Amidst the disappointment of a fourth-straight loss two weeks ago against the Predators in Orlando, the Tampa Bay Storm found a few positives to build around as they enter the final push of the regular season with four games remaining.
Against Orlando, the Storm welcomed back wide receivers Prechae Rodriguez and Kendrick Ings to the lineup, and the duo had an immediate impact.
Rodriguez, a Jefferson High product from Tampa who tied a Storm franchise record with 125 catches during his AFL rookie year in 2012 and established a new milestone for Storm rookies with 1,653 receiving yards that same season, began his second go-round with Tampa Bay in Week 13 versus Orlando and provided instant offense for the Storm, leading all receivers with 13 catches for 113 yards and three touchdown grabs. Rodriguez also recovered an onside kick and returned it for a score for his fourth touchdown of the night.
Ings, too, made his presence felt in the 56-33 loss to Orlando, grabbing four passes for 31 yards and racking up 107 yards on six kickoff returns. Ings came back to the Storm after a stint with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League, where he went through training camp with the Lions but was released before the start of the season.
Rodriguez and Ings give Tampa Bay a pair of playmakers who are a threat to score every time they touch the ball. Add in T.T. Toliver, who now owns nearly every major career receiving record in the AFL, and suddenly the Storm have one of the most dangerous receiving corps in the league.
The new-look Storm will go for their second win of the season when they travel to the West Coast for a matchup against the L.A. KISS at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
“We have some missing pieces back with the likes of Ings and Rodriguez,” Storm head coach Lawrence Samuels said. “Prechae actually really showed what he can do and what he brings to the table this last game (against Orlando). We’re just going to keep trying to build from there. We’ve got four games to do that.”
Samuels wasn’t surprised the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Rodriguez found success so soon with the Storm.
“I expect that out of Prechae, to play top-notch arena football,” Samuels said. “He plays hard, stays after practice, works with the quarterback. He’s the last one to leave the field. He does all the little things. That’s being a pro. It shows up on game day.”
In Ings, the Storm have a player who can open up opposing defenses with his blazing speed.
“He brings another gear,” Samuels said. “Now we’ve got to get back on the same page with him and (quarterback) Jason (Boltus) that we were last year to where we can start building and utilizing his speed down the middle. That puts a lot of pressure on the defenses. It’ll help our offense a lot.”
Last season, Ings ranked fourth in the AFL for yards per catch at 14.7. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound speedster finished 2015 with 68 receptions for 997 yards and 15 touchdowns in 17 games.
“It’s hard to come here first week and learn the playbook in two days and get on the field and perform,” Ings said. “I think I did okay, but as a whole, we’re going to get better for the next game. It’s all about timing in this game. Once I get that timing back with Jason, we’ll be scoring about 60, 70 points a game.”
Ings felt he had a “great” training camp with BC but didn’t have a catch through two preseason games and was cut before the start of the regular season.
“I thought they were going to keep me,” he said. “In the first preseason game, I didn’t get a lot of playing time, and there are only two games. I played one quarter (in the first game) and didn’t get targeted. In the next game, I played two quarters and still didn’t get any targets.”
Although he’s only been with Tampa Bay for a couple weeks now, Ings said it’s imperative the Storm come together as one group to end their current losing skid.
“We’ve got to gel together as a team,” Ings said. “Once everybody has the same mindset, believing that we can win, believing that it’s not over, the wins are going to come. We’ve just got to stay focused and believe. I think that’s the power word for us; we have to believe in ourselves.”