Arena Football League
Heating Up: Blaze Defense Finding Its Stride
Defense is often an afterthought in Arena Football. After all, the game features an inherent offensive focus and is engineered to be a high-scoring affair. But it was the defense that stood its ground three weeks ago when the Utah Blaze earned a last-second victory over the Spokane Shock. It became apparent in that game that Utah had disregarded the notion that defense is a mere technicality in the Arena Football League.
Spokane entered the game boasting the AFL's second-ranked scoring offense. The Shock had been stopped just three times all season and had become accustom to finding the end zone, posting over 60 points in each of their first six games. But the Blaze ignored the statistics and devised a game plan designed to halt the high-flying Shock. Utah went on to stun Spokane in the contest, stopping the offense on six drives while holding the opponent to a season-low 48 points.
Utah's victory over Spokane is a snapshot of the past four games. The Blaze defense has come on strong over the last month, forcing 19 turnovers while holding opponents to just 223.3 yards in total offense per game. Head Coach Ron James attributes the success to a new mindset and an emphasis on preparation.
"It starts with the focus they have during the week and I think that's really starting to come together," said James. "I think they understand now that it takes hard work all week long to be able to be ready for the game. They've adopted a never-stop mentality."
"We spend so much in meetings and evaluating film - breaking it down and studying our opponents - that when you get out there, you feel like you've already played the game in your head," said defensive back David Hyland. "We've gone through so many different scenarios and situations that could unfold throughout the game. We're just getting ourselves in the right place at the right time and making some plays."
The shift in attitude is a process that dates back to the 2012 season. Midway through the year, the Blaze offense was hitting on all cylinders while lighting up the scoreboard on a weekly basis. On the other side of the ball, Utah's defense struggled to keep pace, surrendering an average of 64 points over the first 10 games. Facing a crossroads, Coach James elected to hire defensive guru Rob Keefe.
In his playing days, Keefe was well-known for his all-out style of play and his energetic personality. As a coach, he brings the same qualities. Keefe can routinely be seen jumping up and down and sprinting across the field on game days. If not for the lack of shoulder pads and a helmet, he could easily be mistaken for a player.
"It's like having a ninth guy out there," said defensive back David Hyland. "He puts in a ridiculous amount of time and he wants success for all of us. It's really easy to play for a guy that's that dedicated and willing to work for you."
Like most coaches, Keefe brought new schemes and strategies upon his arrival. The X's and O's were an important aspect of the process, but his top priority - one that continues to this day - was integrating a new train of thought. Keefe regularly preaches the importance of playing like a "dog."
"I think mentality you have to be a tough person and physically you have to be a tough person," Keefe explained. "No matter what the situation is, you're not going to complain. You're not afraid to get out there and challenge the best. Dogs are what is needed for this defense to work and the dogs are starting to show."
That persona is beginning to reflect on the field. "They're getting after the quarterback, they're breaking on the football, and they're getting eight helmets around the ball as much as possible," James stated. "That's big with any defensive group."
Despite the recent success, the staff maintains there is still work to be done. With 10 games remaining on the schedule, the defense will continue evolve down the stretch as the team makes its push towards the postseason.
"We won't be at the peak of where we want to be until the end. There's always room to grow," said Keefe. "As long as the guys understand that we're always going to expect more from them, I think the sky's the limit."
Barnstormers Add Familiar Face to Roster
Iowa Barnstormers Head Coach and Director of Football Operations Mike Hohensee announced Tuesday afternoon that the AFL franchise has been assigned center Alex Linnenkohl . Linnenkohl (6-2, 280) is no stranger to the Barnstormers, having started all 18 games at center for the team last season. Following the 2012 season, Linnenkohl retired to pursue a coaching career, however when the Barnstormers called him following several injuries to the team's offensive line, he jumped at the opportunity to come back and help his former teammates.
Linnenkohl spent 4 seasons at Oregon State, quietly developing into one of the top centers in the country. Over his final two seasons at OSU, he made 26 consecutive starts, and was named a co-team captain as a senior in 2010. The Olympia, Washington native starred in at Capital high school, where he was named the 14th best center in the country by Rivals.com.
In other roster moves, the Barnstormers have also been assigned OL Tyler Wells. Wells (6'5", 300) is a local product who starred at Grandview for 3 seasons from 2010-2012. In addition DL Mario Ambrose has been taken off the injured reserve list and is eligible to play this weekend. To make room for these additions DB Mike Williams (Knee), OL Jayson Palmgren (arm) and OL Michael Garrity (foot) have been assigned to the injured reserve list.
The Barnstormers next game is scheduled for this Saturday, May 25 when they head to Phoenix for a matchup against the defending AFL Champion Arizona Rattlers. Kickoff is set for 8:00pm CST.
