03/06/2012 5:14 PM - ST. JOHNS COUNTY, FL - The ArenaBowl XXIV Champion Jacksonville Sharks took to the practice field at Plantation Park on Tuesday morning for their second-to-last day of training camp.
The lively practice was full of hard hitting as each player makes the extra effort to prove his worth before the end of camp. The workout ended on a particularly spirited note, as the competition between wide receivers and defensive backs continues to build.
Over the last week, the Sharks have had a number of players join the roster in the midst of training camp. Two of those recent additions are veteran linebacker Aaron Robbins and offensive lineman Eric Davis.
Robbins returns to the Sharks after joining the team midway through the 2011 season, when he recorded 15 total tackles, 1.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries in seven regular-season games. Even though Robbins has stepped into camp late in the process, he's impressed with where the team is right now and knows he has work to do to fit in.
"I think the team looks great," Robbins said. "It was better than what I expected coming into today. I have some things to work on, knock the rust off, get my head back into it, a few little things I have to work on but it feels good to be back out here."
Robbins joined the Sharks in May of last year from the Spokane Shock and related that experience to where he stands this year.
"It's not too difficult," Robbins said of the transition. "It's one of those things I did last year, coming in halfway through the season. It's getting used to running plays, making reads at the same time. It's the things you're supposed to do right when you get back in, after a couple days I'll be alright."
Coming from the ArenaBowl XXIII Champion Shock, Robbins started in the Sharks' ArenaBowl XXIV victory and looks play a key role in helping Jacksonville defend its AFL title.
Another recent addition is Davis, who had been in training camp with the Arizona Rattlers before being acquired by the Sharks in exchange for future considerations.
Davis played college football at Eastern Michigan, starting at center in 32 games. Davis later participated in the St. Louis Rams’ 2011 training camp. Working closely with assistant coach Jerry Crafts over the last two days, Davis is learning the ins and outs of his new squad.
"It's kind of like being a freshman all over again," Davis said, harkening back to his EMU days. "You have to start back up and learn the offense. They're similar, but you still have to learn the nuances."
Crafts has only had a few days to get Davis up to speed. The coach related the experience to working with the offensive line overall.
"The key to that is just reps," Crafts said. "The more reps that we can get with the guys the better and that's part of what we're trying to do now."
Davis is just one of several offensive lineman entering their first season with the Sharks. In evaluating his young group, coach Crafts appreciates the hard work he's seen through camp so far.
"We have guys that are working hard. When you have a lot of young people, they're not afraid of the work," Crafts said.
Using last Saturday’s preseason scrimmage against New Orleans as a measuring point, Crafts is working with the line on recognizing the speed of the game. Crafts said that he was pleased with what he saw overall, but wants his unit to improve upon each practice.
"We did a decent job this weekend. It wasn't a bad outing for us at all, but we're just trying to get better. Every day we're getting better," he said.
Graves Catches On
Like Davis and Robbins, wide receiver Shamar Graves recently joined the Sharks, as he was claimed off reassignment by the team on Sunday. Listed at 6’3”, 245, Graves looks to use his large frame and deceptive speed to provide the Sharks’ offense with a valuable weapon.
"I use my size to shield off smaller defensive backs,” Graves said. “I'm quick; I used to be a wide receiver [before moving to tight end in college]. I just watch a lot of other receivers to see how they use their body, see how they use their arms away from the body. I just use everything to my advantage.”
Graves has been able to adapt to different roles in different offensive schemes throughout his career. At Rutgers, he lined up at both wide receiver and tight end. In training camps with the Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins, he suited up in the backfield.
Then, in the United Football League, Graves transitioned back to a tight end in an University of Oregon-style spread offense. Now in Arena Football, Graves will look to make yet another adjustment to the smaller field and faster pace of the indoor game.
Overall, Graves is excited to be part of a defending championship squad.
"I'm learning a lot from these other receivers,” he said. "Seeing people working hard, wanting to get better, they have a championship mentality. It's the kind of environment I love."
The Sharks will conduct the final practice of training camp on Wednesday morning at Plantation Park in St. Johns County. Practice is scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. and is open to the public.
The Jacksonville Sharks are members of the Arena Football League (AFL). The ArenaBowl XXIV and back-to-back South Division Champions are presented by Sea Best Seafood and play all home games on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Season Tickets for the 2012 season are now available, two tickets as low as $135. To reserve your season tickets or for more information, please call (904) 621-0700. Follow the Sharks on facebook at facebook.com/jaxsharks and on Twitter @jaxsharks, as well as the Attack Dance Team at facebook.com/sharkattackdance.