03/13/2014 7:49 AM
JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Sharks begin their quest for a fifth consecutive South Division Championship this weekend, as the team opens the 2014 regular season on the road against the Orlando Predators on Sunday, March 16. Kickoff from CFE Arena in Orlando is set for 4:00 p.m., as the game will air live on AM 600 WBOB, as well as on ESPN3.com and via the WatchESPN app.
This marks the second consecutive season in which the Sharks will open on the road against a divisional rival, as Jacksonville defeated the Tampa Bay Storm in last year’s first game. Overall, the Sharks have put together a 3-1 mark in season-opening contests in the franchise’s four-year history.
Jacksonville heads into this week’s game with an impressive track record against the Predators. The Sharks have not lost to the Predators since the first round of the 2010 playoffs, a string of seven consecutive victories against Orlando. The Sharks have swept the Predators in each of the last three regular-season series, also taking down Orlando in the opening game of the 2011 postseason.
Though much has changed on both sides heading into this season, the majority of the Sharks’ roster will remember the teams’ 2013 matchups, as Jacksonville opens the season with an impressive total of 15 veterans who return after playing for the Sharks last season. That total includes quarterbacks R.J. Archer and Kyle Rowley, who are in competition for the team’s starting job. With seven years of combined AFL experience between the two signal callers, the Sharks will be in good hands regardless of who head coach Les Moss hands the ball to on Sunday.
The Sharks’ offense features a balanced and talented group at wide receiver. Leading the way at the position is Jeron Harvey, who heads into his fifth season with the Sharks after earning his first career All-Arena nod in 2013 and owns franchise records in every major receiving category. Joining Harvey at wideout is a pair of returning veterans, as both London Crawford and Shamar Graves bring size and skill to the table. Rounding out the position group is Mardy Gilyard, whose status as an AFL rookie belies his true experience. Selected by the St. Louis Rams in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Gilyard played in the NFL for four seasons and brings dynamic playmaking ability to Jacksonville.
Along the offensive line, the Sharks will benefit from continuity as well. Mainstays Brant Clouser and Cornelius Lewis are back in the fold to anchor the team’s pass protection unit, while R.J. Bibbs returns as well after first joining the team late in the 2013 season.
On defense, the Sharks’ potent front four is ready to build on the greatest collective single-season performance in League history, as Jacksonville established a new AFL record with 45 sacks in 2013. Last season, each of the Sharks’ four pass-rushing starters racked up at least 6.5 sacks apiece, and three of those players are back in the fold for 2014. All-Arena performers Aaron Robbins and Jerry Turner and nose guard Rashaad Duncan will anchor a unit full of veterans, as Justin Parrish returns for a fourth season in Jacksonville, while both Reggie Paramoure and Darnell Carter bring previous AFL experience.
While talent is spread throughout the Sharks’ roster, perhaps no position group is as loaded as the team is in the secondary, where Terrance Smith (First Team, 2013), Micheaux Robinson (Second Team, 2010 and First Team, 2011) and Tracy Belton (Second Team, 2012) have all notched All-Arena honors in their careers. These three veterans have been pushed in training camp by a pair of talented rookies in Xavier Brewer and Brodrick Brown, who are both set to contribute right away. The Sharks’ defensive backfield will certainly pose a challenge for opposing offenses.
To open the season, the Sharks will somewhat venture into the unknown as they face an Orlando team that has switched home arenas and almost completely overhauled its roster. The Predators will break in a new starting quarterback, likely veteran Jason Boltus, who did get some starting experience with the Utah Blaze last season. Though the Sharks did face Boltus during the 2013 season, they do not have as much knowledge about the rest of Orlando’s lineup, as the Predators currently have 10 rookies on the team’s active roster.
In looking at the Predators’ lineup, the position that stands out is wide receiver. The group is led by T.T. Toliver, who enters his 11th AFL season and racked up 127 receptions for 1,659 yards and 29 touchdowns a year ago. Along with the speedy Toliver, the Sharks will also have to deal with a pair of 6’6” wideouts in Braylon Bell and Greg Carr, two players with the size to challenge Jacksonville’s talented secondary.
The Sharks will see a few familiar faces on the Orlando defense as well, as defensive backs Tanner Varner and Cortez Stubbs each participated in Jacksonville’s training camp prior to the 2013 season.
After Sunday’s season opener, the Sharks will enter their first bye week of the 2014 season. Jacksonville’s home opener is set for March 29, when the team welcomes the San Antonio Talons to Sea Best Field. Tickets for the home opener and all Sharks home games may be purchased by calling the Sharks Ticket Office at (904) 621-0700.
About the Jacksonville Sharks
The Jacksonville Sharks are members of the Arena Football League (AFL). The ArenaBowl XXIV and four-time 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 2014 season are now available, two tickets for as low as $185. To purchase 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 a fast-paced and exciting game to millions of fans in a myriad of markets across the country. The ESPN family of networks and CBS Sports Network will nationally broadcast AFL games each week for the entire season. The AFL schedule then culminates with the ArenaBowl Championship game live on ESPN.