A bye week for the players hardly meant a vacation last week for Quad-City Steamwheelers coach Cory Ross.
After re-watching game tape of a mistake-cursed loss to defending champion Iowa, Ross decided on some fixes for the local Indoor Football League club.
Among the most visible solutions was a reshuffling of the Wheelers roster, which included releasing a pair of players and signing two replacements earlier this week, with more changes yet in the works, promised the coach.
Gone are defensive linemen Garett Oden and former NFL project Perez Ford. Welcomed to the team Monday were running back Juwan Lewis and offensive lineman Nick Bittinger.
Lewis, the leading rusher last season for Champions Indoor Football titlist Duke City, and Bittinger, a rookie from NAIA Lindenwood-Belleville, are both bidding to join the starting lineup Friday night when the Wheelers (1-1) visit Cedar Rapids (1-2).
"Bittinger is really making a name for himself in practice with the movement he brings, and his physicality at the point of attack," Ross said.
"Lewis is a bigger back that we've been looking for to provide that 1-2 punch with (incumbent Isiah) Neely. He's a bruiser, with the ability to also catch the football out of the backfield and break tackles. We tried to get him in the offseason, but we finally got him now."
Bittinger signed out of college this winter with the National Gridiron League, but the new 12-team indoor spring circuit, based in major cities such as St. Louis, recently pushed back its debut from March to May.
Also paving the way for the 6-foot-2, 325-pound Ohio native getting a look from Q-C was Oden's penalty-filled play against Iowa and improved work on defense by his replacement, second-year Wheeler Anthony Pruitt.
Oden picked up a pair of personal fouls in a three-play span to help the Barnstormers score on a key second-half drive to hold off a Wheelers comeback.
"The personal foul and false-start penalties definitely hurt us," said Ross, still upset over 128 yards in flags by Q-C in that loss. "When what you're doing is hurting the team, we have to make some changes.
"Everybody gets those false start or offside penalties. It's the things you can control that concerned me. We just have to be smart. We have to be disciplined."
Before helping replace Oden late against Iowa, Pruitt had been starting on the offensive line, playing alongside Connor Hart and Vernon Sainvil, with Darius Crosby as the backup center.
"Pruitt is a great swing guy, but he played really well on the defensive line against Iowa, which made us think about making a change there," Ross said. "So we're looking to move Pruitt to defense 100-percent now."
Ford, a former Northern Illinois star, once considered the next Khalil Mack out of the Mid-American Conference before getting cut after mini-camp by the NFL's Oakland Raiders, did have a sack among five tackles against Iowa in his first Q-C action.
However, with Lewis ready to sign, Ford became the odd-man out because of Q-C's depth in edge rushers. Besides all-conference incumbent Kewan Alfred and another big-playmaking returner in Robert Jones, the Wheelers also boast David Perkins, who spent offseason time with the NFL's Seattle Seahawks.
"Perez is not a bad football player at all," Ross said. "We did see some things on tape that need to be fixed, but we also needed to bring another guy in here. But he's definitely a guy we'll turn back to if we get in a pinch."
Lewis, a 5-11, 225-pounder from Eastern Michigan, played the final eight games last season for Duke City, averaging 4.0 yards-per-carry to finish with a team-best 188 in ground gains with four touchdowns. His signing is not a knock on Neely's work thus far, the coach added.
"I've always had the mindset of a 1-2 punch at the running back spot, but couldn't do it last year because the numbers didn't work out in terms of the local guys we needed to keep," Ross said.
"But now we don't have limitations like we had in the other league. We might not suit them both, it just depends on the matchup, but it's nice to know you have a powerhouse back there, too."