San Diego has been strategic in its approach to this off-season. Utilizing the trade market to bring in fresh talent and in turn, send away some players that may not have been in their long-term plans. With several moves public at this point, I wanted to break down the moves they have made.
First, let’s discuss their needs heading into 2023. The offense scored just 82 touchdowns which tied them with the Vegas Knight Hawks for fourth least in the league. It didn’t help that they converted on just 57 of their extra-point attempts. All of this added up to the 5th least points scored in the IFL in 2022.
On Defense, they allowed 116 touchdowns, and 809 total points third worst in the league on both accounts. Having played in just 16 games they allowed an average of 50 points per game. Anytime your team is underscoring its opponents by 13 points per game on average there are major issues to correct. Let’s look at how they have addressed their needs.
Forecast for October? A High Chance of Trades
Trade Eric Johnson for Jonte Berry
San Diego waited for the right time to Strike before making its first move. Trading DB Eric Johnson for OG Jonte Berry. Berry is an absolute mauler at guard and brings NFL-level size to the position at 6’4 325 lbs.
Berry returns to San Diego after beginning his IFL Career with the Strike Force in 2019. He has also played for the Iowa Barnstormers and Columbus Lions of the NAL. He also participated in Your Call Football in 2019 before beginning his indoor football career.
Trade WR Kentrez Bell for Future Considerations
Iowa and San Diego weren’t done yet. Just over a week after the first trade swapped players, they did it again sending wide receiver Kentrez Bell to the Strike Force for future considerations. Bell was a solid receiver for Iowa in 2022.
Catching 32 passes for 455 yards, Bell scored an astounding 15 times, or once every two receptions. He also added 11 tackles all season long showing his value isn’t solely on offense. Bell is a solid addition to this receiver group for 2023. Bell is heading into his 3rd season in the IFL after spending his first two with the Barnstormers.
A Rush of Receiver Talent
Midway through October we finally got a flurry of moves. DeWayne Autrey, a well-known face in the CIF was released after playing briefly for San Diego last season, along with DL Ralph Harvey paving the way for a group of signings. In came a trio of wide receivers.
Stewart is 6’2 200 pounds and he had bounced around the NFL before the Albany Empire of the NAL brought him in for the 2019 season. However, he never suited up for the team. He resurfaced last season with the Green Bay Blizzard in 2022. He played 8 games and caught 27 passes for 295 yards and 6 touchdowns. He should be a solid number 1 option in this offense.
Reed is the type of receiver you look to stretch the field. At 6’3 185 lbs, he isn’t the type to muscle out a defender but he can still hold his own on jump balls. During his two years at Arkansas, he caught 44 passes for 790 yards and 8 touchdowns averaging 18 yards per reception.
Standing 6’4 215 lbs Epps is a matchup nightmare in the indoor game. Epps played with the Sioux City Bandits in 2022 with the CIF. Despite only catching 8 passes for 96 yards. On those 8 receptions, he scored 4 times. He is a red zone threat, who traditionally plays tight end outdoors and isn’t afraid to get physical to come down with a catch.
The Strike Force wasn’t done tapping the Blizzard’s 2022 roster for talent. They later swung another trade bringing in running back Tim Whitfield.
Tim is a bigger back at 6’0 225 lbs but has solid hands out of the backfield and isn’t afraid to contribute on special teams if called upon. Whitfield should however end up being the bell cow back in San Diego if he doesn’t get the call outdoors.
Producing 42 carries for 143 yards and 5 touchdowns, while adding 25 receptions for 190 yards. Wait until San Diego slots him in as a starter from day one. The T Train has arrived in San Diego.
Rare Quarterback for Quarterback Trade
Yet another Trade brought in their potential QB1 for 2023. This time it was a quarterback swap with the Arizona Rattlers that led San Diego to get their guy at quarterback.
Demry Croft was a very tall quarterback that needed to grow into that height after leaving college. At 6’6 he joined the Tucson Sugar Skulls at 200 lbs. Despite his slender build, Croft found himself playing often in 2021. He would rack up 1,324 passing yards and 24 TDS adding 446 rushing yards and 10 TDs in just 8 games.
In 2022 Croft originally signed with the Spokane Shock. However, as we know the Shock ended up folding. Croft landed with the Arizona Rattlers learning from Drew Powell the IFL MVP, after being voted to the First Team All-IFL rookie team in 2021. In 2023 he is poised to take over the job in San Diego. I have a hunch we see a break-out season by the now 220 lb Croft who has grown into the position over the past two seasons.
In return San Diego sent Arizona QB Jorge Reyna. Reyna started 8 games as a rookie last season with San Diego. During those 8 games, he averaged over 163 passing yards per game, which led the league. He also managed 28 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions the highest touchdown to interception ratio in the league at 7 to 1. Reyna also averaged over 6 yards per carry racking up 279 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground. Arizona is hoping he can compete to be their guy long-term.
