The Tampa Bay Storm have accomplished something unique midway through 2012, as they are the only team in the AFL this season to be undefeated at home and winless on the road. The Storm thought they were set at quarterback when the team acquired former Orlando Predators southpaw Nick Hill early in the offseason, but when Hill was scooped up by the Green Bay Packers in January, Tampa Bay had to make a move. The Storm decided to deal for quarterback Stephen Wasil, who made an immediate impact, becoming the first quarterback in Storm history to debut with a 300 passing yard game. Wasil has also been a threat on the ground, recording a team-high 10 touchdown runs in 2012. Interceptions have been an issue for Wasil, however. Having thrown multiple picks in six of nine games this season and 14 interceptions total, Wasil is on pace to break Mark Grieb’s AFL single-season mark of 25 interceptions, a record neither Wasil nor the Storm care to hold. But while the Tampa Bay gunslinger does put the ball up for grabs from time to time, he does have a talented corps of receivers to go up and get it. Rookie Prechae Rodriguez leads the pack, hauling in 24 touchdowns on the year and enjoying a streak of six consecutive games with multiple scores. Chandler Williams has assisted, hauling in 61 balls – 13 of them for touchdowns. When healthy, Amarri Jackson has been another big play option for Wasil, as Jackson has caught a pass in 21 consecutive games played. The Storm also have a secret weapon in offensive lineman Tom Kaleita. The big man has found his way into the backfield, scoring two touchdowns on the ground this season and has an eight-yard reception to his name. Most importantly, however, Kaleita has not allowed a sack all season.
On the defensive side of the ball, Steve Octavien has been a nightmare for opposing offenses all season. Octavien has been busy, recording 17.5 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, five quarterback hurries, two blocked kicks and a forced fumble. Because offensive lines have to always be cognizant of where #53 is on the field, that extra attention has enabled defensive lineman Pernell Phillips to make his impact felt. Phillips has dropped the quarterback a team-high five times and forced two fumbles this season. Defensive back Erick McIntosh leads the team in tackles with 56 on the year, but he also leads the League in pass breakups, knocking down 14 balls this season. Lendy Holmes, Deonte Bolden, Riley Swanson and Rod Mosley have all snagged two interceptions on the year, while all-purpose man Mark Jones has shown his versatility all over the field as a receiver, defensive back and special teams ace. Michael Lindsey and Chandler Williams have handled most of the return duties this season.
Looking ahead, the Storm currently sit at 3-2 in the South Division with three divisional games left to play. Unfortunately, two of those are on the road. The Storm will have to find a way to win outside the Tampa Bay Times Forum if they intend to return to the postseason in 2012. The South Division race will be one to keep an eye on in the second half of the season.
Midseason MVP: WR Prechae Rodriguez, 72 receptions, 967 yards, 24 TDs
Unsung Hero: OL Tom Kaleita, 5 rushes, 4 yards, 2 TDs, 1 catch, 8 yards, 5 starts, 0 sacks allowed
Record Watch: WR Prechae Rodriguez could break a pair of Storm single-season receiving records. With 72 receptions through nine games, he is on pace to shatter the franchise record for receptions in a year, set at 125 by Huey Whittaker and Amarri Jackson in 2011. He could also contend for Tyrone Timmons franchise record for touchdowns in a year (37 set in 2010).
There may not be more of a “Jekyll and Hyde” team this season than the Georgia Force. One week, the team looks brilliant. The next, not so much. Case in point, in Week 3, the team manhandled the defending ArenaBowl champions 69-41. The next time out, they lost by 50 at home to the Philadelphia Soul. A talented team, the Force will need to find some consistency in the second half of the season to continue to contend for a South Division title and playoff berth. That will start at the quarterback position, where RJ Archer has started five games this season. However, Archer has recently caught the eyes of NFL scouts, so his availability moving forward may be in question. Backup Kevin Eakin has seen action in three games, starting two of them, but despite a win in Week 10, his play too has been inconsistent. What have been consistent are the Force receivers. Larry Shipp leads the way with 926 yards and 19 scores, while CJ Johnson, Brandon McRae and Michael Johnson have all been dependable contributors. Fullback Mykel Benson has come on strong as of late as well, rushing 22 times and scoring twice over the last two games.
