The Making of the Hotshots: Built from scratch
By Jose M. Romero, Arizona Hotshots Team Reporter
SAN ANTONIO — Phil Savage has 26 years of football personnel and scouting experience. But he’d never built a roster from scratch.
That was Savage’s task after accepting Alliance of American Football co-founder Bill Polian’s offer to become general manager of the Arizona Hotshots. Savage reunited with now-Hotshots head coach Rick Neuheisel 28 years after the two were assistants at UCLA.
“You’re trying to figure out exactly who’s even available to you through that allocation system, through the guys that are at the (Alliance) combine and then of course, through the guys that are in the NFL that don’t make it,” Savage said Sunday after the second practice of Hotshots training camp. “We were told after the Fourth of July to get lined up.”
Savage signed players through last fall, keeping in touch with Neuheisel as they built an 84-player roster that came to team minicamp in December. After some tweaks and players making decisions not to continue their careers, the roster stands at 75 for training camp.
The Alliance’s rules played a part in the type of offensive players the Hotshots signed.
“We knew were going to be an RPO (run-pass option) type of offense with movement required from the quarterback position,” Savage said. “The fact that after every touchdown is a two-point conversion, we felt like mobility would be a huge factor in this league.”
To that end, the fleet-footed Trevor Knight was drafted, and has already shown flashes of speed in practice. Quarterbacks John Wolford, Quinn McQueary and Jack Heneghan were also desired in part for their ability to scramble.
The Hotshots interviewed quarterbacks in person. Many other players were either recommended, or brought in for an opportunity if Savage or Neuheisel had a background with that particular player.
At wide receiver, Savage got size and speed for red-zone and two-point conversion plays, then looked for smaller slot and combination receivers to help stretch the field.
“It’s been more about who was available and what they’re going to bring to the field,” Savage said. “In some ways it mattered more about what they represent on the field than perhaps really having a personal relationship with them.”
A waiver claim in August brought a handful of players from colleges without allocation ties to the Hotshots.
Neuheisel said players aren’t taking their shot to be a Hotshot lightly.
“They all understand this is their opportunity to continue something they love. If it doesn’t work out, then hopefully they’re on to something they are equally excited about,” Neuheisel said. “But there’s no lack of enthusiasm here. That’s a fact.”
NOTES: Linebacker Scooby Wright was not at practice Sunday as a precaution after he cramped up following Saturday’s practice and had trouble eating. Wright will get rest and could return to full speed practice by Wednesday. … Wide receiver Josh Huff is expected to be ready to practice on Wednesday, Neuheisel said. He’s dealt with illness and has lost weight as he readies for his Hotshots debut. … McQueary’s quick sidearm completion during team drills drew some cheers from teammates, and defensive back Robert Nelson had one interception and very nearly another.