Defense Adds Some New Talent
Raiford will play defensive end for the Strike Force. He brings the perfect size to this position at 6’3 265 lbs. Raiford is an indoor football veteran having played with the San Angelo Bandits, and Amarillo Venom for several years before heading to the Iowa Barnstormers. Later he signed with the CIF where he spent time with the Wichita Force and Omaha Beef. Now he lands with the Strike Force.
Caine is a bigger body that could see time at nose tackle at 6’2 290 lbs. He joined the league following 2 seasons with Mississippi Valley University in which he produced 46 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, and 2 forced fumbles in just 14 games. Caine went on to participate in nearly every showcase for a college player but still found himself unselected by the NFL. After the draft, the Bay Area Panthers signed him to a deal. He also played 1 game for the Green Bay Blizzard. Playing in 4 games total he had 11 tackles and 1 for a loss. He has potential and that’s what San Diego is banking on.
Eugene stands 5’11 200 lbs stout for safety. Eugene is one of the elder statesmen on this defense. Having left LSU back in 2013, Eugene had collected 62 tackles, 6 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, and 5 tipped passes in two seasons there. Eugene was once charged with possession and burglary in 2017. Eugene is a veteran of the indoor game. He spent 2019 with the Sugar Skulls, signing with San Diego for the first time before the 2020 season. He spent 2021 with the NAZ Wranglers, and Sioux Falls Storm, and spent some time in 2022 with the Quad City Steamwheelers.
Re-Signing Key Players
After this group of new faces came in it was time to re-sign some of the Strike Force players from last season, and lock up one of the players acquired via trade.
Kentrez Bell was re-signed to a new contract. Along with DL Javian Williams, LB D.J. Morgan, DB Ej Johnson, and WR/DB Amechie Walker.
Williams is another potential nose tackle. At 6’3 315 lbs, two gapping is his how he has made his bones in the IFL. Last season in 15 games Williams managed 17 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, and 2.5 sacks. He also blocked two kicks and caused a safety. A Solid performance that led the Strike Force to bring him back and see what he can do.
Morgan is a prototype at linebacker standing 6’2 230 lbs. Morgan played in just 6 games last season but was incredibly impactful. He totaled 21 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 1 interception, 5 pass breakups, 1 QB hit, and 1 forced fumble. This performance led the team to want to see more from Morgan in 2023. I expect a full season of play from Morgan should result in a breakout year. He was on pace for 56 tackles, 8 tackles for a loss, 3 interceptions, 15 pass deflections, and 3 forced fumbles.
Johnson stands 5’11 185 lbs, he can play inside or outside and even some safety if asked. He played in just 3 games last season. Johnson is a California native who has stuck with the Strike Force since 2020. He played in 13 games collecting 33 tackles, 1 for a loss, 1 interception, 3 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 forced fumble. He is one of those veteran glue guys you never want to move on from, who is also very active in a community he knows and loves.
Walker is easily one of the more versatile players on the team. Listed as a WR/DB he realistically could be seen as a kick returner and running back at times as well. Last season in 9 games Walker racked up 18 receptions for 309 yards and 6 TDS, 1 carry for -1 yards, 1 kick return for 9 yards, and 2 tackles. He truly will do anything the staff asks.
Offensive lineman McCulley spent the 2020 season with the Strike Force, but the season was canceled. In 2021 he signed with the Arizona Rattlers. He also went to training camp with the Washington Commanders in 2018. McCulley earned All Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference honors while attending his home school Colorado State-Pueblo. At 6’6 340 lbs, he is yet another road grader to pave the way for Whitfield and Croft to tear it up on the ground in 2023.
On paper, it looks like Coach Taylor Genuser wants to impose his will on defenses in 2023. I look at those anchors on the offensive line in McCulley, and Berry who both stand 6’4 340 lbs+. You also bring in a bigger back who can pound the rock inside the box.
However, this will not be an offense that only runs the ball. They brought in diverse and talented receivers in Bell, Epps, Reed, and Stewart while bringing back Walker as well. Croft is a guy whom I believe will open up this offense in 2023 and we should see a very balanced attack.
On defense, I love that they brought back their guys whom they didn’t get to see a full season from. A lot of times in the IFL it can be difficult to bring in talent and develop over time. In my mind, it’s a victory bringing back three young players that will be able to build on their experience in 2022 with the Strike Force.
I specifically love what they did on the defensive line. Bringing in another big body to pair with Javian Williams, was a smart move so I’m excited about what Jeremiah Caine will bring to this defense. I believe Raiford will be counted on to bring an element of pass rush when needed. I love the addition of veteran Eugene and bringing back Morgan.
All in all, there is still plenty of time to go before we hit the 2023 season but I see a clear plan for San Diego for the 2023 season and it starts with the big boys up front. The keys to victory in 2023 will be running the ball and stopping the run, and San Diego plans to strike first.
GoIFL.com for stats and transaction information
HUDL.com for information on specific players
GoCIF.com for CIF stats
Past Off-Season Transaction Breakdowns
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