July 26, 2011 in Sports

Shock tweak roster before playoff

By The Spokesman-Review

It’s business as usual for the Spokane Shock, which means another week of players coming and going, assessing key injuries and formulating if-necessary plans.

With the UFL on hold and the NFL a go, Spokane is tweaking its roster again in preparation for Friday’s Arena Football League playoff with top-ranked and No. 1-seeded Arizona in Phoenix. Ayanga Okpokowuruk (New York Giants) and Laupepa Letuli (Dallas) are bound for the NFL. The UFL’s delayed start brought wide receiver Greg Orton back last week and Markee White officially signed Tuesday.

Spokane’s most pressing order of business is the health of defensive back Alex Teems (hip pointer). The team has signed DB/WR Marquise Charles, a Utah State product.

“Right now we’re losing two (to the NFL), but it could be three or four,” head coach Rob Keefe said. “Hopefully, Alex can go. If he can’t we have a defensive back ready that we’ve been preparing. If an offensive lineman can’t go we have another ready to go. This is something we’ve been doing all year and we’re pretty good at it.”

The Shock suited up five receivers (Orton, Adron Tennell, Raul Vijil, Brandon Thompkins and Randy Hymes) against Jacksonville. Don’t be surprised if they do it again, particularly with White in the mix.

“All of these guys are good on special teams, and you have to have those guys that can play ‘Jack’ linebacker,” Keefe said.

Spokane should have a nice blend of size and speed for quarterback Kyle Rowley, who is 4-0 as a starter against Arizona but struggled in relief of Erik Meyer in a 68-46 loss earlier this month.

“I know we’re going to have weapons,” Rowley said.

Schedule change: Spokane took the unusual step of closing Tuesday’s practice to the media. The team will depart for Phoenix this morning in hopes of getting acclimated to expected 100-degree temperatures. In the meeting in early July, Meyer suffered full-body cramping and Tennell also had cramping issues.

“We have indoor practice facilities lined up, catered meals set up, a direct flight,” Keefe said. “We’ll have nothing else to do but focus on football and all the other distractions are out of the way. There’s no point to giving somebody bulletin-board material. We really need to focus and we have a lot of new plays in the play book.”

Giant move: Okpokowuruk was at team headquarters Tuesday morning, waiting for a ride to catch his flight to New York. He was on the Giants’ practice squad late last season and the team signed him to a contract prior to the lockout.

“A lot of people told me I shouldn’t come (to the AFL), that I shouldn’t risk injury, but I thought it would be a great opportunity to get on the field and play against some great competition,” he said. “It’s a lot different when you’re on the field and competing rather than running drills and doing stuff by yourself.”

Okpokowuruk is thrilled to be going to training camp, which opens Friday at the Meadowlands, but he added, “I’ve gotten really close to my teammates here, with the ups and downs of the season and fighting to get into the playoffs. It’s kind of bittersweet, because I feel like we’re just hitting our stride.”

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