Storm Host Soul in Possible Postseason Matchup on CBS Sports Network
The Tampa Bay Storm (6-3) host the Philadelphia Soul (4-4) this week in "NET10 Wireless Arena Football Saturday" action at 7:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network. The matchup that could potentially be repeated in the American Conference playoffs.
As it stands now, the two teams would meet in the opening round of the postseason, with the Soul holding the No. 2 seed as the East Division leaders, while the Storm fit in as the No. 3 seed based on a tiebreaker with the Jacksonville Sharks (6-3). Despite the potential to be a lower seed, the Storm boast the superior record and enter Saturday's matchup having won four of their last five games. Their latest effort, a 62-34 victory over the Pittsburgh Power (2-6), saw quarterback Adrian McPherson set a single-game franchise record by completing 90.9 percent of his pass attempts. He began the contest with seven straight completions and ultimately completed 20-of-22 for 240 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. McPherson set the Storm single-season record for rushing touchdowns in Week 9 with his 24th dash into the end zone. He broke the League record for rushing scores by a quarterback, previously set at 22, a week earlier.
While McPherson has already made history this season, Philadelphia fullback Derrick Ross looks to become the League's all-time leader in rushing yards this weekend. Currently sitting on 1,502 yards in just his third season in the League, Ross is just 69 yards shy of the all-time mark, set by Bo Kelly. Of course, Ross has set plenty of League records in the past. In 2011, he set the League mark for rushing yards in a single season, with 622 for the Dallas Vigilantes. He then followed coach Clint Dolezel up to the City of Brotherly Love, where he broke his own mark with 645 yards in 2012 for the Soul. Kelly, in 12 seasons in the League, never topped 250 rushing yards in a campaign. While Ross' yardage numbers are down thus far this season, he does have 18 touchdowns on the ground, which puts him on pace for 40.5 this season, half a touchdown shy of Dan Alexander's record of 41, set in 2007 with the Nashville Kats. Ross currently owns the second- and third-highest single-season touchdown totals in League history with 39 in his rookie season and 32 in his second season.
Ross is assisted by the best offensive line in Arena Football. The Soul have surrendered just two sacks this season, five fewer than any other team in the League. Since the beginning of the 2012 season, Philadelphia has surrendered just seven sacks. Arizona is second best with 17 sacks surrendered during that time span. Tampa Bay has surrendered 51 sacks during that period. The Soul are led by center Brennen Carvalho, who earned First-Team All-Arena honors with the Arizona Rattlers in 2011, Christian Johnson and Jason Jones, who started just one game for Pittsburgh last season. Carvalho and Johnson bring plenty of experience to the table, however, having started a combined 30 games for Philadelphia last season.
Standing under center, quarterback Dan Raudabaugh has managed to limit his turnovers of late. After tossing six interceptions in the Soul's first four games of the season, he has just one in their last four. He has posted a passer rating of at least 87.5 in every game this season and has reached triple digits in six out of eight games. He is blessed with one of the top receiving corps in the game. Tiger Jones, per usual, leads the way with six straight games of 100-plus receiving yards, but what has stood out most of all is the Soul's balance. In every game, at least three Philadelphia receivers have hauled in four-plus catches. Rookie Ryan McDaniel is averaging 68.2 yards per game, while Andrae Thurman had seven-plus receptions in three straight games earlier this season.
Last week, the Storm welcomed Joe Hills back into their receiving corps after he briefly left the team to attend the Carolina Panthers' rookie mini-camp. He made a quick impact with six receptions for 79 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown catch to put Tampa Bay up 28-14 midway through the second quarter. Hills, who previously led the League in receiving yards per game, still ranks fourth with 121.1 per contest. His 15.7 yards per reception rank second in the League, just a decimal point behind Fred Williams of the San Jose SaberCats.
This game goes beyond the offensive side of the ball, however. Last week, the Storm pulled away behind a defense that held the Power to two touchdowns over their last seven drives. During that span, they forced a turnover on downs and came away with a fumble recovery and three interceptions. The Storm are now tied for the League lead with 18 interceptions, led by Chris Smith, whose seven picks place him second in the League. They are tied for the League lead with 11 fumble recoveries and have a League-best 29 takeaways. That could spell trouble for a Philadelphia squad that has fumbled the ball a League-worst 11 times in 2013. Though Ross, once maligned for fumbling the ball too often, hasn't lost a fumble since the season's opening weekend at Arizona, Raudabaugh and McDaniel each let one slip in last week's win over the Orlando Predators, and the Soul have at least one fumble in six consecutive weeks. The squad has lost a fumble in six out of eight games this season.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia, which led the League in takeaways last season, has come on a bit of late. After recording just four interceptions in their first five games, the Soul have five in their last three, as LaRico Stevenson and Rayshaun Kizer have each tallied two picks over their last three games. Kizer failed to record an interception in his first five games of the season after tying for third in the League last season with 11.
