Credit: David Flores / Kens5.com
San Antonio Talons coach Lee Johnson, right, says hard-hitting cornerback Fred Shaw, who leads the team in tackles and interceptions, is as smart on the field as he is physically tough.
Saturday, Jun 30 at 1:46 PM
SAN ANTONIO --- Talons coach Lee Johnson has a simple philosophy when it comes to what he expects from his players.
"From day one, I tell my players, 'Be smarter and tougher than the other guy,'" Johnson said.
By any measure, Talons cornerback Fred Shaw is one of smartest and toughest defensive players in the Arena Football League.
"This arena game is pretty much fit for me," Shaw said. "There's no place to hide. From a defensive standpoint, it's all about the angles. I can do so much stuff that I can't do on an outside field because of the walls around the field in arena ball.
"I can be inside the numbers while the receiver is hugging the wall, but he can't run through the wall. He's got to come back to me. You can run but you can't hide."
While Johnson knew Shaw was a physical player, he didn't fully appreciate Shaw's head for the game before the Talons played the Kansas City Command on May 5.
With safety Kenneth Fontenette out with an injury, it fell on Shaw to make the calls for the secondary. To say Johnson was impressed with how Shaw handled the added responsibilities would be an understatement.
Streaking Talons host Kansas City on Saturday night
"Fred had to basically step up and be the quarterback back there," Johnson said. "He did a tremendous job. I really learned a lot about him. I knew he was a physical guy, a tough guy, but I didn't realize he was as smart as he is. He's a very smart player.
"He was so comfortable with what was going on that he could make the adjustments. Guys just followed him. You see all the things that he does physically, the interceptions and how he tackles and things of that nature, but, again, he's also a very smart player."
Shaw has played a key role on a team that has won eight consecutive games after starting the season 3-3.
The Talons (11-3) play the Kansas City Command (3-11) at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Alamodome. San Antonio beat the Command 41-31 in K.C., in their first meeting.
Shaw, 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, leads the Talons in tackles (91) and interceptions (8). He's returned two of his picks for touchdowns.
"I'm enjoying every bit of this season," Shaw said after a workout this week. "I was excited about coming to San Antonio. Mostly, it was the players we put together on this team. We've got a great bunch of guys. Everybody has their head on straight.
"We're just looking for one thing, and that's to win the championship. We want to win right now. We don't want to wait until later. The way we're coming together and still growing, the sky's the limit for us."
Talons face tough homestretch
The Talons sit atop the Central Division, two games ahead of the Chicago Rush, with four weeks left in the regular season. San Antonio plays at Chicago (9-5) on July 8, and then faces Western Division leader Arizona at the Alamodome five days later.
The Rattlers, who improved to 12-3 with a 61-35 victory against the Spokane Shock on Friday night, and the Talons have the best records in the AFL's National Conference.
Arizona trounced San Antonio 68-34 in Phoenix in their first meeting this season, but the Talons haven't lost since then.
"When we were losing, we pulled together," Shaw said. "We watched film. We corrected our mistakes and we went from there. Nobody turned on nobody. Nobody said, 'It's your fault.' We just came together as a team, and I think that last loss in Arizona when they embarrassed us, that kind of changed the tone for everybody here.
"We didn't want to feel like that again. Ever since then, we've just been clicking as a team. We're hitting on all cylinders right now. Everybody is doing their job and coming to practice with focus, receivers catching balls and DBs knocking down balls and getting picks."
An Oklahoma native, Shaw played college football at Central Oklahoma before starting his pro career in AF2, the AFL's developmental league, with the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgs.
Shaw praises Johnson's coaching, leadership
Shaw, 28, played with the Yard Dawgs until the AF2 disbanded in 2009, and was with the Tulsa Talons last season. When the Talons moved to San Antonio last September, Shaw packed his bags and prepared to continue his career in the Alamo City.
"Playing in San Antonio has been great," Shaw said. "There are no other fans like San Antonio fans. This atmosphere we have here in San Antone, man, there's no other team that has it. We're looking forward to the playoffs. We definitely feel the fans and we're definitely loving it."
Shaw credits Johnson, who also serves as the Talons' defensive coordinator, for bringing the team together so quickly.
"L.J. is a true professional," Shaw said. "He's calling all the right stuff. He puts us in a position to make plays. Most of the time when we blow something, like when they get a deep score, it's all us, the DBs blowing something. L.J. is one of the best at defensive calls. That can put us in a position to win a lot of these games.
"The way he's leading this team, the way he brought everybody together, I haven't seen it done anywhere else."
While the Talons look to be in good shape as they start the stretch run of their regular season, Shaw has no illusions about the challenges that lie ahead.
"We're not looking ahead," Shaw said. "One step at a time. We've just got to stay focused and keep everyone healthy, because it's a long season. As long as we take care of business each week, we'll be all right. We should be in that championship game."