Tri-Cities Fever

Hitting a Fever pitch at Toyota Center

KENNEWICK -- First the bad news: Tri-Cities Fever coach Adam Shackleford said Sunday's season opening football practice looked like a first day of practice in the Toyota Center.

The good news?

"Last year, our fourth day looked like the first day of practice," Shackleford said. "So I was happy."

Shackleford officially welcomed 41 players to camp as the team prepares for the 2011 season.

"We went through a full workout, and it will be the same every day," said Shackleford. "We installed our offense and defense. We ran a scrimmage for a full hour."

Then he ran the players through a hard conditioning session, and he really liked what he saw.

"Our guys are in pretty good shape," he said.

He added that things look like what he expected.

"I think our defense is ahead of our offense," said Shackleford. "But that always happens. Defense is always going to be ahead of offense in camp early."

Fever quarterback Houston Lillard agreed.

"Offense has to get together and be on the same page," said Lillard.

Shackleford and his staff must get the roster down to 30 by the Thursday before the regular season opener, which is Feb. 26 against the expansion Arizona Adrenaline in the Toyota Center.

That means he has to have the roster trimmed by Feb. 24.

"Getting to 30 is going to be tough," he said. "Going from 41 to 37 isn't as tough sometimes. But getting down to 30 will be."

Shackleford will get plenty of looks at his team this week, though.

He's running two practices a day for the next three days.

"We would be doing that if there wasn't an exhibition game (Thursday vs. the Wenatchee Venom in the Toyota Center)," he said. "But also having the arena available to us this week is part of it too."

The exhibition game is an added bonus for camp, said Lillard, who started the second half of the 2010 season for the Fever.

"It'll help us a lot," he said. "Practice is one thing. But you have to show what you can do in a game."

Regardless, the talent level in this Fever camp is impressive, even to the players.

"We've got some good players here," said wide receiver Joey Hew Len, who returns this season for the Fever. "We're loaded. Our defensive backs, led by Lionell Singleton, are real good. We've got some good receivers too."

NOTES: Shackleford said three players were missing from camp: one is attending a funeral, two are trying to finish getting their college degrees. Linebacker Cyrus Mulitalo is one of those players. He'll join the Fever in late March after he finishes classes at Sacramento State. ... The players and coaches attended a season ticketholder party at 2 p.m. at the Toyota Center, and it was very well attended. Players signed autographs and mingled with fans. The event ended an hour earlier than Shackleford expected, so the team suited up and went to practice a couple hours earlier than planned and was done by 7 p.m. ...The practices at the Toyota Center today are at 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday are the same schedule.