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Power coach always finds 'next man'

| Friday, June 6, 2014, 7:08 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
The Pittsburgh Power's Andre Jones defends a pass in intended for the Cleveland Gladiators Thyron Lewis during the game at Consol Energy Center on Saturday May 31, 2014. Power LB Arvell Freeman would catch the deflection and return it for a touchdown. The Power won, 48-34.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Power running back Tommy Taggert runs the ball during the game against the Cleveland Gladiators on Saturday May 31, 2014.

Coaches hate talking about injuries because the discussion sometimes can start sounding like a series of excuses.

Yet, it's sometimes unrealistic to stick out your chest, holler “next man up” and expect the same level of play from the next man.

It's even tougher in indoor football after the pool of sufficiently gifted players is thinned by the NFL and Canadian Football League, leaving Arena Football League coaches sifting through resumes and calling in favors from old friends.

There isn't an excessive number of good players, but somehow Power coach Ron James has been able to survive — thrive, actually — by finding replacements for some of the AFL's best.

“It's a function of being an old guy,” said James, 50. “I've been around this league for a while.”

That's one reason the Power will take a franchise-best five-game winning streak and an 8-3 record into their game Saturday against the New Orleans VooDoo (2-8) at Consol Energy Center.

Defensive back Virgil Gray, who was walking this week on crutches and with a boot on his high ankle sprain, will miss his third consecutive game. How did the Power respond to losing, arguably, the best defensive player in the league? They beat division leaders Orlando and Cleveland.

Defensive backs Andre Jones and Al Phillips, acquired by the Power after training camp, have filled the void left by Gray. Jones is returning kickoffs and helping in the secondary, and Phillips has three of the Power's league-leading 23 interceptions.

Phillips, who balked at being traded from Tampa Bay to Orlando, was sitting out the season until James called him soon after joining the Power in March.

“I was sitting out, waiting for the right opportunity,” said Phillips, who played for James and along side defensive backs coach Brandon Taylor in Utah.

At wide receiver, the Power acquired Hank Edwards in a trade with Spokane and picked up Rodney Wright after the start of the season. Edwards has 21 receptions (eight for touchdowns). Wright, 34, is averaging a touchdown approximately every five times he makes a catch. Overall, seven players have 19 or more catches and at least two touchdowns.

“It's a process and a process I enjoy, actually,” James said of acquiring players. “I know a lot of people.”

James, who has coached for 30 years (16 in the AFL), said he relies heavily on director of player personnel Brad Wittke.

“He does a great job being on the phone and being my second set of eyes,” James said.

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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