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Portland Steel Turn to Familiar Face At Quarterback

Thursday, March 31, 2016

 

Just a few days before the home opener, the Portland Steel face a bit of dilemma at quarterback. Shane Austin, brought in during the offseason from the Cleveland Gladiators, was listed as exempt from team activities on March 28th. Specifically, he was placed on the “Other League Exempt” list. This is a special Arena Football League designation for players who are seeking opportunities with some of the higher up leagues, such as the Canadian Football League or the National Football League.

In the case of Austin, it appears he has accepted an invitation to mini-camp with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL. The mini-camp is scheduled for early April and likely Austin will want to ensure he stays healthy for an opportunity in the higher league. Obviously, Austin’s future with the Steel is up on the air, based on what happens in Canada. However, one thing is known: His AFL rights still belong to the Steel.

This can certainly be seen as a major blow to the offensive efforts of the Steel. Austin was one of the hallmark acquisitions for the League-owned franchise. He threw over 100 touchdown passes in the 2015 season with the Gladiators and led the team to a 17-1 record in the 2014 season. The acquisition was designed to bring Portland’s Arena Football team it’s biggest name in its short three-year history. However, instead, the Steel will be turning to their backup. Fans of the former-Portland Thunder will remember the name: Danny Southwick.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Southwick for Oregon Sports News in 2014, just as Southwick was stepping in under center, offering the most consistent option for the Thunder in their inaugural season after renowned Oregon Duck Darron Thomas and Idaho Vandal Nathan Enderle both proved inconsistent. Although Southwick won the job in 2014, the Thunder offense never exploded. In 2015, Southwick split time between the now-defunct Spokane Shock and the Los Angeles KISS.

While Southwick did not light up the league in his last stint in Portland, he does have a lot going in his favor. He has consistent AFL experience, being on AFL rosters since 2011. The Thunder’s inaugural season was the first he earned as a starter and he’s been consistent, if not explosive, since then, in his multiple stops, holding a passer rating around 96 since being a starter.

Is Southwick as exciting an option as Shane Austin? On paper, no. But, arguably, this year’s Steel team may offer him his best receiving corps. The Steel have added former Oregon Duck Colt Lyerla from the Arizona Rattlers (their Opening Night opponent) and Nick Truesdell with solid experience with the Shock. It adds some extra question marks to the Steel’s re-launch, without a doubt. Will Austin’s exciting opportunity with the CFL pan out? Will this be the year that Southwick takes the next step? Or will Portland spend another season with a nagging quarterback problem? Only time will tell.

The Steel will kick off their season this Friday at the Moda Center against the Arizona Rattlers. Kick-off is set for 7 PM and will air on national television on CBS Sports Network and Ron Callan and Brian Perkins will be on the call on AM 750 The Game.

 

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