Pieces fitting together for surging Power team in search of playoff bid

Jerry DiPaola
| Sunday, June 1, 2014, 10:14 p.m.

One game into the season, Power co-owner Matt Shaner fired coach Derek Stingley and dumped the franchise's remaining broken pieces into the lap of coach Ron James.

He knew many of the players from coaching with and against them in Utah, but trying to put the Power's cluttered house in order without the benefit of training camp has been no small task. Especially after injury claimed three of the Power's best players: wide receivers Aaron Lesue and Prechae Rodriguez and defensive back Virgil Gray.

James' work is far from done, but the Power (8-3) continue to climb toward the best season in their four-year existence. The 48-34 victory against the previously undefeated Cleveland Gladiators on Saturday was the most recent evidence that James has figured out what works best for his team in only two months.

“At this point in the season, you're either figuring out pieces to the puzzle, or you're puzzled by the pieces,” James said. “That's just kind of the way coaching goes at this point in the season. We're starting to figure out the pieces to our puzzle. The sooner you get that under wraps, the better off you're going to be.”

James came to the Power after the franchise folded in Utah where he worked with Power quarterback Tommy Grady. The player-coach mix has worked well.

Even without Lesue and with Rodriguez rounding into shape after missing seven weeks, the Power averaged 13.9 yards per completion against the stout Gladiators defense. Into the spotlight jumped wide receivers Tyrone Goard (four touchdown receptions) and Rodney Wright (one), who caught all of Grady's scoring tosses.

“We try to make our system plug-and-play,” James said. “In other words, if we get new players to come in, we get them up to speed very quickly. We also tend to bring players who I've had before. When you do that, the short-hand is there, and they're able to pick it up quicker.”

That thinking also has worked on defense where the Power, who put their five-game winning streak on the line when they host the New Orleans VooDoo on Saturday, lead the Arena Football League with 23 interceptions.

Al Phillips replaced Gray, perhaps the best defensive back in the AFL, and picked off two passes against Cleveland. Phillips played three years for James in Utah after leaving Wagner, where he once returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown against Robert Morris.

“We have each others' backs,” said linebacker Arvell Nelson, who also had two interceptions (one for a touchdown). “No matter what goes on out there, we're going to play for each other.”

James has made several good moves this season. But the best may be one he didn't make when he resisted trade offers for Nelson.

“We had a number of opportunities to, or I should say other teams wanted opportunities to get their hands on Arvell,” James said. “It wasn't going to happen. Isn't going to happen. Too valuable to our ball club.

“Not only could he be a starting quarterback in this league with some other teams, but the position that he's playing right now, making plays, running down on special teams, doing the things that he does, he's just all over the place and by the ball all the time. You can't teach those instincts.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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