Spokane Shock receiver Adron Tennell offered a pronunciation guide for rookie defensive back Bryant Nnabuife’s name.
“Bryant,” cracked Tennell, avoiding the surname.
At Tuesday’s practice, secondary coach Ruschard Dodd-Masters called Nnabuife “boo boo” and “boo-fee.”
It’s actually fairly simple: “Na-boof-e.”
“I’m comfortable with whatever nickname as long as it isn’t disrespectful,” Nnabuife said. “My coach just asked me on the field what my name means. I told him I know it’s Nigerian but I’m going to have to do some research on it.”
For now, Nnabuife is taking a crash course in arena football defensive back 101. The eight-man, indoor game is nothing like the outdoor version, where Nnabuife carved out playing time as a cornerback, nickel back and safety at Cal.
After spending some time in camp with the Arizona Cardinals, Nnabuife signed with the Shock last year but ended up going to the CFL. He returned for camp this season and earned a starting spot alongside veterans Paul Stephens and Terrance Sanders.
“I go against him every day,” said the 6-5 Tennell. “He’s really good and he’s fast, too. Once he understands all the angles of the game he’s going to be really good.”
Nnabuife made four tackles and broke up three passes in Saturday’s season-opening win over Iowa.
“He was money on third and fourth down,” defensive coordinator Travis Crusenberry said.
It took a few possessions for Nnabuife to settle down.
“That first drive, the National Anthem, it had my nerves going,” he said, “but after the first couple drives I calmed down and then it was just football. Everything is just quicker. You have to be sound. In outdoor football you have a little more time. Here everything is so boxed in, you have to be on your toes.”
Nnabuife is listed at 6-feet-1 and 195 pounds, but he says he’s closer to 6-2. Shorter defensive backs are common in the AFL, which can lead to mismatches because most teams have at least one or two receivers 6-2 or taller.
Two-time defending AFL champion Arizona, the Shock’s opponent Sunday in Phoenix, lists five receivers between 6-1 and 6-4. Los Angeles has four receivers at least 6-3, including 6-7 Markee White, a former Shock player. Portland has two 6-3 pass-catchers.
“We’ve really been shooting for a field corner that was a taller, rangier guy,” Crusenberry said. “In the west and in our division teams have really good, big receivers so we wanted a physical corner to go against that.”
Nnabuife is only one game into his AFL career and nowhere near a finished product. It takes time to grasp the nuances of indoor football, learning coverage schemes, studying route combinations of receivers and factoring in three-step quarterback drops, all played out on a 50-yard landscape.
“It’s not as simple as I thought it would be,” Nnabuife said. “If it was just about knowing my position it would be simple, but you have to know multiple positions. I’m getting more adjusted to the playbook and the (game) is slowing down.”
Head coach Andy Olson brought out a drill that he’s used occasionally in the past. Olson, who played baseball when he was younger, threw tennis balls from about 35 feet to receivers, defensive backs and even a defensive lineman to enhance their concentration.
“My arm is going to kill me tomorrow,” he said. “It’s a focus, concentration activity and they didn’t do well. Everyone thinks it’s hands, hands, hands, but it really focuses your eyes on the smaller ball and making sure it goes into your hands.”
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