The San Diego Fleet placed wide receive Dontez Ford and running back Ja’Quan Gardner on the Reserved/Injured list. San Diego Fleet’s injury woes mark another dip in the team’s rollercoaster season. It’s a season in which they’ve struggled for consistency. After losing the season opener, San Diego rebounded to win two straight before losing three of the last four. They are currently 3-4 and a long shot to make the playoffs.
For those not familiar with the AAF version of the Reserved/Injured rule let me explain. The rule means players must spend a minimum of four weeks on IR. In this case it means that both players could technically return should the Fleet reach the title game on April 27th.
It’s a devastating blow for a team that is already struggling. Gardner was the team’s leading rusher with 311 yards on 64 carries. He’s also been a receiving threat out of the backfilled, chipping in with 107 yards on 12 receptions. The running back injured his right shoulder in the team’s loss to Arizona. After advice from the team he will have surgery to repair the damage. The hope being that he’ll be ready to participate in an NFL camp should the opportunity arise.
However, Ford may be the bigger loss here. He was the team’s leading receiver and a true deep threat. He amassed 435 yards on just 15 receptions for an average of 29 yards per catch. His receiving yards rank third in the AAF, behind only Apollos’ Charles Johnson and Hotshots’ Rashad Ross. The injury, suffered in Week Six was diagnosed as a bone bruise in his right ankle. The injury means it’s unlikely the Fleet see Ford return.
Next Man Up
San Diego has been splitting carries between Gardner and Terrell Watson throughout the season. For this reason, and the fact that they have former Tennessee Titan draft pick Bishop Sankey on the roster, they may be able to minimise the effects of Gardner’s loss. Sankey has worked his way back after his own injury issues and will get his chance to shine. The former Titan has 19 carries since returning from injury in Week Five and has turned those carries into 77 yards. However, neither he nor Watson look as comfortable as a receiver.
Ford’s loss in the passing game is the bigger hurdle to overcome. Nowhere was the impact he can have clearer than in his 182-yard game against the Birmingham Iron. Fleet Head Coach Mike Martz has been full of praise for Ward this season, saying “Dontez is that guy, like Torry Holt, that guy at the X position that we could choreograph plays just for him,”.
Nelson Spruce will likely take over as the team’s number one receiver and he is already the most targeted player on the team with 30 receptions. While he has 347 yards, he not the electric player Ford has been.
San Diego’s next match will see them travel to Salt Lake. The Stallions are one of the league’s tougher defences and feature a fearsome front four. The matchup will be a real litmus test for the team’s ability to replace Ross and Gardner.
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