Who'll be Wheelers QB?
QUAD-CITY STEAMWHEELERS

Who'll be Wheelers QB?

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DAVENPORT — The Quad City Steamwheelers are like most expansion teams in terms of on-field experience.

Of the 33 position players in training camp, which opened Monday at the Ambrose Dome, 20 are professional football rookies and five more are in their second seasons indoors.

QC coach Cory Ross in unconcerned with the lack of veterans, though.

"That's this league," said Ross, now in his fourth season as a head coach in Champion Indoor Football, among a handful of circuits nationally vying to replace the old Arena Football League in terms of stature.

"Last year in Omaha, I had 16 rookies and second-year players make the team, and we made the championship game. We lost four games during the season, but we just kept getting better."

Ross believes the youthful Wheelers can duplicate that success and avoid the struggles most start-up operations experience.

"I think we recruited the right guys to run our schemes both offensively and defensively," said Ross, who played running back for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens.

"We recruited high-character guys with a lot of talent. We found a lot of local guys that can play. I think every one of these guys can make the team, which is a great problem to have. It means we might have to cut some guys that can play elsewhere. But right now, it's all about finding the right combinations."

Ross has several questions he's trying to answer leading up to a Feb. 25 non-conference game at the Tax Slayer Center. The Wheelers open CIF play March 18 at Sioux City, Iowa.

"Who's going to take control of this offense? That's first and foremost," Ross said. "What are we going to look like up front, both O-line and D-line? At the skill positions, all of these guys can play, but who's going to be our go-to guys that are counted on to make plays? Those are my most-pressing concerns."

Mercer County grad Tanner Matlick, a rookie from Monmouth College, is vying with second-year pro Bryan Hicks for the starting snaps at QB.

"We've got two great candidates," Ross said. "Bryan is kind of leading because Tanner is a rookie, but he's only got two games of indoor experience, so he's basically a rookie, too.

"They're both new to my offense and the way I do things, so they're going to need the time in camp to grow. It's fun for me they're both young, though, because I get a chance to mold them into the quarterback I want leading this team."

The playmakers around them include the IFL's all-purpose yards record-setter, running back/kick returner Tyler Williams, and indoor receiving veterans Daron Clark and Maurice Young.

"We have 8-9 guys fighting for 4-5 spots at wide receiver, so that'll be a great battle, with some really talented local guys there," Ross said, pointing to locals such as Monmouth College grad Matt Shepherd and the Davenport Central duo of Keyvan Rudd and Caleb Buehl.

"We're looking for the best seven guys up front, offensively and defensively. We've got 2-3 linebackers in camp, and I've never kept two linebackers, so that'll be a great battle there, too."

Among the linemen bidding for jobs are locals such as Ryan Brophy (Davenport West), Carrington "Tre" Weeks (United Township) and Augustana's Jonas Robbins.

However, the best battle in camp, outside of deciding on a starting QB, should be in the defensive backfield where All-CIF performer Dominique McDuffie is joined by CFL prospects Tre Hunter and Majique Key among others.

"We're 7-8 deep there and only going to be able to keep 5-6," Ross said. "That's our strength. Almost all of those are out-of-state guys, too, so expect a real battle for the jobs there."

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