Lillard makes return to Fever tonight

By Jeff Morrow, Herald sports editorApril 4, 2014 

The Tri-Cities Fever plays host to the Cedar Rapids Titans tonight with a new quarterback.

OK. Older quarterback, but a familiar one to many Fever fans.

Houston Lillard, who led the Fever to the Indoor Football League title game, the United Bowl, in 2011 and 2012, will play in his first competitive game tonight since that ‘12 title tilt in July of that year.

Kickoff is 7:05 p.m. at the Toyota Center.

For Lillard, this past week has been one of adjustment.

“The personnel, I’ve got to adjust to the new guys,” he said before the team held a walk-through Friday night in the Toyota Center. “And I’ve got to get them to do things the way I want them to do it. If I was able to practice during the bye week, we’d be a lot farther ahead.”

But teams really can’t practice during bye weeks, so instead, Fever coach Adam Shackleford is slowing things down.

“Houston has been doing a good job this week, but we’ve simplified our system,” said Shackleford. “With only the one week of practice, we’re taking things on we don’t need to right now.”

Meanwhile, Lillard has been studying his opponents.

“I’ve been watching a lot of game film,” he said.

So has Cedar Rapids coach Mark Stoute.

“We do have some film of (Lillard),” said Stoute. “Their scheme is not going to change. He’s been out a while. But he’s a veteran guy coming back. It doesn’t take much for a guy like him to come back.”

Shackleford felt he needed to make a move at quarterback after the Fever started the season out at 1-3. When the Fever lost 58-45 two weeks ago at Cedar Rapids — including three fumbles and an interception thrown by Tri-Cities quarterback Dante Warren, Shackleford called Lillard.

“We’ve had 12 turnovers in our last nine quarters,” said Shackleford. “I’ve never experienced anything like that.” At the same time, Lillard won’t be the lone answer to the team’s success.

“It can’t just be Houston Lillard,” said Shackleford. “We need to win the turnover battle. We’ve got to concentrate on stopping (Titans running back) LaRonn Council, forcing their young quarterback (Spencer Ohm) to put the ball in the air.”

Ismail back in town

The Titans’ new defensive coordinator is a familiar face to Fever fans: Ameer Ismail. The former Fever linebacker from 2010 was an All-IFL first-teamer in both 2012 (Bloomington) and 2013 (Chicago), and was the IFL Defensive Player in 2012.

Now, he is Stoute’s defensive coordinator.

“I had an opportunity last year after playing with Chicago to go to the Jacksonville Jaguars,” Ismail said. “But I suffered a micro-fracture tear in a knee. I’m 100 percent now, and I could play. But this opportunity in coaching came up.” And it’s not easy, he admits.

“Coaching is a lot more work,” said Ismail, who just turned 30. “It’s a lot of late nights. A lot of film work. It’s not as fun as playing, and not as rewarding.”

He’s excited, he said, to be in his old stomping grounds and seeing Shackleford.

“I still feel I could still play, but I’m excited about this,” Ismail said. “It’s a good opportunity.”

By the numbers
The Fever ranks No. 2 in the IFL in scoring offense at 50.0 points a game. Cedar Rapids is No. 3 at 47.4. ... The Titans ran No. 2 in scoring defense at 36.2 points, while the Fever sits in seventh at 52.0. ... Cedar Rapids is second in total offense at 251.6 yards a game, while the Fever is third at 247.8 per game. ... The Titans are tops in the IFL in total defense at 177.6 yards a game, while the Fever is sixth at 237.5. ... Although Warren won’t be starting, he leads the league in total offense at 208.8 yards a game. ... Titans QB Ohm is tied for second in total offense touchdowns at 18. ... Cedar Rapids kicker Rockne Belmonte averages 11.6 points a game, ranking him second in the IFL. ... Titans running back Council averages 77.0 yards rushing a game, ranking him tops in the IFL. Warren is second at 60.0. ... Council also has scored seven TDs rushing, ranking him first. Ohm is second with six. ... Fever WR Jackie Chambers averages 65.3 yards in receiving per game, ranking him third in the IFL. ... Fever K Brady Beeson ranks second in the league in PAT kicking at 91.3 percent (21 for 23). ... Belmonte is the top field-goal kicker at 70.6 percent (12 for 17). ... Titans return man Robert Brown is No. 3 in kick returns, averaging 18.3 yards per return. ... Titans DB Jereme Green has four interceptions, ranking him second in the league. ... Cedar Rapids LB Pasquale Vacchio has 45 total tackles and ranks second in the league. Fever DB Lionell Singleton has 25 total tackles to lead Tri-Cities.

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