Nine days after the Tri-Cities Fever lost its Indoor Football League season opener — a 42-38 decision to the Colorado Ice on the road March 1 — the team got back together to prepare for its home opener.
That game is set for 7:05 p.m. Friday in the Toyota Center against the Nebraska Danger — a powerful team that has started out 2-0 with a 30-21 win over the Sioux Falls Storm, then a 73-50 dismantling of Colorado this past weekend.
But Fever coach Adam Shackleford has more concerns than just Nebraska coming to town. He’s got an injured team.
Rookie wide receiver DeJuan Miller injured his foot the week preceding the opener. Then during the Colorado game, wide receiver Ed Berry left the first half with a concussion.
Finally, new running back Keola Antolin left in the second half with a badly injured hand.
“It’s going to be a couple of weeks before he can play again,” said Shackleford of Antolin after Sunday night’s practice. “He’s a premier player in this league. We’ve got to get him healthy. In our system, the running back has to catch the football.”
Antolin had 75 yards combined in rushing and receiving yardage against Colorado, and he found the end zone three times.
There were other strong performances.
Steven Whitehead caught 10 passes for 88 yards, and quarterback Kasey Peters passed for 209 yards and three touchdowns.
“Kasey ran the ball well,” said Shackleford. “We opened up the playbook in the first half and things were going good.”
But after the injuries, Shackleford was forced to moved Whitehead to running back (he only carries one on his roster) and had defensive back Lionell Singleton take his turn in the wide receiver rotation. Neither player had practiced at those positions in training camp.
So the Fever offensive playbook went from 80 plays down to eight in the second half, severely limiting Tri-Cities’ chances to move the ball.
“People ask ‘How could you let that happen?’” said Shackleford. “But that’s what happens when you lose a running back and a receiver on a 21-man roster.”
So Shackleford has been forced to make some personnel moves.
He moved Antolin over to the short-term injured reserve list last week, then signed DL Brandon Rankin, a former WSU standout who saw some time in the Detroit Lions camp.
Shackleford will have to make a few more roster moves this week, with veteran running back Keithon Flemming and DB Dennis Rogan now suited up.
“Keithon looks good,” said Shackleford of the former Allen Wrangler who was cut in the Fever camp. “He’s a veteran, and he’s got experience. He just got beat out in camp by Keola. I just want the best guy at each position.”
Injuries aside, the Fever looked inconsistent against the Ice in its opener.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” said Shackleford. “It wasn’t everybody. It was one guy here, one guy there. And we’re not going to use injuries as an excuse. We had our chances to win and we blew it.”
And when teams are struggling, they have to take care of business at home.
“The key to success in this league is being healthy and winning home games,” said Shackleford. “We’re not healthy. And until we get healthy, we have to win our home games.”
The team practices all week in the Toyota Center. Former Fever defensive coordinator Ryan Lingenfelder lost his head coaching debut Friday night when his Wyoming Cavalry fell 54-12 at Cedar Rapids. Ex-Fever DB Marcus Washington was one of the last cuts at Wyoming. Cedar Rapids signed DL Michael Graise last week. Graise was a standout last season for the now-defunct Everett Raptors.