Kris Cooke and Broderick Stewart have combined for 4.5 sacks on the year to lead the pass rush, while Jeremy Grier has come on strong as well with 23.5 tackles and three interceptions, one of which was returned for a score. The Force’s biggest playmaker may be defensive back Tracy Belton, who not only leads the team in tackles with 48.5, but set a new single-season franchise record with 10 interceptions already in 2012. In fact, Belton has recorded a pick in all but one game this season and, if healthy, figures to contend for the single-season League record.
The Force finished the first half of the year 2-2 in the South Division, but that record will become increasingly more important down the stretch. The team has four divisional games remaining, with three coming at home. Back-to-back late season road matchups against two tough non-conference opponents in the Utah Blaze and Chicago Rush will also be games to keep an eye on.
Midseason MVP: DB Tracy Belton, 48.5 tackles, 1 TFL, 10 INTs, 1 INT TD, 9 PBU, 1 FR
Unsung Hero: DB Marrio Norman, 35.5 tackles, 4 INTs, 6 PBU
Record Watch: DB Tracy Belton has 10 INTs through nine games and could contend for Rayshaun Kizer’s single-season AFL record of 16, if healthy.
When the New Orleans VooDoo came within a point of defeating the Philadelphia Soul in Week 2, it became clear that this was not the same 3-15 team from 2011. Though Head Coach Pat O’Hara may not be pleased with the team’s losing record at the midway point of the season, the VooDoo have already matched last season’s win total and appear to be on the up and up moving forward. A big reason why has been the quarterback play of Kurt Rocco. The second-year man has shown significant improvement under O’Hara’s tutelage, completing 60 percent of his passes this season for 2,490 yards and 47 touchdowns to just six interceptions. Receiver L.J. Castile has been the team’s big play threat, hauling in 52 balls for 625 yards and 15 touchdowns with a score in every game played this season, though Rocco has also developed a nice rapport with Quorey Payne and AFL veteran Josh Bush, who have stepped up nicely in the absence of injured receivers Greg Ellingson and Skyler Green. On the ground, Joe Alajajian has been the team’s top red zone rusher with seven touchdowns on the year.
The VooDoo lead the AFL in turnover margin (+12) and red zone defense midway through the season. Marlon Favorite and Michael Janac have been consistent contributors on the defensive line, while Jack linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson is having another stellar season, with 30 tackles and five interceptions – a mark that ties him with defensive back Jeremy Kellem for the team-high. Kellem also leads the team with 47 tackles and 13 pass breakups on the year. Jorrick Calvin and Demarcus Robinson have also pitched in, with a combined five picks as well.
Having played only two divisional games in the first half of the season, the second half of the schedule is exceptionally important to the VooDoo. Six of the team’s ten remaining games come against South Division opponents and the other four matchups all come against legitimate playoff contenders.
Midseason MVP: QB Kurt Rocco, 182-for-303, 2,490 yards, 47 TDs, 6 INTs, 116.91 QB Rating, 311.2 passing yards per game, 2 rushing TDs
Unsung Hero: DB Jeremy Kellem, 47 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 5 INTs, 1 INT TD, 13 PBU, 1 FR
Record Watch: LB Alvin Ray Jackson already shares a tie of the franchise record for interceptions in a single season with 8. This year, both he and Jeremy Kellem have five through eight games of play.
