The Spokane Shock’s winning ways have brought a long-standing debate to the forefront: Rest vs. rust, momentum vs. health.
Spokane has clinched home-field advantage throughout the Arena Football League playoffs. The top-ranked Shock own an 11-game winning streak and they’re primed for the postseason, but they still have one regular-season game remaining – at Jacksonville on Friday.
“We want to finish what we started,” head coach Rob Keefe said. “We want to go 8-0 (on the road), 14-2 (overall) and we also want to get guys individual records. If you’re up for lineman of the year, MVP, offensive player, rookie of the year … this is also a big game for those reasons. We want to get you on the first team or second team All-AFL.”
A 20-man game-day roster doesn’t truly give a coach much flexibility when it comes to resting players.
“If you’re a train and you just went 500 miles, why would you stop 20 minutes from the finish line,” Keefe said. “It takes a long time to get started up again.”
Keefe’s players agreed.
“Nobody wants to take a break or sit out a half,” lineman Adam Juratovac said. “When you watch on NFL Network or on film, that’s your name, that’s your résumé you’re putting out there for that week.”
Keefe said he might take out certain players if the game is a blowout either way. The coach has said for weeks he’d like to get backup quarterback Brian Zbydniewski some time, but tight games have prevented him from playing.
“We have to see what we have with ‘Zeb’,” Keefe said. Reserve quarterback Erik Meyer, who went on injured-reserve June 17, isn’t ready to return, Keefe said.
Back in the game
Shock newcomer Tito Hannah had a good reason for not playing football until late July. The defensive end wanted to be on hand for the birth of his son, Arrington, on July 15 in Columbia, S.C. Four days later, he boarded a plane for Spokane.
Hannah has played for arenafootball2 Macon (Ga.), Arkansas and South Georgia. He played for Montreal in the CFL. He had a few NFL tryouts. He signed to play for AFL Utah in 2009, but the league folded.
“Since I didn’t get a call at the beginning of the year, I was about to retire,” Hannah said. “And as soon as I said that, that’s when I got a call.”
More calls followed. He strongly considered Jacksonville, where his former coach at Arkansas, Chris Siegfried, is the offensive coordinator, but Hannah chose Spokane. He made his debut against Chicago last Friday.
“The best opportunity was for me to come to Spokane,” said Hannah, who hopes to earn a championship ring. He’s 0-3 in previous opportunities, falling short with South Carolina State in the Heritage Bowl, Macon (Ga.) in the ArenaCup and Montreal in the Grey Cup.
Garcia suiting up?
Jacksonville can secure home-field advantage for two rounds of the playoffs with a win over Spokane. The Sharks have released reserve quarterback Todd Hammel, which Keefe believes is an indication that veteran Aaron Garcia will suit up.
Garcia, a former Washington State Cougar, suffered a concussion and shoulder injury two weeks ago. He was replaced by Bernard Morris, who led the Sharks to a pair of wins.
“They’ll probably start Bernard,” Keefe said. “If he can’t handle us, they’re going to throw Aaron back in.”
Quarterback Kyle Rowley was nailed by a couple of prankster teammates during a TV interview after Tuesday’s practice. He was drenched with water and then doused with flour. All involved laughed as they watched a replay. Rowley was already plotting his revenge. … Spokane will open the playoffs against Chicago or Arizona. It’ll be Chicago if Arizona defeats Iowa on Saturday. If Iowa wins, Spokane will face Arizona. … The 56-yard kick return for a touchdown by Spokane’s Mervin Brookins against Chicago was selected as the AFL’s highlight of the week. It was also No. 10 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays.