By Matt Popchock
Although team management already has its mind made up about much of the 2012 roster, it came to the Southpointe Fieldhouse in Cecil Township in search of a few good men. Where those men came from was immaterial.
“If those guys are from Pittsburgh, it’s a bonus. We just want to try and get better,” Pittsburgh Power head coach Chris Siegfried said after Saturday’s second annual open tryout. “I thought we were a good team last year, just inconsistent. We need to improve on that consistency.”
“All of our top talent is re-signing, so all we’re basically doing is upgrading,” team owner Matt Shaner affirmed.
A solid majority of the 88 who tried out, most of them just a couple years removed from college, had a western Pennsylvania background, though their respective football backgrounds varied. A number of them spent limited amounts of time in the NFL or CFL and/or arrived with other indoor football experience.
“Talent is talent. We just want to improve on 9-9 from last season, because 9-9 isn’t going to win you a championship,” said wide receiver Mike Washington. “Wherever that talent comes from, we’ll take it.”
In any event, Siegfried said the 2012 roster will have something of a local flavor once again, including Washington, a former standout at Aliquippa, who made the team through last year’s open tryout, and ultimately led the Power in receiving touchdowns and receiving yardage during the 2011 campaign.
Washington, along with a couple other returning players, were present to help the coaching staff evaluate and work out prospective players. Penn Hills alumnus Tyrrell Herbert was there as well, and, according to Shaner, so were Herbert’s fellow defensive back, LaRico Stevenson, and Arena Football League veteran Neil Purvis.
Stevenson eventually became a regular on defense for the Power and finished last season with 41.5 total tackles (38 solo), and Purvis was a serviceable defensive lineman who registered 15 tackles and 3.0 sacks despite battling a knee injury.
Another defensive back, Royce Adams, who starred at that position for the Power in 2011 before taking an offer to play in the UFL, attended the tryout because he wanted Siegfried to evaluate him as a receiver. However, Adams is currently drawing serious interest from some CFL teams as a defensive player.
If Adams does end up in Canada, it’s important the Power do as much as possible to shore up their secondary. That group struggled noticeably once he left in the middle of last season, so keeping Stevenson should help, and as Siegfried said, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that one of the DB’s who tried out Saturday could make the team.
“The defensive backs were very solid. There’s two or three guys in that category we’re going to be taking a look at. That group was a very good overall group,” he noted.
Another one who presumably impressed the coaching staff, according to the Tribune-Review’s Jason Mackey, was former Pitt defensive back Elijah Fields, who was dismissed from that team for disciplinary reasons and returned this weekend after an unsuccessful tryout in 2010.
When Fields was a standout at now-defunct Duquesne High School, he was one of the fastest players in the WPIAL at his position, or any other. He played an integral role in the Dukes’ run to the 2005 Class A championship and PIAA Final appearance, and probably could have enjoyed a decent college career had he stayed out of trouble.
He can still run, he has always possessed good range, and once again, considering he plays what became a position of weakness for the Power during the 2011 stretch run, it would behoove them to take his second attempt at a pro football career seriously.
All of yesterday’s attendees, including Fields, got at least three hours to showcase their skills. After the morning session, that group was pared down considerably, and Shaner estimates about 20 to 25 players were left at the end of the day.
“We don’t want to have a whole bunch of rookies, like we had last year,” Siegfried said. “We need to build from the foundation we started last year with the 12 to 15 guys we’re trying to lock in from last year’s team, and then grow from there with the combination of veterans we have available, and young rookies who can challenge those veterans for starting positions.”
Siegfried, though he chose not to name names, confirmed that one receiver and one offensive lineman left Southpointe Saturday with (unsigned) contracts in hand. Furthermore, it is a distinct possibility two or three more attendees will be invited to training camp.
The decision-making process, he said, will be a relatively quick one. It sounds like Power management might already have its mind made up about some candidates, as Siegfried pointed out roughly 20 of the players who showed up over the weekend received tryout invitations in advance.
In fact, “two to four guys will get processed this week,” according to Siegfried, who will use these next couple weeks to evaluate this group of hopefuls. Shaner believes the team will have its 35-man training camp roster–which ultimately will be trimmed to 23–ready by the end of the month.
Meanwhile, another local star who multiple sources say gave one of the best tryouts of the day is former Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark (2006-09), who holds several program records and has spent time in the CFL and UFL.
“I did think he was the best quarterback out here. It was the first time I had seen him, so I really liked what I saw,” Siegfried remarked.
It is crucial the Power fill that void definitively as they get ready for a new season. ArenaBowl titles are simply not won without franchise quarterbacks, and the team’s inaugural season, which saw five different players start and win at least one game under center, was wrecked by injuries to its QB’s and chronic inconsistency from them.
“We’ll probably come into camp with four or five quarterbacks competing. We’ll probably carry, I’m guessing, three quarterbacks this year,” Shaner said.
With Bernard Morris not returning, Bill Stull enters training camp as a front-runner, and it sounds like Clark will receive serious consideration as well.
The free agency period in the AFL is ongoing, and though the Power may acquire necessary depth at quarterback after Saturday’s tryout, it would benefit them in the long run to seek veteran help. There are plenty of examples of young, novice quarterbacks who have thrived in the league, but as all-time passing leader Aaron Garcia and the ArenaBowl champion Jacksonville Sharks demonstrated in the playoffs, the more experience a team has at the position, the better.
Indeed, the general recruiting process didn’t end Saturday. In fact, the next member of the Pittsburgh Power might come from just down the Monongahela River.
“We have a great relationship with the Steelers. They’ve allowed our coaches to come to Coach Tomlin’s meetings and meet with their coaches,” Shaner said. “They’ve been kind enough to share players they think we should look at who didn’t make their 53-man roster.
“No other team in the AFL–of those who have an NFL team in their city–has a relationship with its NFL team like we do with the Steelers.”
“I think we’re building a great relationship with the Steelers,” Siegfried agreed, “and I want to try to attract the type of players that would pique their interest. There would be no one happier than me if we got half a dozen guys into NFL camps.”
Adams, for one, submitted a video resume to the Steelers after the past AFL season ended.
In addition, Siegfried spoke of several former Pitt players living in Florida, albeit unnamed, whom he wishes to evaluate.
The objective for the Power on Saturday, as previously mentioned by Siegfried, was to simply get better. Considering the team is ready to add depth at multiple positions, the day seems to have been a productive one, though perhaps we won’t know for sure until we know the fate of the 2012 squad.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)