04/18/2012 6:35 PM - JACKSONVILLE – The ArenaBowl XXIV Champion Jacksonville Sharks continue to prepare for the team’s Week 7 road matchup against the Cleveland Gladiators on Saturday, April 21. Saturday’s game at Quicken Loans Arena is set to kick off at 7:30 p.m.
Jacksonville (1-3) enters this week’s game on a three-game losing streak, having last won in Week 2 against the Kansas City Command. Though the results have not yet appeared in the win column, the Sharks have played significantly improved football since their loss to Georgia in the March 24 home opener. Over the last two games, Jacksonville is averaging 68 points per contest and has only turned the ball over twice.
Key in that offensive performance has been the phenomenal play of second-year wide receiver Terrance Smith. Smith has accounted for at least 269 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns in each of the last two games, earning both the Week 4 and Week 6 AFL Playmaker of the Week honors. Last time out against the Utah Blaze, Smith had the Sharks’ best receiving performance of the season, hauling in eight receptions for 154 yards and five touchdowns. Thanks to his dynamic ability in the return game, Smith leads the entire Arena Football League with 231.8 all-purpose yards per game.
As Smith has taken his game to the next level, so too has second-year quarterback Omar Jacobs. After throwing four interceptions against Georgia in his first career start, Jacobs has fired twelve touchdown passes without an interception in the two games since. Against the Blaze, he tied a franchise record with nine scores through the air as Jacksonville scored on all but the final possession of each half.
To take down the Gladiators, the Sharks will need improved play on defense, as the Blaze scored on all 11 of their possessions last week. In addition, the Jacksonville secondary has accounted for just one interception through the first four games of the season. More consistent pressure from the front four should help the Sharks’ secondary create a game-changing turnover this weekend.
The front four was bolstered this week by the return of defensive lineman Jeff Littlejohn, who served as the team’s starting nose guard in 2010. Littlejohn headed north to the Georgia Force in 2011, and began this season with that team before being placed on recallable reassignment last week. Littlejohn’s arrival gives the Sharks’ defensive line more depth and should allow every member of that unit to stay fresher throughout the course of the game.
Know Your Foe
The hallmark of the 2012 Cleveland Gladiators (3-2) has been defense. The Gladiators have allowed 41 points or less in three of five games this season and lead the League with just 47 points allowed per game. The team has been able to use turnovers to swing momentum, ranking fifth in the league both with 16 take and a plus-four turnover margin.
Drew Berube leads the Cleveland defense, as the defensive lineman leads the squad with five tackles for loss and four sacks. In the secondary, defensive backs Levy Brown and Joe Phinisee each have three of the team’s 11 total interceptions.
On offense, longtime AFL veteran John Dutton helms the Gladiator attack. Now in his third year with the team, Dutton missed all but one game of the 2011 regular season with an Achilles injury. The quarterback has returned healthy this season, totaling 30 touchdown passes against nine interceptions over the Gladiators’ first five games. To date, Dutton has spread the ball fairly well between the team’s top three receivers, as Dominick Goodman, Robert Redd and Thyron Lewis all have at least 28 receptions and eight receiving touchdowns.
Saturday’s game will not be broadcast on television in either the Jacksonville or Cleveland markets. However, the game will be shown live on the Sharks’ official UStream channel, found at www.ustream.tv/JacksonvilleSharks. Sharks Director of Media Relations Zander Kean will provide play-by-play on the UStream webcast.
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 $111. 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.