Changes Abound - Shock 2014 Preview
The 2013 season was a roller coaster for the Spokane Shock. They started hot with a five-game winning streak and then cooled considerably with a three-game losing streak. They rebounded and finished the season on a 10-1 run to finish the regular season with a 14-4 record. They won a nail-biter against the now-defunct Chicago Rush in their opening playoff game followed by a crushing defeat to the Arizona Rattlers. Their sights are still set on the ArenaBowl for 2014.
Roster turnover is something that every AFL coach must deal with on a year to year basis. Short contracts make it difficult to keep a good team together for very long. The Shock lost a number of key contributors from their 2013 squad that narrowly lost in the conference championship to the eventual ArenaBowl champion Rattlers.
A key loss was Beau Bell, their main blitzing linebacker. A former fourth round pick of the Cleveland Browns, Bell was the heart and soul of the Shock defense in 2013. He led the team with 8.5 sacks and was third in tackles with 50.
The Shock lost some other important pieces as well. Patrick Stoudamire was lost to the expansion Portland Thunder and Ruschard Dodd-Masters has retired and joined the Shock coaching staff. Fan favorite Chris Pino, a stalwart on the offensive line, also announced his retirement prior to training camp.
Asked about keeping his team intact, head coach Andy Olson said, “It just takes a lot of work.” He continued, “There are always good players out there. No matter who you need or who you lost, you can always find someone just as good or better.”
Despite some tough losses, the Shock managed to keep their most important piece. Erik Meyer will return to the Shock in 2014. The 2013 AFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year signed a one-year contract with the Shock in the offseason. Meyer put up phenomenal numbers en route to his MVP, throwing for 4,661 yards with 112 TDs against only 11 interceptions. He also added 110 yards and 15 scores on the ground.
Meyer’s receiving corps also looks strong, perhaps even better than it was in 2013. Despite the loss of Kamar Jorden to the NFL, the unit is still strong. Adron Tennell, the Cutters Wide Receiver of the Year in 2013, will remain as Meyer’s primary target. He racked up 156 catches for 1,792 yards and 49 TDs last season. Also returning in Brandon Thompkins, who emerged later in the season as Meyer’s primary deep threat.
But the biggest addition is Mike Washington, who comes to the Shock from the Pittsburgh Power in a trade. The University of Hawaii product has been one of the AFL’s most consistent receivers over the last three years. He’s done this with less than stellar QB play in Pittsburgh. With Washington and Thompkins running deep routes and Tennell as the primary red zone threat, defenses will be shaking in their boots when they face the Shock.
Division realignment will make things easier for the Shock. The newly created Pacific Division contains two other teams, the San Jose SaberCats and the Portland Thunder. The Shock will no longer have to contend with the Rattlers, who bested Spokane for the division title in the previous three seasons.
Olson expects big things from the 2014 season. He said, “We were one step away last year. We want to push for the ArenaBowl and get that ring. It’s our goal. It’s our only goal.” The Shock will begin their journey towards that end on March 15 at the Spokane Arena against the Iowa Barnstormers.