Numerous arena football players want to come to Spokane because the franchise has a habit of winning games in its three-plus years. The tradeoff is that once they join the Shock, it isn’t easy to crack the lineup.
Take the wide receiver position, at which Spokane returned three standouts – Andy Olson, Patrick Bugg and Raul Vijil, who is in his fourth season with the team. The Shock also added Washington State’s Charles Dillon and 6-foot-7 prospect Markee White, who hadn’t played in a real game since finishing his collegiate eligibility with Texas State in 2005.
White had workouts or spent time in NFL camps with Dallas in 2006, St. Louis in 2007 and Atlanta in 2008 before landing in Spokane, where Shock veterans and Dillon hogged the playing time the first three games.
But injuries to Olson and Dillon gave White an opportunity and he made up for lost time with a team-high 12 catches for 99 yards and one touchdown in Spokane’s 71-50 victory over Stockton last Saturday.
“I was just anxious to get out there,” White said. “My number got called and I wanted to make sure I caught everything and secured the ball. I was a little rusty on a couple of routes, but it felt pretty good getting my first touchdown and just playing football again.”
Vijil leads Spokane with 29 receptions, 11 for touchdowns. Olson paced the Shock in Week 2 against Tri-Cities with seven catches and four TD grabs, but he’s been out the past two weeks with a knee injury. Bugg supplied six catches for 116 yards and four scores in a road win against Boise in Week 3. Bugg, Olson and Dillon have combined for 15 TDs.
“It’s really competitive,” White said. “The guys that were here last year are veterans and I have to compete with those guys. We push each other in practice.
“It’s almost like the best man wins in the long run, but whoever is out there is going to produce.”
With Dillon back and Olson expected to be available for Saturday’s home game against Iowa, head coach Adam Shackleford figures to have a tough call on his hands later this week. There are five quality receivers competing for four spots.
“It could come down to health or a gut feeling,” Shackleford said. “We feel like have five guys that can do it.”
Brian Jackson, who ranked second in arenafootball2 in point-after accuracy last season, is at it again.
He’s made 31 of 33 PATs (93.9 percent), second only to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s David Davis, who is 47 of 47, despite the uprights being only 9 feet apart. It’s 18 feet, 6 inches in the outdoor game.
Jackson is 4 for 4 on field goals and 3 for 3 on on-side kicks. Spokane leads the league in kickoff coverage with a net average of 42.2, meaning opponents typically start at their 7.8-yard line.
“The biggest thing is I’m a veteran now and with that one year of experience I know the ropes in arena football,” said Jackson, who was 106 of 119 (89.1 percent) on PATs last season. “I did a lot of long-distance running in the offseason. That’s where I needed some improvement as far as attacking the ball.
“Last year I was just kind of jogging at it, just swinging the leg and trying to get it to the net. This year I’m attacking it hard and bringing my hips through.”
Starting defensive back Sergio Gilliam (shoulder) and reserve Damon Jenkins (hamstring) didn’t practice Tuesday and aren’t expected to be on the field today. Both are questionable for Saturday.
Jimmie Sutton, an af2 rookie from North Carolina State, just came off injured reserve and practiced Tuesday.
“He got a lot of reps and he’ll play if Sergio or Damon aren’t ready,” Shackleford said. “The fourth defensive back would probably be Charles Dillon.”
Offensive lineman Ryan Belcher (mono) didn’t travel to Stockton. He was replaced by Hercules Satele, a rookie from Hawaii whose cousin, Samson, plays for the Oakland Raiders. Belcher will have a checkup later this week to determine his availability Saturday. … With a deep roster that has overcome a few key injuries to this point, Shackleford was asked if he fields many complaints about playing time from those who rarely see the field. “As long as we keep winning, it’s tough to tell a coach we’re making the wrong decisions,” he said. “They’ll tell me, ‘Coach, I respectfully disagree and I’ll continue to work hard and try to prove you wrong.’ ” Shackleford said that’s exactly what he wants to hear. … Spokane plays three of its next four games at home, including May 9 against Boise and May 23 against Central Valley. The road game during that stretch is May 16 at Florida.