Head coach Rob Keefe has benched veteran quarterback Kyle Rowley and named Arena Football League rookie Bill Stull the starter against Dallas on Saturday.
Rowley, who led Spokane to arena titles in 2006 and 2010, was just 19 of 44 with four touchdowns and two interceptions in the Shock’s 51-41 loss to Pittsburgh last Saturday. Spokane scored only two touchdowns in the second half and finished with a season low in points.
Stull, a University of Pittsburgh product, didn’t suit up two weeks ago when Keefe elected to dress an additional defender. Stull’s only pass attempt this season was intercepted late in Spokane’s 61-34 win over Kansas City.
“The decision was made to jump-start our team,” Keefe said. “The entire offense played terribly (against Pittsburgh), receivers running the wrong routes, dropping balls, concepts that weren’t understood. It starts and finishes with the quarterback spot. Maybe Bill can give us a little jump. At the same time, maybe this motivates Kyle to take control of the team a little more.”
Keefe emerged from a lengthy meeting with the offensive unit and said neither quarterback would be available for media interviews.
Rowley was “extremely irritated” with his demotion, Keefe said. “He really believes in his skills and the whole point is so do I. I believe in this guy, that’s why he’s here. That’s why I need him here. It’s a jump-start, it’s a quick, put the defibrillator on him and shock him.”
Spokane (3-5) has been wildly inconsistent this season. The offense appeared to be improving, with four straight games scoring at least 60 points, before falling apart in the second half Saturday. The defense continues to rank near the bottom (15th) in the AFL in points allowed (57.5).
Rowley tossed 123 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions in 19 games last season. He’s tied for first in the AFL with 54 TD passes this season, but he’s already thrown 11 interceptions, tied for second most in the league. Three of his interceptions have been returned for touchdowns.
Asked to pinpoint the difference in Rowley from last season, Keefe said, “Without getting too in depth I think it’s execution. I think, almost in the (Los Angeles Lakers) Andrew Bynum way, there’s a lot of trust issues on our team right now. I think there’s a lot of, ‘I wish this guy could do this a little better, which means I’m going to throw to this guy,’ and, ‘I don’t believe in this play call, which means I’m going to run it this way.’
“It’s a lot of inconsistent play because of the mental (aspect of the game). I just need consistency. When there’s inconsistent play, it’s because there’s over-thinking, lack of trust and a mentality that every play doesn’t matter, and that’s a problem. Every play does matter.”
Stull, who was released by the Kansas City Chiefs and the UFL Hartford Colonials last year, passed for 5,284 yards and 32 touchdowns from 2005-09 at Pittsburgh.
“He has a big arm, he’s excited and we’ll keep it simple for him,” Keefe said. “The inexperience and youth brings freshness. It’s going to be refreshing to see someone that doesn’t over-think things.”
Level playing field
At Spokane’s last home game, a sizable bump in the turf was visible near the 20-yard line.
“The turf had been sitting (in storage) for a month and it didn’t get a chance to lay down,” majority owner Brady Nelson said. “It’s not a field problem, it’s a lay-down problem.”
The turf often is placed over ice during Spokane Chiefs hockey season, with a 2-inch pad in between. There was a hockey game the night before the Shock entertained Arizona on April 30.
“Anytime it first goes down, there’s several bumps but after several hours it starts to get better and there’s an opportunity to let it stretch,” Nelson said.
With the end of hockey season and no other events scheduled, the turf was being installed for Spokane to practice today at the Arena. It will be the first time the Shock have practiced at the Arena, other than game day, this season.
“We haven’t had a problem like that before and I don’t anticipate it again,” Nelson said.
Terrance Sanders, who returned the opening kick for a touchdown and also had an interception and forced a fumble, was named Ironman of the Week. Sanders’ interception was the first by a Shock defensive back this season.
Former Shock lineman Caesar Rayford was honored as defensive player of the week. Rayford had three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in Utah’s 74-71 win over Georgia.