Injuries force Shock to get creative
Backup QB Nelson pressed into time at receiver
Spokane Shock head coach Andy Olson’s job got tougher in the offseason due to a couple of rules changes.
Versatile players like Arvell Nelson help make Olson’s job a bit easier. Nelson, an Arena Football League rookie, is Spokane’s backup quarterback but injuries during Friday’s win over Iowa put him in the wide receiver rotation. He’s also played on kickoff units.
The give-and-take of last year’s AFL labor negotiations resulted in key changes for the 2013 season. Teams can suit 20 players on game day, down from 21. The injured reserve rule is dramatically different. Players placed on injured reserve are generally done for the season, with the exception of one player who can be activated in Week 9. Other than that, IR players who become healthy must clear waivers before re-signing. The previous IR rule required a mandatory four-week stint.
It’s not a return to the AFL’s ironman roots of two-way players, but it’s a step in that direction. That’s why Nelson and defensive back Terrance Sanders stepped into the offensive huddle in the second half after injuries to Steven Black (right knee) and Jeffrey Solomon (left shoulder). That’s why defensive linemen James Ruffin and Marc Schiechl saw time at fullback in Week 1.
It’s rare, of course, for a backup quarterback to see time at receiver or any other position, but the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Nelson can run and, as a quarterback, he knows the receivers’ routes.
“I had an open mind coming in because of the 20-man roster,” Nelson said. said Nelson, who played for the Alabama Hammers in the Professional Indoor Football League (PIFL) last year. “I played safety in junior college, a little receiver at the University of Iowa.”
Nelson had three catches for 23 yards. His 9-yard touchdown reception against the dasherboards was named the AFL highlight of the week.
“It forces you into a tough spot when injuries happen,” Olson said. “We’re lucky to have some versatile guys. I don’t want to get into a habit of (playing Nelson at receiver), but at the same time when guys are dropping like flies you don’t have a choice.”
With Black and Solomon likely sidelined for Friday’s home opener against Arizona, Olson will probably rely on Adron Tennell, promising rookie Kamar Jorden and Duane Brooks, who’s expected to make his AFL debut. Nelson, who also long-snapped with Alabama, will be ready just in case.
“I’m a quarterback at heart,” he said, “but I can play other positions.”
Nelson has yet to take a quarterback snap in a game. Starter Erik Meyer has a 74.5 completion percentage, 24 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
“Patience,” Nelson replied when asked what he’s learning from Meyer. “He takes his time on everything and makes the right reads. I like to make the big play, rush things.”
Nelson wasn’t surprised Meyer threw the ball his way, particularly on his TD catch.
“I was telling him, ‘Don’t be scared to throw it to me, I’m out here,’” Nelson said. said Nelson, who finished his collegiate career at Texas Southern. “His first read wasn’t there and he got flushed out of the pocket. I had a smaller guy on me, so I just posted him up. I grabbed the ball at the last second before it hit the ground.”
Spokane (3-0) moved up to No. 2 behind No. 1 Arizona (3-0) in the weekly rankings. Arizona received 13 first-place votes, Spokane one. Coaches aren’t allowed to vote for their own team. … Former receiver Raul Vijil, perhaps the most popular player in Shock history, has accepted an off-field position representing the organization at public events. Vijil’s No. 15 will become the first jersey retired in franchise history June 8 against Jacksonville.