Spokane breaks the seal on the 2014 Arena Football League season tonight with new ownership, a new division and at least five new starters.
It was a busy offseason for the Shock, who host the Iowa Barnstormers at 7 at the Arena.
An ownership group, led by Seattle businessman Nader Naini, purchased the team from Brady Nelson. The AFL’s annual franchise churn resulted in the addition of Portland and Los Angeles and the subtraction of Chicago and Utah. Spokane moves into the Pacific Division with Portland and San Jose.
On the field, Spokane brought back most of the key components from last year’s 15-5 squad that lost to Arizona in the National Conference title game.
“We really like our defense,” third-year coach Andy Olson coach. “I think we’re extremely strong and physical. Offensively, we’re looking to be consistent with Erik (Meyer) back at the quarterback position.”
Meyer had an historic season, setting franchise AFL records for passer rating (123.6), completions (403), completion percentage (68.2), passing yards (4,667), total yards (4,787) and passing touchdowns (112).
Adron Tennell and Brandon Thompkins, two of Meyer’s primary receiving targets, return. Mike Washington, acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh, was highly productive in three seasons with the Power.
The newcomers are fullback Deveric Gallington and lineman Duke Robinson. They join Samuel Tupua and Patrick Afif, both of whom were starters last year before season-ending injuries.
“Deveric’s really learning the position and he’s gotten better each week,” Olson said. “Duke is very good on the end, a big guy with great feet, and he probably had one of the best camps of anybody.”
The defense returns linemen James Ruffin, Terrance Taylor and Jeremy Geathers, linebacker Terence Moore and defensive backs Terrance Sanders and Paul Stephens. Former Jacksonville Sharks linebacker Derrick Summers replaces Beau Bell, who signed with L.A. Former Cal Bear Bryant Nnabuife steps in at defensive back.
“Derrick is a veteran AFL player who had a very good rookie season a couple years ago,” Olson said. “Nnabuife is a newcomer learning the game but he had an impressive camp.”
Iowa, which plays three straight road games to open the season, hasn’t had a winning record since joining the AFL in 2010. Carson Coffman, who threw for 3,583 yards and 73 TDs for Chicago last season, takes over at QB, backed up by former Idaho Vandal Brian Reader.
Coffman didn’t play in Chicago’s 69-47 playoff loss at Spokane last year.
“Their roster is pretty similar to last year,” Olson said. “I try not to focus on the other team more than ourselves. Something we’re trying to do is play good Shock football and make them adjust to us.”