The Spokane Shock are 11 games into the season and only seven players have seen time in every contest.
They change offensive linemen and the team still leads the Arena Football League in points per game. They call on a new receiver or two – 12 players have at least one reception – and the Shock remain in the top five in passing yardage. They insert a different fullback (basically a fourth blocker) and quarterback Kyle Rowley still has time to scan the field.
They trade popular linebacker Kevin McCullough and newcomer Antwan Marsh has three interceptions in three games. The secondary and defensive line have been fairly stable, but even with a couple of adjustments Spokane retains high rankings in sacks per game (tied for first) and total defense (second).
At one point, Spokane had a franchise-record nine players on injured-reserve. Prior to this season, the Shock’s longest I-R list was four. Arena football is 8-vs.-8, so nine in street clothes puts stress on a 23-man roster (20 on game days).
“Everyone came here for one reason: to win a championship,” said Mac linebacker Aaron Robbins, who joins Jerry Turner, Richard Clebert and William Mulder as defenders who have played in all 11 games. “We don’t have any guys just playing to play.”
The natural expectation when injuries stack up is a drop in on-field performance, but No. 1 Spokane is riding a seven-game winning streak into Friday’s game with No. 2 Arizona.
“We’ve had some guys who have been waiting for the opportunity and when they get in they already have some practice experience and they’re ready to step up,” said receiver Huey Whittaker, who joins Rowley and kicker Taylor Rowan as 11-game participants. “It’s not really a new face, maybe to the fans it is, but in the locker room it’s a guy who has been here a couple weeks or all season.”
Spokane has shown an ability to adjust on the fly. When a couple of offensive linemen couldn’t go in the season opener, the Shock made a mid-week deal to acquire Rob McMackin. When head coach Rob Keefe grew dissatisfied with the production at Jack linebacker, he summoned the athletic Marsh, who played at Pikeville (Ky.) College when Keefe and line coach Travis Crusenberry were on the staff.
“(Defensive coordinator Alex) Sirianni will tell me he wants a 6-3, 250-pound defensive end,” Keefe said. “I look at the AFL and af2 guys and “Rigs” (player personnel director Ryan Rigmaiden) looks at the rookies. We sit down, this is who I have, this is who you have, these are the four we need to call.
“Huey, me and Rigs combined on him. I know Kyle, I got Kyle here. “Zeb” (backup QB Brian Zbydniewski) played with me, so I called him up (when Erik Meyer went on I-R). Rigs has been working on Meyer for three years. Rowan played in the UFL, Rigs found him. (Brandon) Leyritz played for coach Crusenberry. (Emery) Sammons was with me in camp with Philadelphia. (DB) Travis Williams played for Arkansas and Crusenberry was saying he’s one of the best he’s seen.”
Vijil undergoing tests
Shock receiver Raul Vijil will undergo an MRI on his right knee today to determine his status for Friday. Vijil was injured when he was hit on the side of his knee by a Milwaukee player last week.
“I’m expecting him to play,” Keefe said. “Hopefully it’s a sprain or a hyperextension. I don’t think it’s an I-R thing.”
Vijil watched a few minutes of Tuesday’s practice with a brace on his right knee. He had two TD catches and returned seven kicks for 155 yards vs. the Iron.
Davila will play Friday
Arizona quarterback Nick Davila, the Shock’s starting quarterback in 2008-09, was tossed out of Saturday’s win over Jacksonville for throwing a punch. On the play, which can be seen on YouTube, Davila scores a touchdown on a quarterback sneak and takes exception to a Jacksonville player’s antics underneath the pile.
The league office reviewed the play and Davila was fined, but not suspended for Friday’s game.
“I just wanted to make sure my team knew I was saying, ‘Hey, you suspended my (offensive coordinator Matt Sauk in early May for a game) for throwing a temper tantrum, are you going to suspend a player for throwing punches?” Keefe said. “Apparently the punches were justified.”
Marsh was named co-Ironman of the week after scoring three touchdowns, one via an interception return and two on short runs, against Milwaukee. “He’s an amazing athlete,” Robbins said. “I call him “Avatar” because he reminds me of the Avatar from that movie.” … Keefe said DB Rod Mosley is probably a week away from coming off I-R. Meyer and WR Markee White are probably two weeks away.