Vigilantes coach learns from past
Dallas Vigilantes interim head coach James Fuller has done this before.
In 2005, Fuller took over as head coach at midseason for a Philadelphia Soul team that went 4-7 under his command. With Dallas, Fuller isn't starting with what works -- he's starting with what he knows doesn't.
Fuller will apply that strategy for the first time during Saturday's road contest against the Milwaukee Iron, his first test since taking over as coach for the fired Rich Ingold.
"Being in Philly, it was a different dynamic being my first head coaching job in the AFL," Fuller said after practice Tuesday. "I learned what not to do, and that gets you out of trouble a lot of the time."
Defensive lineman Duke Pettijohn said following a team meeting Monday that the players decided to change their approach as well.
"We have a renewed focus and we're holding each other accountable in making sure we take care of the little things and don't beat ourselves, and that starts in practice," Pettijohn said. "What you do in practice is what you're going to do in the game and we haven't been disciplined and focused in practice, and that was the product we put on the field."
In last week's home loss to Chicago, the Vigilantes (1-5) gave the Rush second chances on several defensive offside penalties. They may have cost the defense the stops needed to stay in the game.
Fuller said this week the team is doing a lot more work, including having the players look at film of practice, as well as raising the tempo of practice generally. If the team isn't great all-around, Fuller hopes to have them excel in their own niche.
"We want to be more of a team that does not as many things, but we do it well," said Fuller, who has also served as head coach of af2's Bakersfield Blitz. "I think that's going to be our motto the whole rest of the way."
Pettijohn, who has been in the Arena Football League since 2002, said he thinks focusing on the task at hand will help the team find their strengths.
"Our goal is to win what's in front of us," Pettijohn said. "And that's Milwaukee. We're not trying to win 10 games, we're trying to win one game at a time."
If Dallas is to start with a win this week, Pettijohn and his defense will have to address their Achilles' heel -- their inability to cause turnovers. The Iron (5-2) lead the league in turnover differential at plus-11 while Dallas is the league's worst at minus-15.
Vigilantes quarterback Collin Drafts said it would take a team effort to pull off the upset.
"We know they're a good team," Drafts said. "They have one of the best quarterbacks in the league, their defense covers well and gets after the quarterback, and we're going to have our hands full, but we'll be okay."
The trip will be a return to Wisconsin for Drafts, who played for the af2's Green Bay Blizzard in 2008.
Iron quarterback Chris Greisen will be seeing some familiar faces. He was a backup for the Dallas Desperados in 2005 and 2006 before he joined the Georgia Force in 2007. Greisen leads the league this year in quarterback rating (131.6) and is tied for second in touchdown passes (49).
That's bad news for a Dallas defense that has given up 203 points in the team's three-game losing streak. Fuller said he was working on the little things this week to take advantage of opportunities his team receives.
"I think it's really a mindset," Fuller said. "You have to [stress] to these guys that it's a dicipline factor and [show them] what it does to us. That's what I was telling them in meetings -- look at all the yardage we gave [Chicago.]"
Fuller said his staff's evaluations of players are ongoing this week, and depending on what he sees Saturday, some changes may be made.
"We're really trying to get a grasp on everything right now," Fuller said. "I've been talking to the coaches about players we really like and guys we're sort of lukewarm on. There's a few guys we have our eyes on, but we haven't made any decisions."
Josh Davis is an ESPNDallas.com intern and a writer for TCU's student newspaper, the Daily Skiff.