KENNEWICK -- Adam Shackleford is already getting excited for the 2012 Indoor Football League season.
No matter that kickoff for the opener won't be until near the end of February.
The Tri-Cities Fever coach has been busy trying to put together a roster for next season, and he likes what he sees so far.
"It's been a very productive offseason," Shackleford said Tuesday in a phone interview from his Spokane- area home. "We've got some good players signed. We're waiting for a bunch of the contracts signed to get back to us. We're recruiting a very high-caliber player list."
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How high caliber?
Shackleford believes the overall talent level for next year's team will be much higher than the 2011 squad's.
That says a lot, since the Fever finished 13-5 before losing 37-10 to the Sioux Falls Storm in the United Bowl Championship.
"The NFL lockout hurt a lot of players," he said. "There were no rookie mini camps. That would be 15 guys times 32 teams -- whatever that adds up to. That's how many guys who usually get a look, didn't get a look, and now are available."
Shackleford won't name any names just yet -- contracts really won't start coming in until around December -- but word of mouth has gotten around the league that the Tri-Cities is a great place to play.
"We kind of have some clout in the league now," Shackleford said. "(Fever owner) Teri Carr did a great job of treating players with respect."
Shackleford said he does expect to have 12 to 14 players back from last season's squad. That's a lot more than he usually brings back.
But last year's team was special, and some of those guys have even made the Tri-Cities their year-round home now.
"(DL) Jake Killeen, (LB) Brandon Wilson, (DB) Lionell Singleton, (DL) Brian Rackley, and (QB) Houston Lillard are all living here," Shackleford said. "These are guys who came to this part of the country and enjoyed it here."
At the same time, Shackleford prides himself on getting as many players as he can an opportunity to move up the football ladder.
Which is why so many players were released by the Fever on Monday.
"We're going to lose about nine guys to the Arena Football League," Shackleford said. "They come here and help us win football games, then we help them move on up."
Wide receiver Tre Young signed with the AFL's Jacksonville Sharks, while defensive lineman/linebacker Fred Harris signed with the Spokane Shock.
The others released who will sign soon with various AFL teams are WR Joey Hew Len, DL Chris Lyle, OL Carl Barnett, DB Dennis Rogan, K Gary Cismesia, and WR Jackie Chambers.
In addition, DB Stoney Woodson, a former New York Giants draft pick who signed with the Fever last week, was released from his contract with Tri-Cities so he could play in the AFL.
One guy not listed with an AFL team is Lillard -- arguably the Fever's MVP last season at quarterback.
"Houston has two private workouts scheduled with two AFL teams next month," Shackleford said. "The AFL kind of does it differently with quarterbacks. They work them out before they sign them, rather than just sign them right away."
Former Fever DB Ruschard Dodd-Masters signed with the AFL's San Jose Sharks, while ex-Fever WR Thyron Lewis signed with the Cleveland Gladiators again. ... Carr leaves later this week for Chicago for the IFL meetings, which begin Thursday and run through Saturday. Division alignments, playoff format and the 2012 regular-season schedule will be discussed. ... One question is what the Fever's division will look like. Wenatchee Valley's co-owners have already announced the team won't play next season, and there is a chance that the Fairbanks Grizzlies may be out too. The Seattle Timberwolves franchise looks like it will be moving north to play in Everett.