By Matt Popchock
After exchanging film with Cleveland Gladiators head coach Steve Thonn, Pittsburgh Power head coach Chris Siegfried tapped me on the shoulder on his way out of Southpointe Fieldhouse Saturday night.
“How’d we look out there?” he asked with a wry smile.
“It looked like they brought their intensity…and that fullback looks like he could kill a guy if he tried hard enough,” I quipped, politely smiling back.
“He almost did,” Siegfried responded, the smile turning into an unabashed, ear-to-ear grin.
Eh, guess you had to be there…
Second and long for the Power. Kyle Rowley drops straight back and hits fellow newcomer Tyre Young on a short slant, right over the middle.
Young secures the ball and turns to the open field.
Down go a pair of Gladiators.
Down goes Young, a good five yards later.
It was like watching human bowling after the first period of a Penguins home game, except with linebackers in lieu of pins.
That strike alone might land him a job with CONSOL Energy Center’s other tenant. The fact that “Arena Football Friday” sideline reporter Anthony Herron was there to witness his first impression–and the depression in the FieldTurf that was likely left behind–probably won’t hurt.
Not bad for someone who had been out of the league for a year, huh?
Hopefully for his coach’s sake, it’s a harbinger of things to come.
A year ago, these teams exchanged blows–and even a couple fists–that certainly proved to be ominous. A new, nasty inter-state rivalry in the Arena Football League was born, and four months later, the Power won a battle of attrition with the Gladiators that put them atop the East Division, only to see the Glads win the war. They overtook the Power, personally eliminating them from American Conference playoff contention in the penultimate week of their inaugural season.
Although there were a couple instances of boys being boys Saturday, the second annual inter-squad practice between the two teams was mostly good-natured. Several of each team’s 35 invitees are fighting for jobs with about a week left in their respective training camps, so some rancor is to be expected. After all, only 24 make the opening night roster, and only 21 dress for any AFL game, and for all of them, this is the second chance at gridiron glory for which they’ve waited.
This wasn’t a game, nor a scrimmage per se; no book keeping or score keeping of any kind took place, even though AFL officials were present, and some pages of the AFL rule book were enforced. But Young’s objective, to say nothing of the scores of others in a white, black, or red practice jersey, was to treat this like one.
There were positives on both sides. Former Pitt/Edinboro wide receiver Maurice “Mo” Williams, who was in contract talks with the Power before signing with the Gladiators, showed off his skills, and, regardless of other changes on offense, Cleveland’s defense appears once again to be a talented group capable of keeping the team in games.
Whether that group can out-muscle the AFL sophomores again remains to be seen. The Power did a nice job setting a physical tone throughout the practice, performing well in offensive/defensive line drills and making quarterbacks Matt Bassuener and 2011 returnee John Dutton uncomfortable on multiple occasions.
The Power recorded only 20 sacks in 2011. That was the third-fewest in the league, which now consists of 17 teams. They allowed 34, which ended up the fourth-most. Don’t expect the 2012 version, however constructed, to be pushed around quite as easily–that seemed to be the buzz on both sides after practice.
Former All-Arena selection and Highlands standout Beau Elliott (who teamed with Young at IUP) was rock-steady, and Corey Konycki, who was an FCS All-American at Robert Morris two years ago, seemed to be winning over his potential new mates. Linebacker Justin Parrish, who won an ArenaBowl with the Jacksonville Sharks in 2011, brought a more feisty demeanor to a defensive front that will also likely benefit from the presence of returning nose guard Neil Purvis and his now-clean bill of health.
Furthermore, Rowley matched his Cleveland counterparts in terms of consistency and accuracy–something the Power were lacking at his position throughout their maiden voyage. That’s because he was kept upright for most of the day.
If he puts the ball in Young’s hands, it’s hard to imagine anyone staying upright after Saturday. Considering the trouble the Power had scoring inside the red zone (on an AFL field, within the opponent’s ten yard line) at times last year, Siegfried might be nuts not to let him do so.
One eight-on-eight practice won’t tell us how often he or the rest of the Power will find the end zone this year. But at least it tells us this team is willing to pay a physical price to get there, and the same price to keep everyone else out.
NOTE: Defensive lineman Callahan Bright, who was placed on recallable reassignment Thursday, was placed on the “league suspension” list following Saturday’s practice. Although the reason behind the move was not disclosed, in AFL vernacular, “league suspension” does not necessarily constitute a disciplinary action; often it is simply a bureaucratic move teams make to allow room for other players on their rosters.
The Power open Fri., Mar. 9 in Orlando against the Predators, and they will play their first home game Fri., Mar. 23, when the Philadelphia Soul come to town for an 8:00 P.M. kickoff. The 2012 regular season will feature nine games at CONSOL Energy Center, as well as expanded television coverage:
Click here for more information, including a full TV schedule.
In addition, beginning this year, every Power game can be seen live on your computer or mobile device on Ustream. Click here for more information.
(Follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/mpopchock)