Rob Keefe has demonstrated in 26 games as Spokane’s head coach that he’s willing to take a chance with several bold decisions regarding roster moves, assistants and game strategy.
Keefe rolled the dice again last Saturday against No. 1 Arizona, opting to suit up an extra defender instead of a traditional back-up quarterback.
The Shock entered the game with a couple of banged-up players in the secondary and Keefe wanted options if they weren’t able to finish or another injury occurred. The trade-off was starting quarterback Kyle Rowley needed to stay upright or wide receiver Emery Sammons would have been behind center.
After an Arizona turnover on the second play from scrimmage, Rowley ran consecutive quarterback sneaks, scoring on his second attempt. On both plays, Rowley’s helmet went flying and he was in heavy traffic as he tried to nudge the ball over the goal line.
“Totally nerve-wracking, but I think to win you have to gamble some times,” Keefe said. “We had a lot of guys banged up and it turned out four guys went down in the fourth quarter. If we dressed a backup quarterback, we would have been short. We could have lost that game.”
If Rowley had suffered an injury, Keefe said, “It would have been the Wildcat (formation) with Emery running around trying to make plays.”
Rowley has been the lone QB to suit up a couple of times in his lengthy career under different coaches.
“I went to Kyle on Thursday and if he had anything wrong I told him he had to tell me,” Keefe said. “He said, ‘Coach, I think it’s the right move.’”
It is 35 minutes before the start of practice and linebacker Beau Bell is in his customary spot. He is the only player on the field, suited up and leaning against the padded dasherboards. About 10 minutes later, a couple of teammates saunter out of the locker room. Ten minutes later, most of the players have made it to the field.
“I used to do the same thing in college,” said Bell, who has given the defense a major lift, forcing a fumble against Arizona and registering a sack and two forced fumbles against Orlando two weeks ago. “I’m just getting my mind right. The mental part might be the most important part of football. You have to know what you’re doing.”
Bell usually goes to the field directly after team meetings while his teammates hang out in the locker room, where the music can be heard 25 yards away.
“They probably do,” replied Bell, when asked if his teammates think his ritual is strange, “but at the same time I think they’re crazy, too.”
Spokane will be without Josh Ferguson, who manned the middle defensive back spot, for the rest of the season. He suffered a torn ACL in his left knee late in the fourth quarter Saturday.
Terrance Sanders, who had a pass break-up on a two-point conversion attempt in the closing seconds, will play the middle and probably be flanked by Alex Teems and Ruschard Dodd-Masters.
“We’ll bring in another DB shortly, but right now we feel comfortable with what we have,” Keefe said.
Keefe has a couple of younger defensive backs in mind as well as former Shock DB Nygel Rogers, who signed with Spokane in September but decided to work in the private sector.
Shortly after defeating Arizona, Keefe was making a point that the Shock could be positioned to go on a roll when he recited Spokane’s remaining schedule, all 11 games, in order.
“We don’t want to get too far ahead. That’s really irresponsible of myself. You have to take it one game at a time, but I like the one-game mentality with who we’re about to play,” Keefe said. “We know we’ve put ourselves in a position where we could be sitting pretty in about 10 weeks, because of how we’ve played together (the last two games) and what we’re building.”