Our last post looked at the defense. The offense has recently been beefed up by several signings from the team’s open tryouts in Dallas-Ft. Worth. It’s a very young group with a lot of potential, but with some holes remaining. Let’s break it down by position group:
Quarterback is crucial at every level of football, but especially in a pass-driven league like the IFL. The new coaching staff wasted no time bringing in a talented veteran QB, Derrick Bernard. He lit up the scoreboard with San Diego during the first half of the 2019 season, and kept it going with Omaha in the CIF. He goes back a ways with Coaches Mann and Ivory, so they can plan our attack around his skills. He’s a dual threat with a quick release and shifty moves in the running game.
He’s joined by Javin Kilgo and Quinton Fonville, two talented young players with similar skillsets. Kilgo put up impressive numbers in limited action last year with Duke City (then in the CIF, now in the IFL). Fonville, a recent signing, put up impressive numbers with the Bloomington Edge (CIF) and the Illinois Thundercats (Mid American League, 8-man). He throws left-handed.
Running back is a short-handed unit at the moment, but the two RBs on the roster are strong. Michael Dyer is a punishing runner who broke one of Bo Jackson’s records at Auburn. He’s had success in the indoor game, too, becoming the 2018 Rookie of the Year in the CIF with Coach Mann’s Texas Revolution.
Eddie Lusk III was the star performer at the team’s open tryout in November. He doesn’t have a ton of college stats, but he’s a very smart, very coachable player with sprinter speed and a bruiser’s physique. Together, they’ll be a formidable one-two punch, especially in the red zone. This unit could use a third option in training camp, ideally an IFL veteran, but it’s a solid group overall.
Wide Receiver is the deepest unit heading into camp, but one of the least experienced. Donovan Rasberry and Shaq Curenton have the most IFL time, having played last season with the Tucson Sugar Skulls. Curenton, especially, has deceptive speed. He can change gears very quickly — see the first highlight here, for example, where he takes a dump-off pass and somehow blows by four converging Steamwheelers.
James Harden and Tamarick Vanover Jr. are both IFL rookies. Both have loads of talent and speed to spare. Harden has a 40-inch vertical leap; both have run track. Vanover also has experience returning kicks.
Gary McKnight, Derrick Santee, and Kearyon Taylor were signed from the team’s open workout in Dallas-Ft. Worth. McKnight and Taylor are young players just starting their careers; Santee is a veteran. Santee also provides the big jump-ball target we’ve been sorely missing in the red zone — he’s 6’5″, 230 lbs.
In all, this is an exciting, intriguing group. I hope the front office is going to bring in a dedicated receivers coach, as the sky’s the limit here.
Offensive line continues to be the River Kings’ Achilles’ heel. So far we’ve only inked one full-time O-lineman, Lorenzo Burgess. He is a big man — 6’5″, 325 — but there’s only one of him. The other O-lineman on the roster is veteran Stephon Hall, who also lines up on the defensive line. He’s an effective lineman who provides much-needed experience, but even if he plays O-line full time that leaves the Kings with one starting line position unfilled, and no depth at all.
Continuity on the line is crucial. Last year’s line was in constant flux, with predictable results. Continuity is more important than raw talent on the O-line, especially as IFL linemen are almost always pass protecting. Pass protection is the toughest part of line play in any league, but it’s even tougher in the IFL, with the indoor game’s emphasis on mobile quarterbacks. Run-pass option plays are increasingly common, and are becoming increasingly sophisticated. These require smart, agile linemen who communicate well and trust each other’s instincts.
Last but certainly not least, the center needs time to develop his relationship with the quarterback… and, in more than a few cases, to work on snapping the ball. This is the other endlessly frustrating, seemingly inexplicable aspect of indoor ball. We’ve already discussed the way teams leave so many points on the board by de-emphasizing kicking. Teams in this league also seem to assign “centers” pretty much at random.
Even the best teams seem to mess up the exchange once or twice a game, leading to lots of turnovers and lost field position. And, of course, bad snaps feed into the kicking problem (it’s hard to get an accurate kick away when the holder can’t get the ball down properly). Signing an actual center is crucial… or, failing that, it’s important that the designated snapper spend a lot of time working on his mechanics with his quarterback, holder, and kicker.
In short, it’s all about chemistry on the O-line, and chemistry can’t start developing until the depth chart is locked down. Offensive line must be a major priority in the remaining few weeks before training camp.