The good news for Tri-Cities Fever coach Adam Shackleford and his team is that they know they’re in the Indoor Football League playoffs.
The bad news is they won’t be in them very long if they don’t get healthy.
Shackleford made a number of moves this week as he gets ready for those playoffs.
“It’s been a while, but I don’t remember being this banged up,” he said.
Defensive lineman Jake Killeen is the latest casualty. Shackleford put him on short-term injured reserve this week, and the standout must stay on it at least two weeks.
“Jake has a bad ankle, a possible slight concussion, and he’s been playing with a broken wrist,” Shackleford said.
Darian Barnes also is sidelined, meaning the Fever defensive line is in a bit of disarray as the team visits Sioux Falls tonight for its second-to-last regular-season game.
Though Shackleford always wants to win, he knows his team’s most important contest is the playoff game at Nebraska, set for the end of this month.
“With two weeks to go, we’re just trying to be the best team we can be,” he said. “I felt moves had to be made to that end.”
So this week, he released wide receivers J.D. Woods and Michael Edwards, defensive back Dontavais Johnson and quarterback Mike Box.
Defensive lineman Aaron Bellazin was placed on the Refused-to-Report List, as he went home to deal with family issues.
Shackleford said the decision on Woods was all performance-based, and Edwards never climbed the depth chart.
As for Box, he informed Shackleford that he had a chance to do something football-wise in Europe. It just happened to be that he told the coach before the Billings road game in which Dominique Blackman got the starting nod over him.
“I think once he found that out, he started looking at options,” Shackleford said.
That leaves Blackman as the Fever’s top quarterback entering tonight’s game, the regular-season finale June 13 against Iowa at the Toyota Center and the playoff game at Nebraska, at least.
Making his first career start in last week’s 61-50 loss at Billings, Blackman struggled in the first half. But he rallied the final two quarters and threw four touchdown passes.
“I was proud of the way he played in the second half,” Shackleford said.
While the coach was busy releasing players, he was signing new ones — and driving.
“I took two trips to Spokane this week to pick up players,” Shackleford said. “And I took one trip to Portland to pick up another player.”
Those signed include linebacker Joe Thornton, a former Fever player who spent the past few seasons with the Colorado Ice and was all-IFL last year. Thornton was with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League this year.
With rookie linebacker Leon Jackson playing well for the Fever, it leaves Shackleford with some options, which include having them on the field at the same time.
“We have a couple of different scenarios,” Shackleford said. “But Joe will play some linebacker as well.”
The Fever also signed wide receiver Austin Dotson, who spent some time with Nebraska earlier this season.
“He adds some experience and some depth for us,” Shackleford said. “He’s similar in size like Steven Whitehead.”
Quarterback Patrick McCain and defensive lineman Pat Wertz also were signed. Meanwhile, defensive back Dustin Bell was activated from short-term IR.
“McCain is very good,” Shackleford said. “He had a terrific week of practice, and he really impressed the coaches. Wertz is really good, and we like him. I can see a defensive front of Barnes, Brandon Rankin, Killeen and Wertz ready to play against Nebraska.”
McCain is the fifth quarterback Shackleford signed this season.
Former all-star Houston Lillard started the season opener but eventually was lost to a broken leg. Jamal Londry-Jackson was Lillard’s backup but was later traded to Billings. Box came in and started for a few games until he lost that spot to Blackman.
“I have never had five quarterbacks in one season,” Shackleford said. “I’m not sure I’ve had five quarterbacks in the last three years.”
TONIGHT’S GAME: The 7-5 Fever will take on an 11-0 Sioux Falls team. Kickoff is at 5:05 p.m.
To play with the Storm, Shackleford says his team must do two things.
“We’ll need to eliminate turnovers and handle their crowd noise,” he said. “Their team is good at taking other teams’ mistakes and turning them into seven points.”
The Storm’s strength is its offensive line.
“That offensive line is what makes them go,” Shackleford said. “At times, it doesn’t matter who the running back is. Running behind that line, he’s got four yards gained before he’s even touched.”
IFL HALL OF FAME: The league this week announced its second class to be inducted into the IFL Hall of Fame, which will happen the weekend of the July 11 championship game.
This year, three players are going in: quarterback Chris Dixon, running back LaRon Council and defensive back/kick returner B.J. Hill.
The Fever had three nominees among the finalists with ties to the team: owner Teri Carr, former defensive back Lionell Singleton and current defensive coordinator Ameer Ismail.
Ismail played for Tri-Cities in 2010 as a linebacker before finishing up in Bloomington and Chicago.
For Carr, it was her second consecutive nomination.
“That’s silly,” she said. “I think this should be about the players and coaches.”