It’s commonplace for coaches in any sport to praise an opponent. That’s easy when the foe is 3-0, a tad harder when it’s 0-3.
Spokane head coach Rob Keefe, fond of the saying “respect everyone, fear nobody,” doesn’t mind voicing caution about Cleveland (0-3), which visits the third-ranked Shock (2-1) in an Arena Football League matchup at 7 tonight at the Arena.
Keefe doesn’t have to stretch the truth to be convincing. The Gladiators led Arizona in the season opener 35-14 before losing by five points. Cleveland was on top of Chicago 42-35 in the third quarter before the top-ranked Rush pulled out a 59-56 victory. The Gladiators coughed up an early 21-7 lead in losing to Oklahoma City 63-50.
“Don’t let the record fool you,” Keefe said. “They’ve lost three games by 21 points, that’s one fumble, one dropped ball, one missed tackle. Our guys understand that.”
Cleveland has been stung by turnovers, in particular veteran quarterback John Dutton’s AFL-leading eight interceptions, three more than Iowa’s Ryan Vena prior to the Barnstormers’ game Friday night. Dutton has two Arena Bowl titles on his resume. He throws to two of the top pass-catchers in the league: Ben Nelson and Chris Johnson. They’re tied for second in the AFL, both with 34 receptions. Spokane’s Huey Whittaker is fourth with 32 catches.
Spokane, which is undergoing another shuffle in the secondary, has two interceptions in three games, but the defense has forced four fumbles. Cleveland is minus-6 in turnover margin.
Ex-Washington State Cougar Alex Teems will be in the Shock secondary after a four-week stint on injured-reserve. He’s expected to start alongside Travis Williams, who hasn’t played since the season opener, and William Mulder. Recently signed James Todd, who played with Williams in arenafootball2 and with Keefe in Spokane in 2007, will be the fourth DB.
Both teams are coming off a bye week. Cleveland used the extra time to sign three defensive players while releasing a lineman and linebacker. The Gladiators are ninth in scoring defense (61 points) and 10th in total defense (306.3 yards).
“We had a chance to rest our bodies,” Keefe said. “We want to get back into the rhythm (Spokane built up in a two-game winning streak).”
Cleveland defensive lineman Lance Witherspoon played at Eastern Washington with Shock wide receiver Raul Vijil. Witherspoon has attended Shock games. … Cleveland defensive end Anthony Hoke and Shock linebacker Kevin McCullough were teammates at the University of Cincinnati. Hoke roomed with ex-Bearcats/Shock quarterback Nick Davila, now the starter at Arizona. … Cleveland plays four of its first five games on the road. … Spokane has three players that were on Cleveland’s 2008 roster: Teems, Antonio Narcisse and Al Phillips, who is on injured reserve.