The unpredictable nature of sports will be on full display when the Spokane Shock entertain Tampa Bay tonight at the Arena.
Nobody on the planet would have projected Casey Hansen and Brian Zbydniewski as the starting quarterbacks when the Arena Football League released the 2011 schedule last October, but the two will be the central figures in a rematch of ArenaBowl XXIII.
After losing Bill Stull (knee) and Kyle Rowley (shoulder) to injuries in last Saturday’s win over Dallas, Shock executives dialed up Hansen, was working at his brother’s data communications business in California. The 6-foot-5 Hansen beat out two others during tryouts earlier this week. Steven Sheffield will be the backup.
Hansen threw for 543 yards and 13 touchdowns as the Shock’s No. 2 quarterback in 2009. He’s taken a crash course on Spokane’s offense coordinated by Andy Olson, who was a receiver on the ’09 arenafootball2 title team.
“It’s not too much different,” Hansen said. “Just different wording and a different numbering system.”
The coaching staff, offensive line and receivers are trying to help Hansen feel as comfortable as possible.
“The arena game is very, very fast, so you have to make quick decisions,” receiver Greg Orton said. “Everyone runs routes differently. I run them different than Raul (Vijil), so it’s just getting used to it and getting the timing down.”
Zbydniewski was 5 of 14 in limited duty as Rowley’s backup last season. He took over as Tampa Bay’s starter three weeks ago when Grant Gregory suffered a foot injury. Zbydniewski, who joined the team in mid-April, tossed six touchdowns in last week’s win over Kansas City, but he threw six interceptions in two previous losses. Mike Potts started the season opener, but was released after three games.
Huey Whittaker, a key player in Spokane’s title march last season, leads the Storm (3-6) and ranks eighth in the AFL with 80 receptions.
“I don’t want them to succeed at all,” Shock coach Rob Keefe said. “I hope ‘Zeb’ has his worst day ever; that’s how I am as a coach and a competitor.
“They’re both good players, that’s why they were on our team last year. Huey is huge, big body, great hands, great team leader. You can’t slow him down, you just try to contain him.”
Hansen and Zbydniewski will face formidable pass rushes. Tampa Bay’s 18 sacks, including a league-leading eight by Cliff Dukes, rank tied for third in the AFL. Spokane, paced by Khreem Smith’s five sacks, is sixth with 17.
Spokane (4-5) is trying to reach the .500 mark after a 0-3 start.