By Matt Popchock
Through the first half of the 2011 season, the Pittsburgh Power’s defense was one of the most effective in the Arena Football League, holding seven of their first nine opponents to 50 or fewer offensive points. But then came injuries and the defection of key players to other leagues, and they struggled mightily down the stretch.
The Power are visibly determined to make sure a lack of depth on defense doesn’t do them in again, as evidenced by their two most recent signings.
On Friday 6’1″, 315-pound defensive tackle Terrance Taylor officially returned to the Power, and former Dallas Vigilantes defensive back/kick returner Chris LeFlore, one of the league’s top rookies in 2011, was also assigned to Pittsburgh for his sophomore season.
Taylor, 25, a former all-conference honoree at Michigan, trained with several NFL teams before joining the AFL’s Spokane Shock in January. He was dealt to the Power 12 weeks into the 2011 season after accumulating 9.0 total tackles (seven solo), 1.5 sacks, and one interception in six games. In four games with the Power, Taylor finished with 6.0 total tackles (four solo) and one sack.
Fan favorite Terrance Carter is not returning to the Power’s defensive line, meaning the team needs to find new toughness and tenacity at that position. The Power may count more heavily on Taylor to step up, especially if veteran lineman Neil Purvis has trouble staying healthy again.
However, LeFlore, 26, is the more significant addition to the Power’s 2012 training camp roster. The 26-year-old came to the Vigilantes, who have halted operations for the upcoming season, as a rookie out of Northwest Missouri State (NCAA Division II) in 2011 and became one of the most productive ironmen in the AFL.
LeFlore registered 69.0 total tackles (58 solo) and one forced fumble and recovery, and he led Dallas with 18 passes defended and five interceptions–a team record–before an injury kept him out of the Vigilantes’ final regular season game and National Conference Semifinal loss. Two of his 22 kick returns went for touchdowns, and he averaged over 20 yards per return.
In fact, the addition of LeFlore might eventually address two needs for the Power. As their inaugural season wound down, the secondary was a major source of their defensive woes; they allowed over 60 points to five of their last seven opponents, and they simply weren’t the same group without team leaders Royce Adams and Carlos Campbell. Now the Power have another player who is fundamentally sound at Adams’ and Campbell’s position, and the cupboard of leadership is not bare.
Furthermore, the Power have added someone who is sure-handed on special teams. Special teams miscues cost the Power an important late-season game in Orlando, and other than Mike Washington, former NFL All-Pro Jerome Mathis flashed the most greatness of all who returned kicks for the team, but Mathis’ season was wrecked by lower-body injuries.
Here is what the Power’s training camp roster, which, reportedly, will consist of 35 players when all is said and done, looks like so far:
QB Bill Stull
QB Kyle Rowley
WR Mike Washington
WR Lonnell Dewalt
WR Carlos Suggs
OL Mike Lucian
OL Mike Byrne
OL Joe Blanks
OL Justin Wells
DL Terrance Taylor
DL Dominie Pittman
DL Neil Purvis
LB Anthony DeGrate
DB LaRico Stevenson
DB Bryan Williams
DB Tyrrell Herbert
DB Chris LeFlore
DB Ahmaad Smith
K Taylor Rowan
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)