by Nicole Raisch
Eight games won, eight games left to win. Halfway through the 2009 regular season, a perfect season seems possible for the Spokane Shock.
Since the inception of the af2 in 2000, only one team has achieved a perfect regular season. The Quad City Steamwheelers won all 16 games in the inaugural year of the league. Other teams have come close: the Quad City Steamwheelers (15-1) in 2001 and the Rio Grande Valley Dorados (15-1) in 2007.
The Shock also came close to a perfect season in 2008 when they won 15 games, with their only loss coming on a last-second field goal against the South Georgia Wildcats. This 2009 season is the third season in which the Shock have reached the midway point without a loss.
At this halfway point, the Shock rank among the top 10 in 14 different statistics. The Shock are currently first in the league in kickoff coverage (42.2 yards net average); second in field goal accuracy (.778 pct); second in turnover margin (+1.62 per/game); third in pass efficiency (124.5 rating); and eighth in total offense (287.1 yards/game). Defensively, the Shock are third in scoring defense (40.1 points/game); third in sacks (20); and fourth in red zone defense (70.7%).
Some of these outstanding numbers are indicative of what Head Coach Adam Shackleford sees as the team's biggest strengths.
"We don't turn the ball over a whole lot, we get a lot of turnovers on defense, and our team speed is very good," Shackleford explains. "All of these things will help us in the future."
But can the Shock continue to put up these numbers through the second half of the 2009 season? Are the Shock players playing at the top of their game?
After the first semester, Professor Shackleford grades his team with a B.
"Even though we are undefeated, I don't think our record reflects at all how we are playing," Shackleford says. "I think we have gotten in situations where our defense carried our offense and vice-versa. I don't think we have really played a complete game yet. We are still waiting for that."
Even though Shackleford grades his team as a "B" overall, he awards high marks in several individual categories. The Shock players rank in the top 10 in 14 different individual statistics: DB Stanley Franks is second in total tackles; DL Ben McCombs is second in total sacks; K Brian Jackson is second in kick scoring; QB Nick Davila is fifth in pass efficiency; and WR Andy Olson is sixth in receptions per game.
These accomplishments are even more impressive given the constant player movement in the af2. Throughout the season, the Shock have traded or dismissed 20 players and 62 players have been on the Shock roster at some point in this season.
Shackleford explains how shifting the roster improves the team as a whole and keeps Shock players on their best game. "If we find a better player for a position, we are going to make changes. We don't want to mess up the chemistry of the team, but we are not going to pass on good players that are still out there. I think it keeps these guys working hard, knowing that they can be replaced at any time if they aren't doing their job."
Through roster shifts and additions, the 2009 Shock team has grown into a solid nucleus. By mixing 11 rookies with 13 veterans, the coaching staff has created a team with good chemistry that can put numbers up on the board and create wins.
However, the number of rookies could be a weakness as the Shock plays more experienced teams. "Our weakness right now is that we don't have a lot of experience. But the chemistry of the football team is very good. Hopefully we can coach our young guys to grow up pretty fast," said Shackleford. T
he challenges that the Shock have faced this season - including a two-point victory over Division-rival Boise - have also been a source of their strength.
"I think we do a great job keeping our composure during the game. When we get down in a football game, we don't panic," Shackleford commented.
Although Spokane has led their opponents at halftime in seven of the eight games played, the largest lead amounted to 14 points and against the Burn the Shock trailed by two at halftime. On average, the Shock have scored 6.5 points more than their opponents in the first half and won games an average of by 17.4 points.
Does this 2009 Shock team have the ability to play a perfect season? History has shown that perfect seasons are hard to come by, but this 2009 Spokane Shock season has put up some of the most impressive statistics in the history of the franchise. The likelihood of a perfect 16-0 season is entirely possible yet Shackleford still remains wary.
"At this point, we're not ready for the Arena Cup," said Shackleford. "We are a pretty good football team, but we need some work and we have a long way to go before we accomplish our goals for this season."