The Spokane Shock will open the playoffs the same way they finished the regular season – without wide receiver Raul Vijil and defensive end Ben McCombs.
Vijil, who missed the last five games with a knee injury, and McCombs, sidelined the last four games with a knee injury, won’t play against Arizona on Friday, head coach Rob Keefe said.
If Spokane wins, Keefe said both players would be “50-50” for next week’s game.
Keefe took precautionary steps during Friday’s loss to Jacksonville to make sure Spokane’s injury list isn’t longer heading into the playoffs. Quarterback Kyle Rowley sat out the fourth quarter. Linebacker Antwan Marsh and fullback Clay Harrell were shaken up in the first half and sat out most of the game, though each tried to talk Keefe into getting back on the field.
“I got to the point where I would have onside kicked the whole second half and the one we did do was a great onside kick by Taylor (Rowan), but Markee (White) and Alex (Teems) got destroyed,” Keefe said. “I thought, ‘I can’t do this for two quarters. I really want to win this game, but we can’t do this.’ Let’s get through this thing healthy.”
Health factored into several of Keefe’s decisions.
“Kyle was upset. He didn’t want to come out and he said, ‘I thought we talked about this,’” Keefe said. “I was like, ‘Big picture, man.’ Marsh had about 30 people at the game – family, his old coaches.”
In retrospect, Keefe said it wasn’t easy for his players to buy his sale’s pitch last week. The outcome had huge playoff consequences for Jacksonville, but essentially no impact on Spokane.
“I talk a good game, I know I do, to the media and fans, (but) it was a struggle to get up for the game,” he said. “I remember talking about Jacksonville and two hands went up: ‘Who does Arizona play?’ It was literally hard to have a conversation without somebody wondering, ‘Who are we going to play in the first round?’”
Marsh and Harrell should be fine for Friday. Offensive lineman Antonio Narcisse (foot/ankle) has a chance to be activated from injured reserve.
Players earn their customary $400 per game in the playoffs, but there is a chance for a bonus if they reach the ArenaBowl. A portion of the $1 the AFL collects from each playoff ticket sold goes into a bonus pool. Shock general manager Adam Nebeker said players on the winning ArenaBowl team will receive 60 percent, losing team members 40 percent.
Nebeker estimated Shock players received a $750 bonus for winning the ArenaCup last season, but arenafootball2 had a 16-team playoff format. The AFL has eight playoff teams (three playoff rounds versus four in af2), so the payout could be smaller.
Coaches also can supplement their paychecks with playoff success.
“There is an allotment each team can provide for coaches’ bonuses,” Nebeker said, “but each team has discretion as to how they want to divide it up.” For example, teams can pay for each playoff win or a large chunk for winning the title.
Reserve quarterback Brian Zbydniewski replaced Rowley in the fourth quarter and kept Spokane within striking distance. Zbydniewski, seeing his first snaps at quarterback this season, directed three scoring drives before tossing an interception in the final seconds.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” offensive coordinator Matt Sauk said. “He came off the bench kind of cold, warmed up with three or four throws and he played very well. He threw on time, which is probably the biggest thing.”
Zbydniewski will be the No. 2 quarterback versus Arizona.
Plenty to fix
Spokane has been a solid tackling team and outstanding in turnover margin most of the season, but those were downfalls against Jacksonville.
The Shock had a season-high four turnovers. Missed tackles proved costly against the Sharks’ quick-strike passing attack.
Rowley had his string of interception-free passes end at 176.
“It kind of smacks you in the face a little bit,” Rowley said. “It makes you get back to the basics and refocus.”
Spokane finished the regular season plus-16 in turnover margin.