Josh Ferguson remembers hearing three pops in his left knee and feeling excruciating pain.
“You see guys on TV with a knee injury and they’re rolling around in agony,” the Spokane Shock defensive back said. “I never thought that would be me one day.”
Unfortunately for Ferguson, it was him about 11 months ago in a home game against Arizona. He planted to make a tackle and a Rattlers receiver stepped on his left shin. Ferguson’s knee buckled and he tore his ACL and meniscus.
He rehabilitated for several weeks, but it became apparent surgery would be necessary. The operation was performed roughly two months after the Arizona game. Ferguson rehabbed his knee for months and he returned to the field Friday in a 57-53 loss at Arizona.
“It was a long road back,” he said.
Ferguson played on special teams and shared time at middle defensive back with Paul Stephens. Ferguson broke up a pass that was intercepted by a Shock teammate.
“When you don’t break coverages it makes a huge difference for your defense when you have that consistency, especially in the red zone,” head coach Andy Olson said. “Josh understands the angles and it showed throughout the game.”
Ferguson experienced several highs and lows in his recovery. He chatted with ex-Shock receiver Raul Vijil, who returned from a torn ACL to play last season, about the process and what to expect. As the calendar turned to 2012, Ferguson was able to run without a problem, but backpedaling and turning were still issues.
“I’m not going to lie, I was pretty worried,” he said. “It wasn’t strong enough and it felt shaky.”
He stayed with it and his knee continued to improve. He wasn’t quite ready when training camp opened, but he told coaches during a bye week last month that he wanted to give it a try. His knee held up well during the game and he was actually dealing with postgame soreness in his hips, hamstrings and ankle.
“It’s a good sign that his knee wasn’t too sore,” defensive backs coach Stanley Franks said. “He made some plays and, of course, in your first game back you might feel a little rusty, but he’s definitely going to help this team out.”
Encouraging signs: A loss is a loss, but the Shock saw several positive signs during Friday’s game. One week after the worst loss in franchise history to San Jose, Spokane led second-ranked Arizona most of the way but wasn’t able to overcome several costly mistakes.
“A handful of plays cost us the game: the safety, an interception and a fumbled snap,” Olson said. “We had it in our hands twice. If there were 90 plays in the game, we felt like we won 80 of them.”
Kyle Rowley passed for three touchdowns and ran for one in his return to the organization. He was intercepted twice, once on a last-play Hail Mary, and Spokane coughed up two fumbles on quarterback-center exchanges. It appeared Arizona’s nose guard jumped early on a botched exchange with just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. Center Ryan Cave snapped the ball early, anticipating a penalty flag would be thrown.
“Maybe a B+,” Rowley said when asked to grade his first game. “We should have put up closer to 70 points. We just have to clean up those snaps.”
Orlando fires Keefe: Former Shock head coach Rob Keefe was fired as Orlando’s offensive coordinator and replaced by Ben Bennett, an AFL Hall of Fame quarterback who played for the Predators from 1991-95.
Orlando (0-4) and Kansas City (0-4) are the only winless AFL teams. The Predators rank last in scoring offense (33.2 points per game) and 15th in total offense (238.5 yards).