As the Trenton Freedom wind down their public appearances before camp starts, I caught up with Head Coach Kevin O’ Hanlon and quarterback Warren Smith. Smith, a graduate of the University of Maine, brings veteran leadership as he led the Richmond Raiders to last season’s PIFL Championship Game.
“I think the team will go as far as the quarterback takes them in this arena game. With me having a year under my belt and knowing what teams do in the league, I think I can help out our rookies tremendously when it comes to adapting to the game,” Smith said. “I had some good veterans down in Richmond teach me the game last year, I think that’s going to be my job in the beginning.”
Although the Freedom has veterans on the roster, any team on this level knows the importance of getting the newcomers acclimated to the nuances of the indoor game.
“Hopefully it doesn’t take too long,” Coach O’Hanlon said. “During the interview process, we tell guys that we are not teaching technique. I hope that we are signing the right players that already have the technique. We are teaching the transition. We tell defensive backs you may have perfect coverage and they may still complete the pass. We tell them the quarterbacks can make that play. We tell the defensive linemen there is no three-second rule to get to the quarterback, it is more of a 1.2-1.8 second span in which to reach the quarterback. We explain to each position the roles necessary for success in our scheme.”
Both coach and quarterback are confident this roster matches favorably with any in the league, but know the importance of team building.
“I told Coach O’Hanlon that the biggest thing in this league, teams are rebuilding every year and we have to build our identity, and develop team chemistry as fast as possible,” Smith said. “Once we take care of that, the football stuff is easy.”
“We all are talented, but you can be talented and not know what you are doing so I have to work with the receivers and the defensive backs. We have a mix of guys that played in the league and we have rookies and I think my experience will help along with the other veterans,” Smith added.
O’Hanlon described how he put together his staff in his first offseason as a head coach.
“I guess not it’s not too much of a change (form being an assistant). I just have to make sure I have the right path for all of my coaches. I’m not a big micromanager so the first thing I did was promote my defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator, which was tough for me because I’m a defensive guy. I went out and brought in Brian Vena (formerly of the Philadelphia Soul) he has won Arena Bowls and coached locally, as our offensive coordinator, so we have experience in our coordinators and assistant coaches and as a first year organization, I thought that was important.”
Speaking of defense O’Hanlon hit me with some stats from his previous coaching stops. In a league where 70-point games are the norm, O’Hanlon’s defenses usually give up 22 points a game while allowing less than 150 passing yards and negative rushing yards a contest.
“We never want to react, our defense will attack,” O’Hanlon said. “I know a lot of the game is reactive, but we try to dictate, we have always been successful. Usually we always have the best defense. We always play an aggressive defense with all eight guys flowing to the ball.”
January 18th is the Freedom’s final tryout and although O’Hanlon likes his roster, he won’t hesitate when it comes to upgrading at any position.
“We do have specific needs but we want the best athletes out there,” O’Hanlon said. “We won’t go into a tryout saying we only want offense of linemen (for example) and there is a defensive back out there crushing it. We want the guys that will make us better and every player knows that, they know this is a business.”
O’Hanlon reiterated the importance of remaining professional, and how serious he takes this task.
“This is professional football, our ownership wants us to run it that way and they made it clear…get the best players we can get. It is what it is, that’s the unfortunate side to this business, I think every player we have can start for every other team in the league.”
For more information on the Trenton Freedom check out their website www.TrentonFreedom.com.