Free agency has started, and so far it has been a whirlwind around the league. GM Reggie Harris has made some splashes, but a lot of work remains to be done. Here’s how the 2020 River Kings are shaping up on offense.*
Quarterback: The most important position in football has seen some of the flashiest signings around the league so far. The Arizona Rattlers re-signed veteran playmaker Drew Powell, while the Barnstormers’ main man Daquan Neal — the 2019 IFL MVP — followed head coach Dixie Wooten to the Tucson Sugar Skulls. The new Spokane Shock have signed head coach Billy Back, leading to rumors that he will be joined by longtime indoor veteran QB Charles McCullum (note: McCullum is currently signed with the Carolina Cobras of the NAL).
Not to be outdone, Harris joined the IFL’s arms race by signing two dual-threat playmakers, Derrick Bernard and Javin Kilgo.
Bernard (6’1″, 195, Sul Ross State University) racked up impressive numbers in a half-season with the San Diego Strike Force before moving on to the Omaha Beef of the CIF. The circumstances surrounding his departure from the Strike Force are unclear, but it’s clear he can get it done — before moving to Omaha, he was near the top of the leader board in several key offensive categories.
Javin Kilgo (6’4″, 205, Midwestern State) is a talented young quarterback moving over from the Duke City Gladiators (who will also be joining the IFL for the 2020 season). Kilgo impressed in limited action with the Gladiators in 2019, missing just one pass on 9 attempts while hitting 4 for touchdowns, without throwing an interception or taking a sack. He also added a rushing TD on five attempts.
Wide Receiver: But to whom will Bernard and Kilgo be throwing? The 2019 River Kings had some talent at wideout, but the flux in the QB situation and along the offensive line didn’t allow it to fully develop. The season’s top performer, Marquel Wade, left for San Diego. Jordan Smith and Drake White, the other two receivers with more than a handful of catches in 2019, are both talented players, but remain unsigned. RB Nate Chavious, the team’s fourth-leading receiver, is also unsigned. There’s no meaningful game tape of wideouts Demetrius Harper, Kahri Kimbrough, and Sean Malafronte, again largely due to the QB/OL situation (and injury, in Kimbrough’s case). They’ve each got some tools, but they only caught five passes between them in limited late-season action.
We’ve got high hopes for the offseason’s only acquisition at wide receiver so far, Tamarick Vanover Jr. The speedy son of a former Kansas City Chiefs kick returner, Vanover Jr. (5’9″, 175) started as a walk-on at Morehouse College, eventually earning scholarships in both football and track. Check out his highlight tape — he’s got some skills! But he’s also a rookie, which makes signing a veteran receiver a priority as free agency moves forward.
Running Back: Perhaps the flashiest offseason move was the recent acquisition of former Auburn RB Michael Dyer (5’9″, 220). A member of the 2011 BCS National Championship squad, Dyer was the MVP of the championship game, ahead of teammate (and eventual #1 overall NFL draft pick) Cam Newton. Dyer gets it done in the arena, too — he was the 2018 CIF rookie of the year with the Texas Revolution, under head coach Victor Mann. There’s every reason to believe Mann and Dyer will continue their winning ways in the IFL.
Re-signing Chavious would give the River Kings a fantastic 1-2 punch, plus a veteran presence in the backfield — Chavious is a talented player who showed some flashes last season, but took a beating behind a makeshift line and predictable playcalling.
Offensive Line: Last but certainly not least, the offensive line needs serious work. Games are won and lost in the trenches, and for the 2019 River Kings, the trenches had more personnel turnover than the Western Front. It seems like we never played the same three guys twice in a row, and it showed. Despite some talent at running back and some shiftiness in our quarterbacks, our rushing attack ranked 8th in the league — and that, I would argue, only due to head-scratchingly run-heavy game plans.
In 2019, the River Kings ran the ball 287 times. This was the fourth most rushing attempts in the league, despite playing from behind for significant stretches in just about every game. Of the four teams who ran more (there’s a tie at third place), only the Bismarck Bucks failed to make the playoffs… and two of the others, Sioux Falls and Arizona, faced each other in the United Bowl. Even more tellingly, only two teams, San Diego and the Bucks, racked up less rushing yards per game.
Dyer has all the talent in the world, but crashing him into the line 20 times a game simply isn’t going to get it done. He needs some big hog mollies opening holes for him, and keeping rushers off the quarterback. So far, the River Kings haven’t signed anyone along the line. Bismarck has, though, adding former Barnstormers OL Kenneth Van Heule. The talent is out there; the front office needs to go get it.
Up next: The Defense.
*Disclaimers: All opinions are my own, don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of the management, etc. Y’all know me — I’m happy to share my opinions with anyone who asks, but I have no influence on personnel decisions. If Mr. Harris decided to ask me, the above is what I’d say.