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Dukes to Rattlers, Neal to Command in Trade
Hopefully Cliff Dukes uses an airline that doesn't charge change fees.
The ink was barely dry on the Arena Football League trade that sent the defensive lineman/linebacker from the Tampa Bay Storm to the Kansas City Command when he was traded again, two days later: this time, from the Command to the Arizona Rattlers in exchange for defensive back J.C. Neal.
"J.C. Neal was a guy we targeted in the offseason," said Command head coach Danton Barto through the team's website. "We think he's one of the top three middle (safety) guys in the league, and he fits our system. Finding those guys is like finding quarterbacks sometimes. It takes a certain guy with a certain mentality to play that position. We think we hit a home run."
Neal, 6-foot-0 and 200 pounds, had a fantastic rookie season with the Tulsa Talons in 2011, finishing fifth in the league with 109.5 total tackles and sixth in the league with nine interceptions. He returned three of those picks for touchdowns, which was tops in the AFL. Additionally, he forced five fumbles, recovered four loose balls, and broke up 21 passes.
In Week 14 against the Utah Blaze, he returned two interceptions and an onside kick for touchdowns in an 81-51 victory for the Talons. That performance earned him the league's National Guard MVP of the Week and Defensive Player of the Week honors.
After playing safety and cornerback for North Carolina State—watch some of his highlights in this video here—Neal signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent in 2009 before beginning his indoor football career.
"You could see he had the skills. His biggest hurdle was gonna be learning the game and the angles and small differences from outdoor football," Talons head coach Mitch Allner told Mike Brown of the Tulsa World in June.
He was a quick study.
"I feel like I'm getting more comfortable with the plays. The game is really slowing down, and I think I'm in better position to make plays on balls," Neal said in a June interview with Evan Vladem of the Arena Football League, "I'm practicing hard during the week and going up against the best receivers in the game, I think.
"I'm doing a lot better now. In the beginning, I struggled but I didn't let it get me down. Jamar Ransom, Al Hunt and a few guys that are veterans in the game encouraged me. They took me under their wing. That helped me with learning the game a bit faster."
Dukes, meanwhile, earned the league's Defensive Lineman of the Year honor after leading the AFL in sacks (12.5) and tackles for a loss (16.5). You can read more about him in the first article linked at the end of this one.
He'll make the pass rush of the defending National Conference champion Rattlers even more fearsome after the team finished sixth in the league in sacks (30) and fourth in the league in total defense in 2011. Dukes will join Marcus Pittman, Tyre Glasper, and All-Arena defensive lineman Anttaj Hawthorne in Phoenix for 2012 as the Rattlers make a run at a return trip to the ArenaBowl.
Arizona begins its quest on March 10 on the road against the division rival San Jose SaberCats. Rattlers fans get their first opportunity to see Dukes play in the Snake Pit on March 17 against the Milwaukee Mustangs.
Neal, meanwhile, will make his Kansas City debut on March 17 when the Command open their season at home against the defending league champion Jacksonville Sharks.
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