The Sharks’ ArenaBowl repeat bid is not going quite as well as Jacksonville would have liked. And as Omar Jacobs and Bernard Morris have discovered, replacing a legend is tough. Morris served as a backup for the team in 2010, but has moved into a starting role following an injury to Omar Jacobs. Morris has passed for 498 yards and eight touchdowns with five interceptions in four games this season, but he’s also been a threat on the ground, with 72 rushing yards and one touchdown. The team’s top receiver this year has been Terrance Smith, who’s collected 683 yards and 18 touchdowns after spending all of last season as a defensive back. Jeron Harvey, who made the biggest catch of his career in ArenaBowl XXIV, has hauled in 48 balls in 2012 for 450 yards and 11 scores. Rookie Bobby Sewall has pitched in six scores, while the return of Jamarko Simmons has given the offense an added spark over the last few weeks.
Defensively, Scooter Berry and Aaron Robbins have led the way with 7.5 combined sacks on the season, while recently re-acquired defensive lineman Jeff Littlejohn has notched a sack and a half in three games this season. Ironman Jason Holman has seen action at nose guard and fullback in 2012, while last season’s pass rushing phenom Derrick Summers totaled 10.5 tackles and two sacks in six games of action. Linebacker Charlie Hunt has added 8.5 tackles and an interception in four games of work, while LaRoche Jackson leads the team with 42 tackles and a fumble recovery on the year. Daylan Walker, Bill Alford and JaVonte Holmes have patrolled the secondary, with Alford leading the team in interceptions with two. A recent trade to re-acquire the franchise’s all-time leading tackler, defensive back Micheaux Robinson, will no doubt help the cause. Terrance Smith has been the team’s homerun threat on special teams, returning 44 kicks for 882 yards and three scores, while Marco Capozzoli has been consistent in the kicking game, converting on 46-of-54 PATs and both field goal attempts this season.
At 1-2 in the division, the second half of the season bears great importance to the Sharks. Though not out of the playoff hunt, the team will have work to do, as nine of the ten games remaining come against American Conference opponents.
Midseason MVP: WR Terrance Smith, 55 receptions, 683 yards, 18 TDs, 44 KR, 882 yards, 3 TDs, 1,590 all-purpose yards
Unsung Hero: DL Jason Holman, 3 tackles, 1 sack, 6 rushes, 23 yards
Record Watch: WR Jeron Harvey is 21 touchdown receptions shy of Jomo Wilson’s career franchise record of 73 receiving scores.
The Orlando Predators have made it to postseason play in 19 consecutive seasons. That streak is in serious jeopardy, as the 1-7 Predators are struggling to maintain footing in the South Division. Unhappy with the play at quarterback, the team traded for former Florida Gator quarterback Chris Leak, who will likely serve as the team’s starter for the remainder of the season. Leak made his debut with the team in Week 9, passing nine times for 78 yards and three touchdowns in relief duty for Justin Roper. Leak has an experienced receiving corps to throw to, highlighted by T.T. Toliver and Bobby Sippio. Toliver leads the team with 443 receiving yards, while Sippio has totaled nine touchdowns in four games of action this season. Dwayne Eley, Jr. leads the team with 10 touchdown receptions on the year, while Nate Force is averaging 83.4 yards per game.
The Predators defense actually ranks second in the League in scoring, holding opponents to an average of 48 points per game. Mark Robinson, Quinn Pitcock and Terrace Carter have all collected two sacks apiece thus far, while linebacker Marlon Moye-Moore has added 35.5 tackles and seven tackles for loss to go with three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception on the year. Defensive back Simeon Castile leads the team with 48.5 tackles and nine pass breakups, while Travis Coleman has collected a team-high six interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. The addition of defensive back Justin Hannah has also helped matters, as the second-year player has tallied 21 tackles and five pass breakups in three games of play. In the kicking game, Mark Lewis had connected on 32-of-35 PATs and six-of-eight field goals this season.
Midseason MVP: DB Simeon Castile, 48.5 tackles, 1 INT, 9 PBU, 1 FR
Unsung Hero: LB Marlon Moye-Moore, 35.5 tackles, 7.0 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 2 FR, 3 FF
Record Watch: The Predators possess one of the most impressive streaks in the history of professional football, earning a postseason berth in 19 consecutive seasons. If that streak is broken, it will be the first time since Orlando’s inaugural season in 1991 that the team has missed the playoffs.