The Storm, who have played four of their last five away from the friendly confines of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, look to improve on a 2-2 home record. The team has already lost as many home games in 2013 as they did all of last year, when they won their first six home games and finished with a 7-2 record at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Meanwhile, the Soul, with a League-best 11-2 road record since the start of the 2012 season, have won nine straight away from home against American Conference foes. The Soul offense has scored at least 50 points in eight straight road games. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.
Indoor Football League
Red Cross Accepting Donations for Oklahoma Victims at Friday Night's Game
The American Red Cross will be at this Friday night's 7 P.M. game accepting donations for the Oklahoma Tornado victims. All those in attendance of tomorrow night's game will have an opportunity to donate to the cause. The Red Cross will also be accepting donations through text message. By texting "REDCROSS" to 90999 you can help the Oklahoma relief by donating $10 dollars.
The Omaha Beef is tied for first place in the CPIFL and takes on the Oklahoma Defenders Friday May 24th 7 P.M. at the Ralston Arena. $10 Tickets will be available for all those in civil service positions. There will be a Pre-Game Tailgate Party starting at 5 P.M. featuring the band "Trixie and the Nooners."
Storm Seeks Revenge and Conference Lead
The Sioux Falls Storm (7-4) has had a string of games carrying major consequences. For five consecutive weeks, The Storm has faced one of the four top teams in the IFL. All of whom are now tied with the Storm for the most wins in the league. The crazy part is that every week seems to bring a bigger game. This week is no exception. It would be hard to script out a more meaningful game at this point in the season.
The Storm will welcome the Cedar Rapids Titans to the Arena on Saturday night for a 7:05 pm kickoff. Why is this game so important? There are two defining reasons. The first is revenge. Two weeks ago, on May 11th, The Storm suffered their third worst loss in franchise history to the Titans. A 52-18 Titans blowout. The Storm makes no excuses for their lack of execution in Cedar Rapids. They came out flat. On the other hand, the Storm players know they are better than that effort and they have been anxiously waiting for two weeks to prove it.
The second factor that makes this game pivotal is simple playoff positioning. The Storm and the Titans are tied atop the United Conference at 7-4. The new 2013 IFL playoff design only allows the top two teams in each conference into the playoffs. The winner of this game will be in a massively better position to earn a postseason berth.
"This is as big of regular season game as we've had in years," said Storm Owner, Todd Tryon. "We are looking forward to the opportunity of redeeming our loss to Cedar Rapids a couple weeks ago." The Sioux Falls Storm hosting the Cedar Rapids Titans, presented by Tryon Gym. Kickoff is set for 7:05 pm this Saturday night.
Professional Indoor Football League
Alabama at Louisiana Game to be Re-scheduled
The Professional Indoor Football League is evaluating rescheduling options surrounding this weekend's game in Lake Charles, Louisiana between the Swashbucklers and the Alabama Hammers.
Louisiana had informed the league in the past 24 hours of their position not to play as scheduled with no advanced warning. The league is examining rescheduling options that enable all member teams to complete a 12 game schedule.
Raiders Sign Veteran Lineman Holman
The Richmond Raiders have signed two-way lineman and Richmond native Jason Holman (6'3", 295 lbs) as they prepare for the stretch run of the 2013 season. Holman is expected to contribute immediately on the defensive line, and can also play all three positions on the offensive line. With only 20 players in uniform for each game, someone with Holman's versatility is extremely valuable.
In 2008 he began his professional career with the Arena Football League's Grand Rapids Rampage. After a stint out west with the Billings (MT) Outlaws of the IFL, he returned to Virginia and finished fifth in the IFL with 9.5 sacks in 2010. Holman spent the last two seasons back in the AFL as a member of the Jacksonville Sharks, where he was third on the team in sacks in 2012 and second in 2011. He also played on the offensive line both seasons, and was called the team's "MVP [and] most versatile player" by head coach Les Moss after the Sharks won the 2011 ArenaBowl championship.
Holman started his collegiate career at Maryland before transferring to Winston-Salem State. In two years with the Rams, he tallied 74 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss and three sacks. He was a first team All-CIAA defensive lineman in 2005. Following his senior season, he was invited to New Orleans Saints rookie camp. He also participated in the Canadian Football League's Hamilton TigerCats camp in 2010.A Midlothian native, Holman played at James River High School, and was named All-Metro, All- Conference, All-Region, and All-State as an offensive lineman. Holman will augment the Raiders' pass rush, which ranks fifth in the league with 10 sacks through eight games so far this year. He will also provide depth to a Raiders offensive line that has paved the way for a league- high 4.3 yards per rush.