Through the first seven games of the Arena Football League season, Spokane’s secondary had zero interceptions. In the last five games, the unit has six picks.
Three of those came during last week’s win over Philadelphia and two were returned for touchdowns.
“It was pretty rough for a while,” defensive back Terrance Sanders said, “but we’re doing the right things now and we’re capitalizing on our opportunities.”
Spokane remains last in the AFL with seven interceptions, including one by lineman Jon Williams, but the secondary seems to be finding its stride.
“What you saw (against Philadelphia) was a team that wasn’t afraid of (ex-Shock defensive lineman Khreem Smith) so there wasn’t as many three-step drops (by the quarterback),” said Sanders, who leads Spokane with four interceptions. “It gives us time to cover and make plays on the ball. If they’re three-steppin’ and getting the ball out quick, all we can do is make tackles.”
The temptation for a defensive back facing a quarterback constantly using a three-step drop is to jump the pass route.
“That’s dangerous because it’s such an offensive game and there’s so much space,” Sanders said. “If they’re doing hitches, it’s almost impossible to stop and they can get their double-moves in.”
One game is hardly a sufficient sample size, but Spokane’s defense, minus Smith for the first time, came up with three sacks and three turnovers against the Soul. The long-term effect of Smith’s absence will play out over the last six regular-season games, but it may change how opposing offenses operate against the Shock.
“Khreem was such a threat and such an intimidating force, short passes were a given when he was in,” Shock head coach Rob Keefe said. “I want people to pass deep because it allows our team to go to work. It allows our team to confuse (the opposing QB). Obviously we have plays and we’re ready for short routes, too, but you couldn’t throw deep with him because he was such a good pass rusher.
“The thing is, we still have good pass rushers here, but they just don’t have the name behind them yet.”
Keefe obviously wasn’t thrilled to part with Smith, likely an All-AFL selection, but he realized that you have to give up something to get something in return. Spokane needed help at quarterback and the four-player trade brought Erik Meyer back to the Shock.
Meyer, part II
Meyer, who tossed seven touchdown passes against Philadelphia, will start and Steven Sheffield will be the backup against defensive-minded Chicago on Saturday, Keefe said. The coach doesn’t expect Kyle Rowley (shoulder) or Bill Stull (knee) to be activated from injured reserve this week. Rowley indicated during an NFL Network interview Friday that he hoped to play this week.
“Really the question is, ‘Can he take a hit?’ There’s a big difference between tossing the football and putting pads on and playing an entire game,” Keefe said. “It will be soon, and it’ll be a situation where we compete and the best guys will play.”
That applies at receiver, too, where Spokane has six solid players, Keefe said. Rookie Adron Tennell had five catches for 69 yards Friday in his season debut.
“I haven’t played in about a year and a half and being out there on national TV for the first game, it felt great,” said Tennell, a University of Oklahoma product.
Defensive back Nygel Rogers, who played for Spokane in 2007-08 and Chicago last season, is trying out for the Shock. Players are allowed a four-day waiver. He practiced twice last week and again Tuesday and today. … Taylor Rowan is second in the league in PAT accuracy (87.1 percent). Orlando’s Mark Lewis is first at 88.5. … Sanders ranks fifth in kick-return average (20.5 yards). … Smith had one tackle in his first game with Utah.