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AVENGER REPORT

Coe Gives Big Boost to Team's Defense

March 22, 2003|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Cornelius Coe plays his first home game for the Avengers on Sunday, but the recently signed defensive specialist is already feeling comfortable in Southern California.

"The weather is nice, the women are beautiful, it's a winning situation here and I'm playing," said Coe, a Chicago native. "It's all I can hope for right now."

The Avengers hope Coe will continue to perform the way he did in last week's victory at Indiana. The third-year Arena league veteran solidified a secondary that was giving up a league-worst 308.8 passing yards a game. The Avengers gave up only 145 passing yards and established a franchise record for fewest points allowed in a 42-20 victory at Conseco Fieldhouse.

The talent level of the opponent will be much higher when the Avengers play the Grand Rapids Rampage on Sunday at Staples Center. The Avengers (5-2) are tied with defending ArenaBowl champion San Jose for first place in the American Conference's Western Division. Grand Rapids (5-2) leads the Central Division.

Indiana played the Avengers with a rookie quarterback making his first AFL start.

Grand Rapids features seven-year veteran Clint Dolezel, who has passed for more than 20,000 yards and more than 400 touchdowns in his AFL career. Steve Smith and Terrill Shaw are the top receivers for a team that won the ArenaBowl two years ago.

"Dolezel is arguably the best quarterback in the league and he does a great job dispersing the ball to those guys," Avenger Coach Ed Hodgkiss said. "He's been playing in the Arena league for a long time and his experience shows."

Experience is exactly what the Avengers were searching for when they signed Coe early last week.

Coe, 5 feet 11 and 185 pounds, played at Northern Michigan and established an AFL single-season record when he made 121.5 tackles as a rookie for Indiana in 2001. Last season, despite injuries that limited him to five games, he intercepted four passes for the Firebirds.

The Las Vegas Gladiators selected Coe in the expansion draft and he played in this season's opener against the Avengers before he was released.

Hodgkiss, the former offensive coordinator for Indiana, did not hesitate to acquire Coe after the Avengers' young defensive specialists got burned repeatedly in the first six games.

"He makes physical plays and understands the Arena game," Hodgkiss said. "He also does some things that the public wouldn't see, but they really make a difference back there in the secondary."

Coe expects a major test against a Grand Rapids team that is averaging 57.1 points. Dolezel has passed for 1,809 yards and 41 touchdowns. The Rampage defeated Dallas, 45-42 last week.

"They are going to catch the ball and make plays, so the big challenge for us will be coming up and tackling and punishing people," Coe said. "You want to make them pay for it."

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After playing four of their last five games on the road, the Avengers play four of their next five at Staples Center.

The Avengers are at Orlando next week, then play Carolina, Arizona and Buffalo at home.

As of Friday, about 1,600 tickets remained available for Sunday's game, an Avenger official said.

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The Rampage signed veteran defensive specialist Mark Ricks, who was released last week by Arizona. Ricks, a Los Angeles native, played for the Avengers in 2000 and 2001.

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