03/27/2015 9:42 AM
JACKSONVILLE - The Jacksonville Sharks open the 2015 season in the Big Easy this weekend, as the Sharks will square off against the New Orleans VooDoo on Saturday, March 28. Kickoff from Smoothie King Center in New Orleans is set for 8:00 p.m. ET, as the game will be available live online via ESPN3.com and the WatchESPN app.
Saturday’s game will be the first time that Jacksonville (0-0) has the opportunity to test its revamped roster against opposition, in what will be the first of three meetings between the Sharks and New Orleans (0-0) this season. Jacksonville head coach Les Moss and his staff worked tirelessly through the offseason and into training camp to reload the team’s lineup, and in doing so crafted a roster that features a total of 12 players that have earned previous All-Arena honors in their respective careers.
But the Sharks have not taken the field yet this season, and so it falls on each individual unit to do their part in developing overall team chemistry. On offense, that starts with quarterback Tommy Grady, who takes the reins under center after throwing 115 touchdown passes with the Pittsburgh Power last season.
In Tiger Jones, Joe Hills and Jeron Harvey, Grady has three veteran receivers that combined to catch 93 touchdown passes a year ago. With talented rookie Chris Summers in the fold as well, Jacksonville has plenty of downfield weapons to work with. But Grady has never thrown a single pass to any of these receivers in a game situation, so it falls on the group to get on the same page right away and get the offense on track.
Up front, Grady will be protected by a veteran group that includes four-time First Team All-Arena fullback Derrick Ross. Acquired by the Sharks in a trade that took place during training camp, Ross has recorded at least 32 touchdowns in each of his four AFL seasons. Along the offensive line, 2014 All-Arena selection Wayne Tribue and veterans Moqut Ruffins and Ray McNeil join returner Cornelius Lewis to comprise a formidable pass-protection unit.
On defense, the Sharks will look to affect the quarterback all season long with a potentially dominant pass rush. After spending time in both the NFL and CFL, 2011 First Team All-Arena selection Caesar Rayford has returned to the Arena Football League, and he joins two-time Defensive Lineman of the Year Joe Sykes as a newcomer to the Jacksonville lineup. These new faces join a group that includes Jerry Turner, who has recorded 19.5 sacks over the last two seasons, and nose guard James McClinton, who racked up a team-high nine sacks in just 10 games a year ago.
That pass rush should make life easier for an already talented Jacksonville secondary that is led by fifth-year Shark Terrance Smith. Smith headlines a group that includes second-year Shark Xavier Brewer, free agent acquisitions Demarcus Robinson and Carlton Brown, along with Keiron Jones, who made an impact in his AFL debut during the 2014 season finale. In addition, the team recently bolstered its secondary with veteran Jack linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson, who has piled up 28 interceptions over the course of his four AFL seasons.
On the other side, Jacksonville will face a New Orleans squad that underwent wholesale changes this past offseason. Head coach Dean Cokinos has made his return to the AFL and is set to begin his first season with the VooDoo. Cokinos compiled a 3-3 record against Jacksonville in regular season games from 2010 through 2012.
New Orleans’ offensive success will largely hinge on the development of Adam Kennedy, a second-year player who grew into the starting role during the latter portion of the 2014 season. Kennedy has a potent target to work with in veteran Larry Beavers, who is dangerous both on offense and as a kick returner.
On defense, the VooDoo’s clear strength lies in its secondary. With 2014 All-Arena selection Cameron McGlenn already in the lineup, New Orleans acquired a pair of fellow All-Arena players this week, trading for both Rayshaun Kizer and former Shark Tracy Belton. Though Kizer remains on the Refused to Report list as of the publication of this article, the trio could make life very difficult for opposing receivers this season.
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 2015 season are now available, two tickets as low as $99. 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 2015 season. The AFL schedule culminates with ArenaBowl XXVIII Saturday, August 29, 2015 on ESPN.