May 24, 2014 in Sports

Blanchette: In this Arena, QBs are at a premium

John Blanchette Correspondent
 
Christopher Anderson photo

John Blanchette
(Full-size photo)

It is the age of the quarterback – if not the golden age, then certainly as common currency.

Hucking and chucking of the football is a high art performed by studied sophisticates. High school quarterbacks transfer if their coaches don’t air it out enough. There are quarterback camps, gurus, combines, institutes and academies, and they’re booked wall-to-wall with middle-schoolers drifting off to sleep going through progressions in their heads.

Yes, there are more and better quarterbacks than ever before.

Except those available to play indoor football for $1,300 a game, apparently.

Out of circumstance and desperation, the Spokane Shock started their fourth different quarterback in as many games Friday night and continued their slide into mediocrity in the Arena Football League.

The next step may be open auditions, so limber up that arm.

True, even after absorbing a 52-34 licking from San Jose at the Spokane Arena, the Shock are but two games behind the SaberCats in the Pacific Division standings. And with a three-game head start on the National Conference’s version of Les Miserables – LA, San Antonio and Portland – the Shock can feel secure in making playoff plans.

This has allowed them the luxury of not plowing headlong into urgent risks. But it’s not much fun for anyone.

Just ask the deadened audience of 8,579 who put off the start of their Memorial Day weekend to witness an effort that seemed thick with self-pity.

Indeed, it looked like something of a breaking point – huge empty patches in the upper deck, and dispirited play down below.

“Not going to happen,” insisted coach Andy Olson. “As long as I’m in charge, we’re not going to stop working, stop fighting.”

Still, there certainly appeared to be a massive sigh of resignation just one series into Friday’s proceedings, even after the company line during the week was one of renewed energy.

This was to be provided by the return of old friend Brian Zbydniewski, a member of two championship teams in Spokane and the latest stab at a solution to the absence of reigning AFL MVP Erik Meyer, who went down with a broken collarbone three weeks back.

Not a marquee Arena ball quarterback, no, but a well-rehearsed veteran. That he’d been inactive for a year himself – another collarbone ding – and had to be lured from a desk job for rescue duty didn’t rein back the hope.

And then the Shock had to play ball.

A false start, a dropped pass, a sack and a throw into the seats followed. Olson then ordered up an AFL punt – a field goal kick into the stands – and the SaberCats struck for a touchdown on the next play.

And about half the house wondered if it was too late to hit the road and find a campsite.

Before the half was over, Zbydniewski would sink two scoring threats with interceptions, and yet the Shock were still in it until the secondary surrendered a Hail Mary for the second time this season.

This moved Olson to assess that, “Zeb did enough. We didn’t support him,” and that was both realistic and generous.

But while you can tread water in the AFL without high-level quarterback play, you’re not going to excel and that’s where the Shock find themselves. They got by with receiver Rashaad Carter in relief of Meyer against an overmatched opponent, and then have been soundly beaten with minor leaguer Donovan Porterie, Carter and now Zbydniewski taking turns. At least three weeks remain until Meyer figures to be in position to help.

So in this day and age of colleges churning out quarterbacks, why is it so hard for a desperate AFL team to find relief?

“The reality is this game is so different, the rules are so different from the outdoor game, that it takes a long time for guys to get acclimated,” former Shock general manager Ryan Rigmaiden said. “And you have to play your starter, so you don’t have time to a groom a young guy.”

Different?

“The Jack linebacker, the touch throws – throws you’re usually not making outdoors,” he said. “You’re under center here, not in the shotgun. It’s quicker. The reads are different.”

And while the sports fan doesn’t seem to miss the old af2, the AFL does. There is no development system for the indoor game now; leagues like the IFL, where Porterie apprenticed, employ different rules with less structure.

“The level of quarterbacking is going up across the country because of all the emphasis,” Rigmaiden said. “But this game is so different that it balances out.”

It’s certainly a different game for the Shock. Why, a month ago, you could have sworn it was the golden age.


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