04/10/2014 7:51 AM
JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Sharks continue their 2014 home schedule in Week 5, playing host to the Tampa Bay Storm on Friday, April 11. Kickoff from Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is set for 8:00 p.m.
Nearly a quarter of the way through the season, the Sharks find themselves looking up at Tampa Bay in the South Division standings. At 3-1, the Storm is tied atop the division with the Orlando Predators, while the 1-2 Sharks have ground to make up. This is the first of two meetings between these two squads in 2014, as the Sharks will make the trip down to Tampa for a nationally televised contest on May 24.
Jacksonville has had the Storm’s number since joining the league in 2010, as the Sharks hold a 7-1 edge in the all-time series. The Sharks won their first four games against the Storm before their only defeat to the Storm in Week 4 of the 2012 season. Since then, the Sharks have taken each of the last three regular-season meetings, as well as a victory in the opening round of the 2014 season.
To say that two teams are very familiar with one another is quite an understatement. The Sharks and Storm matched up in the final week of the 2013 regular season, squared off again in the playoffs the following week, and also met for a preseason scrimmage in early March of this year. With that said, much has changed for both teams since that preseason meeting, especially this week.
The Sharks made a pair of significant additions within the last few days. First, quarterback Aaron Garcia, who was originally acquired in a trade with the Orlando Predators in mid-February, joined the Sharks active roster on Monday. Two days later, the team announced that veteran Jack linebacker Charlie Hunt has returned to the squad. On the other hand, the team traded defensive back Tracy Belton and quarterback Kyle Rowley to Orlando, to complete future considerations from the deal that brought Garcia to Jacksonville.
Ultimately, the Sharks now have a luxury at the quarterback position. Garcia’s resume is unquestioned, as he is the League’s all-time leader in touchdown passes and piloted Jacksonville to the ArenaBowl XXIV title in 2011. On the other hand, Archer has fired 17 touchdowns against one interception this year and ranks among the league leaders in pass efficiency. Jacksonville head coach Les Moss knows that he can have confidence in whichever quarterback gets the ball on Friday.
On the defensive side, the loss of Belton brings the progression rookie defensive backs Xavier Brewer and Brodrick Brown into focus. Both players have seen action in every game this season, as Brewer has started all three contests and Brown has played a valuable substitute role and contributed on special teams. These two young players will certainly be helped by lining up next to Micheaux Robinson and Terrance Smith, two longtime Sharks that have each performed at the All-Arena level.
In looking at the Sharks’ first three games of the season, what stands out is the connection between the way the game starts and the end result. In Jacksonville’s Week 3 win over San Antonio, the Sharks raced to a 20-0 lead, eventually pushing that edge to 26-0 before cruising to a 41-point win. But in each of its two losses, Jacksonville has fallen behind by multiple scores in the first quarter and been unable to completely recover. Starting fast is particularly essential against what appears to be a high-powered Storm offense.
That Tampa Bay attack is piloted by Randy Hippeard, who is in his first season as Tampa Bay’s full-time starter. After seeing some action in 2013 after starter Adrian McPherson went down with an injury, Hippeard has taken the reins from day one here in 2014. Through four games, he leads the AFL with 27 touchdown passes, though he has tossed seven interceptions as well.
What stands out about Tampa Bay’s offense is its big-play capability. Each of the Storm’s top five receivers averages better than 12 yards per catch, a sign that Tampa Bay can stretch the field from any position in the formation. Tampa Bay’s potent receiving corps got even more dangerous this week, as the team added longtime Predator T.T. Toliver to its roster.
On the other side of the ball, the Sharks will need to pay attention to defensive back Chris Smith. To this point in the season, Smith has pulled down six of the Storm defense’s seven interceptions, and there is no doubt that Moss and his offensive skill players will be aware of Smith’s position on the field at all times.
Finally, another key factor for the Storm is kick returner Michael Lindsey. Even without the benefit of a long touchdown to boost his average, Lindsey is still managing better than 20 yards per kickoff return. Containing Lindsey will be pivotal in keeping the Tampa Bay offense backed up in its own territory at the beginning of drives.
Friday’s game kicks off at 8:00 p.m. Tickets for this 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 as low as $169. 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 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.