The Tampa Bay Storm begins the 2015 season on Thursday, March 5, as the players report for administrative day. This date will consist of physicals, distribution of playbooks and a discussion on the organizational policies and goals.
“This is an exciting time of the season,” said Storm Head Coach Lawrence Samuels. “The organization is going to use training camp to evaluate the talent in all areas. Last season we formed the foundation. Now we’ll look to add to it, so that we can put together a team that will open up the season March 27 versus the Cleveland Gladiators.”
Training camp will consist of a 35-man roster along with other invitees looking to make the final 24-man Storm roster that will open up the Arena Football League season on Friday, March 27, versus American Conference Champion, Cleveland Gladiators. The Storm will open the 2015 season on AMALIE Motor Oil Field at Amalie Arena, at 7:30 p.m.
While the team did bring back some familiar faces, it also underwent some changes in the off-season both in personnel and on the sidelines. Most notably, the team parted ways with assistant head coach Doug Kay and offensive line coach Doug Miller. Replacing them is offensive line coach, Josh Bauman and Ernie Leal as its quality control coach. Former defensive coordinator Chris Hovan is now the team’s assistant head coach.
“We’re trying to foster a culture of competition,” said Leal. “Every player needs to come out and compete; showing us why they should make this team. The players should come in hungry and ready to lay it all on the line to play for the Storm.”
Once again the team will see a change under center with former Storm quarterback Randy Hippeard joining South Division rival Orlando Predators. The Storm brought in former Predators quarterback Jason Boltus to help lead the offense. He’ll be joined by quarterback Luke Collis who spent time with the Spokane Shock in 2014.
The offensive line will see some familiar faces as the entire front line has returned. Offensive linemen, Raymond McNeil, Alfred McCullough and Mario Henderson will be returning. Last season all three offensive linemen started in 18-of-18 games played, making them one of the most durable and dependable players on the team. They will be joined by fullback Byron Isom, center Jeremy Schonbrunner and rookie offensive linemen, Ricky Barnum, Cory Brandon, Bruce Doyle and A.J. Harmon.
“It is extremely important to protect the quarterback for the offense to run effectively,” said offensive line coach Josh Bauman. “We are looking to improve on last season’s mark and we will lean on our veterans to guide the rookies.”
Defensively the team will continue to improve the defensive front. Returning will be the Storm’s sack leader from 2014, Richard Clebert. He will be joined by returnees Julius Forte, Jamie Kirlew, Rodney Beamon, Uriah Grant and mac linebacker Dexter Jackson. With a pass rush that is able to get to the quarterback, it will allow the defensive backs to take advantage of opposing offenses’ mistakes.
The defensive backfield will look to make a marked improvement in 2015, looking to capitalize on mistakes. They will be led by returning defensive back and Plant High School product James Harrell. Returning defensive backs will consist of Randall Burden, Rod Issac, Terrence Mitchell and jack linebacker Darian Payne. Five-year veteran Al Phillips will be joining the squad in the backfield along with rookies Paul Robinson, Rick-J Hill and Tim Shelley.
“Last season we began to build a winning culture,” said Samuels. “This year we intend to continue that winning tradition that Tampa is accustomed to. We believe we have the right mixture of returning players and newcomers that will help us reach our goal of a sixth ArenaBowl Championship.”