KENNEWICK -- Even though Tyson Thompson left the Tri-Cities Fever last week, Adam Shackleford couldn't have been happier.
Thompson, who started at running back and returned kickoffs for the Fever this season, signed a contract with the outdoor United Football League -- now in its second season.
In fact, Thompson probably shouldn't have played the week before in the Fever's 56-48 win over the Alaska Wild because it was a certainty that he would sign.
But the former Dallas Cowboys return man wanted to contribute to the Fever's win.
"He's been a great leader on this team," said Shackleford. "He may not be very vocal. But he leads by example. In practice, we'd run a play from the 5, and he would sprint the other 45 yards."
His teammates, Shackleford said, looked up to him.
But even with Thompson gone, life for the Fever has to go on.
And the team found some Saturday night in Thompson's replacement, Antoine Rutherford.
The 5-10, 205-pounder out of Howard University carried the ball eight times for 48 yards, and he looked good doing it in Tri-Cities' 71-24 win over Kent.
"They have different styles," Shackleford said of the two running backs. "Antoine has a lot more fast-twitch muscles."
Indeed, Rutherford hit the hole hard at times. Other times, he turned the corner at full speed and outran the linebackers.
-- Kent coach William McCarthy admitted that playing a team for the third time in a season is not easy -- even though the Predators' top player, quarterback Charles McCullum, was sidelined with an injury.
"It's hard to right the ship when you're struggling sometimes," said McCarthy. "But the Fever is coming along."
Shackleford knew that McCullum was banged up from the Chicago game the week before. But even Shackleford didn't know until just hours before kickoff.
Still, "You better have a guy behind him that can do the job," Shackleford said.
Backup QB Brandon Pederson struggled much of the night, as did receiver Eric Taylor, who stepped in and played some quarterbackk too.
What Lillard really likes is how the Fever is coming together.
"We're all starting to get along off the field too," Lillard said. "A lot of this team is starting to mesh. We're feeling really good."
And while the Fever travels this saturday to take on the 0-9 Colorado Ice, no one is thinking this is a gimme.
"Like I said earlier this week," Shackleford said after saturday's win over Kent, "we started our playoffs now. This is a work in progress. we're not there yet."