Josh Coffman and versatile offensive lineman Matt Butler – seniors who helped open holes for the speedy Johnson.

Vitolo expects Johnson to be chosen in the second round from overall pick No. 45 to No. 63. Almost the entire Carolina Panthers coaching staff, including coach John Fox, were on hand to see Johnson work out in Greenville.

"They didn't come to see him just because he has dreadlocks," Vitolo said.

The agent cited the factors that will keep ECU's all-time leader in all-purpose yards from going in the first round. Johnson is 5-foot-10 3/8 and 192 pounds, according to the pro data.

"He's almost too small," Vitolo said. "He has great pure speed but he's not a natural wiggler in terms of making people miss. He's not an every down back. There are concerns about injuries. Some people have said his hands are small."

Some much for the negatives. Johnson ran 40 yards in 4.24 seconds at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

"You get him in the right situation – give him a crease – and that's what the pros like about him," Vitolo said. "He's so fast and quick, probably an H back. He can be successful with the right team. You can do things with speed. He's great in open space."

The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs have also shown significant interest in Johnson, according to Vitolo, who has agreed to represent Sonnhalter.

Vitolo likes Sonnhalter's potential.

"He didn't run that fast on pro day, a high 4.8 and a low 4.9, but he's 6-foot-4 and he's got better game speed than his 40 times indicate," the agent said. "He had a pulled hamstring on pro day. He can get to 270 pounds in the pros without losing speed. His game speed is exceptional. He's a smart kid with a mean streak. He's a hybrid tight end that can run."

Teams that have shown interest in Sonnhalter include Tennessee, Washington, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Kansas City.

Coffman came to ECU as a tight end but made a successful transition to tackle. The pros have concerns about his shoulder that kept him out of action during a portion of the latter stages of his ECU career. Butler has played several positions on the offensive front, including center, and that enhances his value in the eyes of pro evaluators.

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04/24/2008 02:36:04 AM


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