Training Camp Notes: Two Days in Pads

Since I didn’t want to take any time away from our Facebook Live show (check it out @goriverkings on Facebook if you haven’t!), I didn’t post a training camp update yesterday. So today’s update will be a two-in-one, covering two days of work in pads. Once again, these observations only reflect what I see, and are in no particular order:

We’re short on Offensive Linemen. I know, I know — welcome to the IFL, right? I’ve asked every General Manager, coach, and mascot around the league who will talk to me, and they all say the same thing: Reliable big men are hard to find. O-line is one of the most physically taxing positions in professional sports; proven linemen are always a hot commodity.

Two rays of hope here: We’re not alone; and we’ve got a great support system in place. The River Kings are far from the only team trying to piece together a working O-line. Once we get the big guys in, though, we’ve got a solid coaching staff. Coaches Mann and Ivory have a proven track record of developing “plug-and-play” players — guys who might not have much (or any!) experience at a given position, but who can be coached up to excel in that role. Coach Ivory likes to tell the story of helping to transform a wide receiver into a Defensive Player of the Year candidate at linebacker. If anyone can do it, they can.

Better yet, we’ve got a young, hungry, talented O-line coach in Aneus Ruiz. A graduate of Prairie View A&M University, Ruiz has IFL experience with the Green Bay Blizzard. With his experience and the #TeamNoSoft philosophy, the O-line should gel very quickly once it’s assembled.

Ruiz with the PVAMU Panthers

We’re short on kickers, too. If you saw the Facebook Live show, you’ll know that our lovely and talented new host Kimberly Bates held Coach Ivory’s feet to the fire a bit about our special teams situation.

(If for some strange reason you haven’t seen the show yet, go ahead and do that now — we’ll wait. It’s on the team’s official Facebook page, @goriverkings. Everybody back? OK, proceeding):

I’m responsible for that question. I won’t rehash the IFL’s abysmal kicking numbers once again, but I will re-emphasize the new “deuce” rule for the 2020 season. As I understand it, a touchdown can now be worth up to ten points — six points on the score, a two point conversion, and two points from a kickoff through the uprights. As Coach Mann emphasized last night (check the tape!!), this is a desperation maneuver. We won’t need to worry about it, Mann said, because we’re going to be blowing everybody out.

Nonetheless, IFL competition is fierce; we need to have every possible tool in the bag. Even if we never try the deuce, a good kicker is essential for controlling field position. I’ve asked GM Reggie Harris about this so many times, I think he’s about to boot me through the uprights… but I’ll risk it: Why haven’t we signed a kicker yet?!?

River Kings GM Reggie Harris, (probably) contemplating the aerodynamics of fan bloggers.

So much for the downsides. Now for the many, many upsides:

We have a very athletic group of wideouts. I’m continually impressed by the WR group the front office has put together. There’s a wide variety of pro experience and body types in this group, but they all bring some serious tools onto the field. A player I’m particularly excited to see in action is James Harden. He’s been limited in practice so far, but he’s got blazing speed and a tremendous physique. He’s 5’8″, but listed at 181 lbs… and I’m pretty sure that’s low. He’s thick. Once he’s fully healthy, he’ll be a nightmare underneath.

Bones Bagaunte is a devious veteran receiver. He’s a lanky dude who doesn’t seem to stand out in any particular way… but blink once and he’s in the end zone. A graduate of the University of Cincinnati, he was a two-way iron man for the Bearcats, racking up AP Freshman All-American honors en route to 48 games, 127 catches, and 17 touchdowns on offense in his collegiate career. He’s been a standout player at every indoor level. He’s a real trip to watch — I have no idea how he does what he does, but he does it really well. I’m looking forward to talking in depth with him… and, of course, to watching him wreck worlds on the field.

Nice elevation! Photo credit: Jared Bell

The defensive backfield gets tighter by the day. Communication is key, and this veteran group communicates really well. Derrick Dyer is yet another former Bismarck Buck who’s tearing it up in camp for the River Kings. Our DBs, like most, give up a few inches to the league’s taller receivers, but they more than make up for it with good technique and high football IQ.

Tip drill. Photo credit: Jared Bell.

The linebacker group is a bit shorthanded, but talented. So far I’ve only seen two linebackers in camp, IFL veteran La’More Wise and returning River King Tristian Green. They’re physically similar players: On the short side for linebackers, but wide, with good wheels in coverage. Coach Ivory is a former linebacker who asks a lot out of his macks, and both are stepping up to the challenge. Having another true linebacker in camp might be nice, but as several of the DBs have experience playing both mack (middle linebacker) and jack (linebacker/strong safety hybrid), there are a lot of options for a very fast, physical presence in the middle.

One-on-one battle. The coaches are going to have some very tough decisions on both sides of the ball. Photo credit: Jared Bell.

The D-line is coming together nicely. Lots of veterans in this group, and it shows. Returning River Kings Walter “Surge” Walker is a real banger. Veteran leader Desmond Raiford has been out of pads a bit, but he’s a monster. Tre “Agent Zero” Harlan has tremendous athleticism and lots of indoor experience. Their experience, athleticism, and nasty dispositions* are the other reason I’m not worried too much about the O-line situation — practicing against these guys will tighten up your game in a hurry.

Back at you, Dez….

*On the field. Off the field, they’re really nice guys. Most everyone on the team is. The front office knows that community is key at this level, and they’ve gone all-out to bring in high-character, fan-favorite type players. You’re going to love this team.

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