Spokane Shock majority owner Brady Nelson is fully aware what is at stake as the franchise’s seventh season approaches.
Spokane has won since its inception in 2006. The Shock have accumulated three arena football championships, four division titles and five conference crowns. They’ve made the playoffs every season.
But 2011 was the organization’s rockiest season. Spokane lost in the first round of the playoffs and finished with a losing record for the first time (9-10). The offseason was equally turbulent. Head coach Rob Keefe, who led Spokane to an Arena Football League title in 2010, was fired and replaced by offensive coordinator Andy Olson.
Three weeks from their first training camp practice, the Shock seem to be at a crossroads. Can they return to the AFL elite? Will they be left behind in what many believe is the AFL’s toughest division?
“I think it’s a really big year,” Nelson said. “Ironically, we made the playoffs last year, one of four teams from our conference, but it certainly didn’t feel like it. We just didn’t play well at home. We didn’t put the kind of product on the field we’re used to. Wins and losses are how we’re measured, but I look at it more closely. … We do have a lot to show. I definitely think the honeymoon has worn off and fans need to be re-energized and see the new things we have planned and experience a whole new level of excitement.”
There’s no shortage of new in Shock-land, starting at the top. Adam Nebeker, a front-office mainstay and one of Nelson’s close friends, stepped down in November to become director of Cancer Patient Care. Olson’s coaching staff includes holdover Travis Crusenberry (defensive coordinator) and ex-players Stanley Franks (defensive backs) and Clay Harrell (of- fensive and defensive line).
The roster has been revamped, which is standard procedure in arena football. The lone offensive returners are quarterback Erik Meyer, receivers Brandon Thompkins and Adron Tennell and lineman Ben Ossai. Jonathan Williams and Terrance Sanders return on defense, as do defensive backs Marquise Charles (who played in one game) and Patrick Stoudamire (who was traded in training camp). That list doesn’t include Beau Bell (CFL) and Ayanga Okpokowuruk (NFL), who are on other league exempt list.
Fans will remember Charles Frederick, a standout on the 2006 championship squad, and Jeremy Geathers and Travis Williams, starters on the 2010 title team. Olson said receiver Raul Vijil, a fan favorite since the team’s inaugural season, isn’t planning on playing.
Olson will continue to call the offensive plays. Spokane has signed seven offensive linemen, ranging from 310 to 340 pounds. Olson said Meyer “looks great and he’s working out very hard.” The former Eastern Washington Eagle was productive after taking over as the starter in the 12th game, but he wasn’t able to stay healthy.
“We did some great things on offense, but probably our biggest problem was consistency and taking care of some of the easiest plays,” Olson said. “We’re not going to tweak a whole lot.”
The defense yielded 57.1 points per game, 15th in the 18-team league.
“We’re simplifying it a little bit,” Olson said. “If you look at some of the successful defenses across the league, a lot of their coverages are basic. … “Penalties and turnovers, those were the two things we were the worst at. Discipline is going to be a huge factor for us.”