Spokane’s defense couldn’t have been more experienced and inexperienced at the same time.
Lining up with veterans such as James Ruffin, Micah King, Derrick Summers and Ruschard Dodd-Masters – all of whom have at least four years of Arena Football League experience – were rookies Dominique Duster, Jeff Richards and Rickey Simpson.
The latter three had never appeared in an AFL game prior to Saturday’s win over Las Vegas. At one point, all three were on the field together.
“In arena football, new faces are always going to be on the field,” defensive coordinator Travis Crusenberry said. “I thought they did some good things. Some of the guys are young and have to learn.”
Roster churn is part of everyday life in the AFL but it’s a bit rare to have so many fresh faces pressed into duty. Duster’s debut was prompted by an injury to nose tackle Terrance Taylor. Simpson was activated when Bryson Kelly was placed on injured reserve. Richards became an option after last week’s roster moves in the secondary and at linebacker.
Richards was credited with one tackle and one pass break-up. Simpson signed late last week and didn’t even have a chance to practice.
“Simpson was an emergency thing, we found out late last week that Kelly was hurt more than we thought,” coach Andy Olson said. “It was just an unfortunate circumstance. He gave us everything he could. I like his potential.”
It was the first game action for the 5-foot-11, 290-pound Duster since his senior season at North Alabama.
“I want to say it was just football but I was really nervous, I can’t lie,” Duster said. “I got the first one out of my system and now I’m ready to roll with the punches.”
Duster and starting wide receiver Anthony Amos were invited to Shock training camp following an open tryout in Atlanta in November. Duster wanted to continue playing football after college but he didn’t hire an agent.
“I had started to forget about football and work with my major,” he said, “but then I wasn’t ready to give it up. That’s why I decided to go to the tryout.”
Duster impressed Shock coaches with his agility and quickness.
“He’s short so he has good leverage but the No. 1 thing was his explosiveness,” said Crusenberry, who coaches the offensive and defensive lines. “That’s what caught our eye.”
Defensive linemen are limited, to some degree, by AFL rules.
“It’s tough because you’re coming from the outdoor game,” Duster said. “You can line up in a shade or three-technique (outdoors) or rush an offensive lineman’s shoulder. In this league, everything is head up, you have to stay tight and there are certain angles you have to take to set up a move.”
Duster is hoping to beat the odds and carve out a professional career. Most colleges considered him too short but he had a productive career at North Alabama.
“I’ve always been an underdog,” he said. “I feel like a giant. I’ve got the heart of a giant. I knew I’d have to prove myself because everybody is bigger and taller but it doesn’t matter to me. I’m just here to prove myself.”
McCullough makes impact in return
Kevin McCullough’s first game back in a Shock uniform had a little of everything: a fumble recovery for a touchdown, a pass break-up and an ejection.
“It was a lot of fun to be back out there,” said McCullough, a Shock standout jack linebacker from 2008-2010 who played for Arizona from 2011-13. “When I saw Micah (King) hit (quarterback J.J. Raterink) I knew the ball had to be out, but I couldn’t see it because of the pile. It popped free and I was able to fall on it.”
McCullough picked up two penalties for being outside the box, prompting an ejection by rule. One of the penalties erased his second fumble recovery. McCullough, who continued to play on special teams, said his body held up fine and recovered quickly after the game.
“As far as the assignments, that comes back,” he said. “The part that takes a little bit of time is the instincts, the feelings I had before when I was playing on a regular basis. It’ll take a couple more weeks.”
Samuel Charles’ first AFL touchdown catch was a memorable one. He spilled over the wall to haul in a 5-yard scoring pass against Las Vegas, earning the league’s catch of the week.
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