Last year's Chicago Slaughter team missed the Indoor Football League playoffs, at least partly because of injuries that forced them to use four quarterbacks.
This season, head coach Steve McMichael believes that position won't be a problem with Isiah "Juice" Williams under center.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Williams ran for 2,557 yards while throwing for 8,037 yards in four years at Illinois as a dual-threat quarterback.
"It's Juice's time," said McMichael, the former Pro Bowl defensive tackle of the 1985 Super Bowl champion Bears. "He's an athlete along the lines of these kids coming into the NFL, and that's the kind of offense we'll run.
McMichael says the 25-year-old Williams will bring to the Slaughter the same type of run-pass talents that the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick, the Seattle Seahawks Russell Wilson and the Washington Redskins' Robert Griffin III made so popular last season in the NFL. Although the Slaughter lost their season opener last weekend, 41-31, to the Cedar Rapids Titans, McMichael's team rushed 31 times for 190 yards, nearly unheard of in the pass-heavy indoor game.
Williams will have help in the ground game from 5-foot-10, 220-pound running back Danny DuFrene, his one-time teammate with the Fighting Illini.
"That little kid is a beast," McMichael said. "We didn't give him the ball enough last week, but we've been working on that in practice."
McMichael, who is now in his seventh season as head coach of the Slaughter, missed the playoffs last season for just the second time, but he has a 53-34 career record with the club. His team opens its home season at 2:05 p.m. Sunday at Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates in a rematch against the Titans.
Players such as Williams and DuFrene are well known, but 6-foot-5, 305-pound offensive tackle Jason Baksas from Western Illinois, along with defensive leader Lenny Radtke, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound, veteran linebacker from North Central College, are worth keeping an eye on.
"Nobody knows these kids now," McMichael said, "but I promise you, they know how to make plays. They're living in anonymity, but just until they get an opportunity."
On the scaled-down indoor field, 50 yards long and 28 yards wide, speed and agility are essential for most of the seven players on each side, although players like Baksas have their niche.
"It's like fast-break basketball, but it's on a football field," McMichael said. "It's a specialized talent. Every one of these guys is fast and quick, or they wouldn't have made the team.
"But I don't like to single out any individual guys," McMichael said. "This is all about 'we,' baby."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.