Change of pace

It's hard for any NFL managerial type to ignore <!--Default NodeId For Willis McGahee is 301663,2002--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:301663]>Willis McGahee</A> when the University of <!--Default NodeId For Miami is 70958,2005--><A HREF=>Miami</A> running back makes statements as bold as the one he made recently at the NFL scouting combine.

"I plan on playing,'' McGahee said.

Eleven weeks removed from having major reconstructive knee surgery, McGahee vows to play in the NFL this coming season rather than sit out 2003 on the injured reserve list of whichever team risks a draft pick on him.

McGahee hopes to run this month and begin sprinting in June.

The Bears had been one of the teams reportedly frothing at the mouth over the chance to add McGahee's 4.3-second, 40-yard dash speed to their backfield. Whether they would risk using a second- or third-round pick on him now is open to debate, and may hinge on reports from doctors.

It's a decision facing plenty of teams heading into the April 26-27 draft.

McGahee, a sophomore, rushed for a school-record 1,686 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2002, and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. He likely would have been drafted in the first three or four picks were it not for the injury he suffered during Miami's loss to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

"We all know that he was a great player,'' Angelo said. "He's going to be a wild card.''

McGahee expects to be an ace, based on the way he feels. An exam by Dr. Walter Lowe, who performed McGahee's surgery, provided reason for encouragement while stopping short of predicting the running back will be ready to play this coming season.

"All indications are that he's going to get well, but he's still got a long way to go,'' Lowe said. "He needs to focus on getting well, and he shouldn't be in a hurry."

McGahee tore two ligaments in his knee, which makes his goal all the more difficult to achieve.

"The recovery period's tough enough when you've torn one ligament," Lowe said. "It'll be nine months in September. It's way too early to predict that he'll be able to play that soon.

"He's coming along fine. He's got normal cartilage and there's no arthritis in the knee — and that's very important. He'll play again; just when is the question.''

Teams at the combine had their own medical staffs on hand, but none were allowed to so much as touch McGahee's knee so soon after surgery.

Still, Angelo found the early medical news positive.

"It's good news,'' he said. "Those are pretty good doctors down there. So I'm saying that they're not making these statements to posture for anybody. They have nothing to gain."

McGahee plans to have his knee rechecked in April to see if his goal to play this year is still realistic. Teams here are telling him not to rush it.

"They're surprised,'' he said. "They just tell me to take it easy, don't rush nothing. They want everything to heal properly, and then we'll find out by the recheck in April.''

But McGahee keeps pushing the envelope. He already is doing squats to strengthen the knee, and he expects to deliver immediate dividends to the team that risks a draft pick on him.

"It's important to me so I can get in a groove and learn the system and get everything done so I get that old feeling back,'' he said.

While at last month's Scouting Combine McGahee visited with former University of Miami and current Indianapolis Colts running back Edgerrin James, who underwent similar surgery prior to last season. James struggled last year in his first season back.

McGahee remains certain he can be an exception.

"Garrison Hearst did it. Other backs did,'' he said. "Others have.''

Angelo said McGahee might have an easier time convincing teams to take a chance on him during the first day of the draft because the crop of running backs isn't considered to be a great one.

"It's not one of the better positions, but it's OK,'' Angelo said. "It probably makes McGahee look a little better."

Some pre-draft projections have one running back going in the first round, while others project no backs as first-rounders.

McGahee realizes the first round would be a reach for him. The second round is a more realistic goal.

"I have no idea,'' Angelo said. "Let me say this: On draft day, nothing surprises me.''

With Angelo's recent comments the Bears plan on adding a running back in next month's draft, while McGahee might be worth the risk long-term he would have a difficult time contributing as a rookie.

The recent departure of Leon Johnson leaves the team in need of depth at the position. Anthony Thomas and Adrian Peterson will handle the majority of the running duties, but have similar running styles.

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