Arena Training Camps Open
The AFL kicks off just over two weeks
With the newest Arena Football League season set to kick of April 1st, all eight teams have reported to training camp and are working on trimming rosters over the next few weeks. AFL teams do not have the luxury of four preseason games like the NFL does, so practices, film room, and meetings are where the borderline guys make their mark on a teams 22-man active rosters.
Here we check in with the teams to see how camp is going thus far.
Arizona Rattlers – (14-4 last year, lost National Conference Championship Game)
Arizona returns a bulk of it’s offensive talent in receivers Rod Windsor, Kerry Reed, and two time AFL MVP quarterback Nick Davila.
Cleveland Gladiators – (8-10 last year, Lost in 1st round of playoffs)
Cleveland couldn’t retain the momentum of 2014 where they went 17-1 in the regular season and lost in Arena Bowl XXVII on their home field. Gone is quarterback Shane Austin (signed with Portland), but the Gladiators do return three of their top four receivers from 2015, including Colin Taylor who has emerged as a legit number one target. QB Chris Deiker takes over for the departed Austin, but with three years in coach Steve Thonne’s system, it should be a clean transition.
Jacksonville Sharks – (10-8 last year, Lost Arena Bowl XXVIII)
Last season Jacksonville was the trendy pick to run over the American Conference, even though they stumbled out of the blocks starting the season 1-5, the Sharks rallied to make the Arena Bowl. This year the retooled Sharks added AFL great Raymond Philyaw as offensive coordinator, and bolstered their defense with the additions of veteran defensive end Khreem Smith and defensive back David Hyland.
So far the Sharks have won the “Buy Season Tickets Commercial” Award, as head coach Les Moss has gotten in on the political pulpit.
LA KISS – (4-14 last year, missed playoffs)
News out of LA has been quiet since camp opened. The quarterback battle between Nathan Stanley and Joe Clancy figures to be the center point of the conversation until opening day. Receiver Donovan Morgan is the focal point of the offense as he has posted 81 touchdowns in his two seasons for the KISS. Morgan is going to have to lead by example, because the receiving corps around him is young and have not proven they can be a secondary weapon.
Orlando Predators – (12-6, lost 1st round of playoffs)
Orlando spent most of their offseason focused on upgrading the defensive side of the ball, namely the defensive line as the Predators added Willie McGinnis, Donte Paige-Moss, and Mike Lewis who have 99 career sacks between them.
The offense is loaded returning all four of their top receivers from a year ago as well as both quarterbacks who saw significant time in 2015.
Philadelphia Soul – (15-3, lost American Conference Championship Game)
Returning AFL MVP quarterback Dan Raudabaugh returns to pilot the Soul for his fifth season in Philly. His relationship with head coach Clint Dolzel dates back to 2011 when the pair teamed up in Dallas before moving to the Soul, and every year they have been in sync as Philly has consistently been near the top of the league in scoring. Bringing back receivers Shaun Kauleinamoku and Ryan McDaniel who combined for over 2300 yards and 50 touchdowns in 2015.
Best story to watch in training camp is defensive lineman Byron Sneed, who was signed to the Soul after participating in an open tryout in January.
“There are a lot of guys at the open tryout and you really need to stand out to be signed to a contract,” said Head Coach Clint Dolezel. “Byron showed us he has the tools be make it in this league and we are looking forward to seeing him more in training camp.”
Sneed became the sixth player to make the roster from an open tryout.
Portland Steel – (5-13 last season, lost 1st round of playoffs)
A complete overhaul for the Portland franchise from 2015. New name (formerly the Portland Thunder), new head coach (Ron James, formerly of Utah Blaze), and a new quarterback (Shane Austin, formerly of Cleveland Gladiators), and a renewed optimism for the now lone team in the Pacific Northwest. Wide Receiver V’Keon Lacey will be the focal point of the offense, though the recently acquired former Oregon Duck and Oregon native Colt Lyerla (if he reports after the trade with Arizona) could add to an offense that will need some punch
Tampa Bay Storm – (7-11 last year, missed playoffs)
The Storm are set to kick off their 25th season in the Arena Football League, though the five time Arena Bowl Champions are looking to make the post season for the first time since 2013, and only the second time since 2010.
These are strange days for the Storm, as many new faces are set to be undneath Tampa Bay helmets this season. Among the unfamiliar is defensive back Cameron McGlenn who joins Tampa Bay after three season in New Orleans. The six year veteran has 37 career interceptions and will be leaned on to help this young team get back to the post season.
Rosters have to be trimmed to 24 players by the end of March, as the season is set to kick of the weekend of April 1st as Portland hosts Arizona (10:00pm eastern kick on CBS Sports Network), and Jacksonville travels west to take on the LA KISS Saturday April 2nd (9:00pm eastern kickoff on ESPN2), and other games to be available on ESPN3.com and the WatchESPN app.