AP NEWS

Empire trim roster ahead of IFL season opener

February 23, 2017

Spokane Empire head coach Adam Shackleford felt great about the team he brought into training camp.

But it made cutting the roster down that much harder.

“I’ve always said if cuts are easy, you probably don’t have a very good football team,” Shackleford said.

Three of the 27 players at Tuesday’s final practice of training camp were released before midnight: running back Rob Brown, defensive backs Norris Wrenn and Lorenzo White Jr.

The secondary was the toughest position to trim down, and Spokane took until the final possible day to do so.

“I think our secondary is the best I’ve ever had in the IFL,” Shackleford said at Tuesday’s practice. “I think they can all play in this league.”

Wrenn and Brown were cut mostly due to their veteran status. Indoor Football League rules state that teams can carry only seven players with four or more years of experience, and the Empire needed to part ways with two veterans to meet the limit.

The seven veteran spots were used on quarterback Charles Dowdell, wide receivers Bryan Pray, Carl Sims and Dejuan Miller, linebacker Nick Haag, defensive lineman Harold Love III and defensive back Robert Brown.

The Empire aren’t completely in the clear when it comes to their veteran limit, though.

Veteran wide receiver Samuel Charles was placed on short-term injured reserve with a partial PCL tear and can return in two-to-six weeks. As it stands, Spokane will need to either part ways with Charles or release another veteran when he’s able to come back.

White Jr., who played with the Empire last year, was cut to allow Spokane to add depth to another position. Currently, the Empire’s active roster is at 24 players, one short of the maximum of 25. Spokane general manager Ryan Eucker said defensive line and wide receiver help could be added in the near future.

“With the small rosters we have, the recruitment process never stops,” he said. “There is always a waiting list for those 25 spots.”

Even after cutting talented and experienced players, Shackleford is confident his team has taken a step forward from last year.

In particular, the Empire are boastful of their defense, which returns six of eight starters, as well as their offensive skill players, including last year’s starting quarterback Charles Dowdell and IFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Trevor Kennedy.

Despite a lot of new faces, Shackleford said he’s observed encouraging progress from his offensive and defensive lines.

Spokane made decisions on which lineman it planned to keep long before Tuesday’s practice because those who are on the roster stood out from day one.

“I think our big guys are in great football shape, that’s not always the case,” Shackleford said. “We had a couple guys early in camp that I don’t think worked hard enough in the offseason. You have to be in shape. This is pro football, you have to be ready.

“Guys that have trained and kept their bodies right are the ones who stood out to us.”

To round out their roster, the Empire signed placekicker Craig Peterson. He most recently played for the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League.

After the Empires’ kicking woes last season, the team hopes to have some stability and consistency at the position this season.

“I want the first guy to be the guy,” Dowdell said.

The Empire kick off the season on Thursday against the Green Bay Blizzard, which thumped Cedar Rapids 46-13 in Week 1.

Shackleford expects Thursday’s season-opener to be “a battle” after seeing how Green Bay dismantled Cedar Rapids last week.

“They’re going to come in with a lot of confidence,” Shackleford said. “They’re a very good opponent and it’s going to be a very tough matchup for us.”