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The Kansas City Command visit the Chicago Rush Saturday night at Allstate Arena in Week 5 of the Arena Football League season. Kickoff is set for 7:00pm. The Command will enter the game with a new starting quarterback, having signed two new signal-callers this week in Matt Gutierrez and Zack Eskridge. Kansas City is trying to turn around its offensive fortunes as the team is currently averaging just under 32 points per game, ranking last in the AFL in scoring offense.
“We just felt like we had to do something,” said Command coach Danton Barto in explaining the moves. “We weren’t scoring points and in Arena Football you’re not going to win if you can’t consistently put the ball in the end zone. When something’s not working you’ve got to move on and improve your football team.”
The Command are coming off a 56-28 loss to Arizona to drop their record to 0-3 on the young season. Kansas City led 21-14 before the Rattlers scored 29 straight points to take control of the game. It was the third straight contest the Command have allowed an opponent to go on an extended scoring run.
If the personnel changes lead to more success on offense, early-season results indicate the defense can lead the team. KC’s defense held Arizona to a season-low in scoring and the team continues to rank near the top of the league in total defense, currently just behind Pittsburgh for second place.
Chicago is 3-0 after two straight narrow victories. The Rush opened the season with a 70-48 win over Tampa Bay, followed by a two-point win over Orlando and a one-point victory against Iowa last Saturday. The Rush have been solid on both sides of the ball, ranking fifth in the league in scoring offense and seventh in scoring defense.
The Command played Chicago twice last year, with each team winning on the other’s home field. KC won 58-51 at Allstate Arena on April 22 in a game televised live on NFL Network. The Command defense held Chicago to less than 200 yards of total offense for the game and stopped the Rush on a potential game-tying drive with seconds remaining.
It was the Rush defense that was the story in the rematch at Sprint Center, leading Chicago to a 58-30 win on June 4. Rush safety Vic Hall had three interceptions in the game, including one he returned for a touchdown.
The Command have a bye in Week 6 before traveling to San Jose for the first of two meetings with the Sabercats on Saturday, April 21. San Jose is 2-1 after starting the season with a one-point win, a one-point loss and most recently a blowout win over Spokane.
The Command continue to avoid the major injury bug. No active roster player is expected to miss Saturday’s game due to injury. DL Chris Lyles is expected to be activated from IR and be available for the game at Chicago.
Scouting the Rush
Quarterback Russ Michna (pron. MICK-nuh) is one of the most tenured signal-callers in the AFL, now in his fifth season with the Rush. He is off to another solid start this year, averaging 268 yards per game with 20 TDs and three interceptions.
Wide receiver Reggie Gray is Michna’s favored target for the second straight year. He leads the AFL in scoring with 12 receiving touchdowns in three games. He tops the Rush with 24 catches for 300 yards. Last season, Gray set franchise records with 130 receptions for 1,969 yards. He had 49 receiving touchdowns and four kick returns for TDs and ended the season with the second-most points in the league (322).
Safety Vic Hall currently leads the AFL in tackles, averaging over nine stops per game. He was a First-Team All-Arena selection last year as a rookie after totaling 15 interceptions and 104 tackles.
The Rush came from behind to beat Iowa Saturday night in overtime. Chicago trailed by as many as 14 when a Michna pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown and a 40-26 Iowa lead. The Rush tied the game at 55 late in regulation. Iowa scored first in overtime but missed the PAT. Former Command fullback JJ Payne drew the Rush even at 61-61 and former Command kicker Mike Salerno hit the extra point for a one-point win.
Rush fullback JJ Payne was in camp and active for a month early in the 2011 season for the Command. He registered 2.5 tackles in his time in KC.
Rush kicker Mike Salerno began last season with KC as well, serving as the Command kicker for the first three games in 2011.
Former Missouri wide receiver Jared Perry is an AFL rookie with the Rush. He is third on the team with 19 catches for 207 yards and three scores through three games.
Rush defensive lineman Jeffrey Fitzgerald played at Kansas State. He has appeared in one game for Chicago, collecting 1.5 tackles.
Command wide receiver Syvelle Newton played in five games in 2010 for Chicago, recording 41 receptions for 566 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Bradly Chavez (6-2, 220, UAB) was assigned to the Command roster on Monday. He split time at wide receiver and jack linebacker last year for the Command, his rookie season in the Arena Football League. Despite never completely committing to one position, Chavez finished as the fourth-leading receiver and the fourth-leading tackler on the year. He had 515 receiving yards on the season and his 14 touchdown catches was the third-best total on the squad. He tallied 49 tackles and two sacks defensively.
Chavez played three seasons in af2, including one with the Manchester Wolves where he was named Ironman of the Year in 2008. Chavez led Manchester in receptions (86), receiving touchdowns (28), total touchdowns (33) and scoring (202) and finished third on the squad in receiving yards (1,147).
“With Chavez, we get a guy that is experienced in the game and is a winning football player,” Barto said. “I think his attitude will be good for us in the locker room. He’s as tough a player as you’ll find.”
With the Command offense struggling to score points thus far in 2012, coach Danton Barto chose to make sweeping changes at the quarterback position, bringing in two new players to compete with one another for the starting job.
Matt Guttierrez (6-4, 230, Idaho State) came to the Command in a trade with Arizona. He was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs active roster in 2009 as well as the New England Patriots in 2007 and 2008. He was most recently in training camp last fall with the Washington Redskins. Guttierrez has appeared in six NFL regular season games.
Gutierrez (pron. GUTE-ee-AIR-ez) wrapped up his college career at Idaho State after playing three years at Michigan. He was named Idaho State’s Outstanding Newcomer of the Year in 2006, throwing for 2,237 yards and 16 touchdowns. He was named the starter at Michigan heading into the 2004 season, but a shoulder injury suffered in practice resulted in him not attempting a pass that year.
He played his prep football at California powerhouse De La Salle High School. He threw for over 5,000 yards and 64 touchdowns with just nine interceptions in his career. De La Salle went 50-0 and won four straight national championships during his four-year high school career.
“He’s got a lot to learn about our offense, but him being in camp with the Rattlers helps him understand the game,” Barto said. “He’s a smart guy and I think he’ll adjust quickly.”
Zack Eskridge (6-4, 220, Midwestern State) joins the roster as a free agent. He started 31 games in a three-year career at Midwestern State in Wichita Falls. He finished his career with numerous school records including passing yards (6,953), touchdown passes (64), completions (570), passing attempts (867), completion percentage (65.7), pass efficiency rating (152.9), 300-yard passing games (6) and 200-yard passing games (21). He also owns numerous Midwestern State single-season records.
As a junior, Eskridge had his best season, leading the Mustangs to their first Lone Star Conference championship. He was named a finalist for the prestigious Harlon Hill Award and was the Lone Star Conference South Division Offensive Player of the Year, setting school records with 3,295 passing yards and 29 touchdowns.
He started his career at TCU before transferring to Midwestern State after his redshirt freshman season.
Eskridge signed a rookie free agent contract last fall and participated in training camp with the Dallas Cowboys. His grandfather, Jack Eskridge, was the first-ever equipment manager for the Cowboys from 1960-72 and helped design the team’s famous star logo.
“For a guy that’s never even seen Arena Football, it’s been shocking how well he is picking up the game,” Barto said. “He understands what people are trying to do. I think with both of these quarterbacks, they’re willing to take what defenses are giving them.”
Barto indicated evaluations of the new quarterbacks would continue throughout the week and gave no timeline on announcing a starter for Saturday’s game at Chicago.