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WEEK 13 PREVIEW: SHARKS AT BLAZE

06/12/2013 9:38 AM -

JACKSONVILLE – The 2012 South Division Champion Jacksonville Sharks (8-4) will travel to Salt Lake City for a matchup against the West Division’s Utah Blaze (4-7) on Saturday, June 15. Kickoff from EnergySolutions Arena is set for 9:00 p.m. ET, and the game will be broadcast live in front of a national audience on CBS Sports Network as part of the League’s “Net10 Wireless Arena Football Saturday” series. In addition, the Sharks’ radio broadcast will be available on AM 600 WBOB, as well as online at wbobradio.com.

The Sharks enter this week having endured a 76-41 defeat at the hands of the Spokane Shock last Saturday night. Two early interceptions thrown by the Jacksonville offense allowed the Shock to take a 28-7 lead at the end of the first quarter, and the Sharks could not recover from the early deficit. Despite the loss, Jacksonville retained sole possession of first place in both the South Division and American Conference, as the team still holds a one-game lead over the Tampa Bay Storm.

A major change in the Jacksonville lineup will become evident as soon as the Shark offense takes the field this week. After starting quarterback Bernard Morris left in the third quarter of last week’s game with an apparent injury, the Sharks placed Morris on inactive reserve and added a pair of signal-callers in veteran Kyle Rowley and rookie Lee Chapple. Both players are stepping into the Shark lineup on short notice, but neither enters with a completely blank slate. 

A fourth-year AFL veteran, Rowley has indoor football experience that stretches back to his tenure in arenafootball2 during the mid-2000s. Rowley is a player with a championship pedigree, as he led the Shock to the ArenaBowl XXIII title in 2010, throwing an ArenaBowl record total of nine touchdown passes in Spokane’s ultimate victory over the Tampa Bay Storm. Having spent three years in Spokane, Rowley should have instant chemistry with Shark receiver Markee White, who played with the Shock in both 2010 and 2011.

For his part, Chapple was a member of Jacksonville’s roster during training camp prior to this season, rushing for a touchdown in the Sharks’ preseason scrimmage against the Orlando Predators. After two rigorous weeks of work with the team in March, Chapple rejoins the team with the knowledge of the Sharks’ system and personnel.

Whoever takes the snaps for Jacksonville on Saturday will have the luxury of throwing to one of the hottest receivers in the league in Jeron Harvey. Awarded the Cutters Catch of the Week for his over-the-boards touchdown grab against Spokane, Harvey has caught a touchdown pass in each of the Sharks’ last eight games and has racked up five 100-yard performances in the last six weeks. With a rare combination of size (6’5”, 220) and elusiveness, Harvey should serve as an effective security blanket for the Sharks’ new quarterbacks.

On the other side, Utah quarterback Tommy Grady is searching for the magic that allowed him to put together one of the most statistically impressive seasons in AFL history a year ago. After shattering the League record with 142 touchdown passes in his MVP 2012 season, Grady’s fortunes have turned this year. The Blaze signal-caller has already tied the AFL record with 25 interceptions this season, and a remarkable total of eight of those picks have been returned for touchdowns. For a point of comparison, just one of the 11 interceptions thrown by the Sharks has been returned for a score, and the Jacksonville defense has just two pick-sixes this season.

In 2012, receiver Aaron Lesue emerged as Grady’s favorite target, as the talented wideout caught seven touchdowns in Utah’s win against the Sharks on Sea Best Field. But it appears that the Blaze will be without Lesue’s abilities this week, as the receiver was placed on inactive reserve on Tuesday.

While Lesue has battled injury, rookie Mario Urrutia has stepped up to fill the void. The Louisville product has accumulated season totals of 94 receptions, 1,172 receiving yards and 26 touchdowns – numbers that are eerily similar to Harvey’s line of 97 catches, 1,027 yards and 26 scores. Urrutia checks in at imposing size of 6’5”, 230, and there is no doubt that the Shark secondary will have to keep an eye on the man in the No. 6 jersey this weekend.

Speaking of the Shark secondary, Jacksonville features a player who is quickly becoming one of the best turnover-forcers in the entire league. Jack linebacker Jamaal Fudge pulled down his first interception of the season last week, and also forced and recovered a fumble against Spokane. Rejoining the team prior to Week 5, Fudge is now tied for the League lead with four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries – all while playing in just seven games. Fudge will look to continue to be an absolute nemesis for receivers trying to secure the ball after the catch.

Overall, this week the Sharks must deal with a Utah team that is surely desperate for a win. At 4-7, the Blaze know that they have almost no margin for error in an incredibly competitive National Conference. As losers of three straight entering this week, Utah will doubtlessly be focused on righting the ship in front of its home crowd. After this week, the Sharks will not play another road game until a July 20 trip to New Orleans. Jacksonville would love to return to the comforts of home with another notch in the win column.

Next week, the Sharks return home to host the Cleveland Gladiators on Saturday, June 22. Kickoff from Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorials Arena is set for 7:00 p.m.


About the Jacksonville Sharks

The Jacksonville Sharks are members of the Arena Football League (AFL). The ArenaBowl XXIV and back-to-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 2013 season are still available, two tickets as low as $105. 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 and Chum at facebook.com/chumsharks.


About the AFL

Since its inception in 1987, the Arena Football League has showcased its fast-paced and exciting game to millions of fans in a myriad of markets across the country. CBS Sports Network will broadcast an AFL National Game of the Week on Saturday nights for the entire regular season and postseason through the semifinal round. The ArenaBowl XXVI Championship Game will air on the CBS Television Network on August 17, 2013.