Storm recharge and refocus

May 1, 2016 Bryan Burns

There are no do-overs in the Arena Football League.

The Tampa Bay Storm, however, have hit the reset button on the 2016 season.

After starting the year 0-3, Tampa Bay used a much-needed bye week to recharge and refocus for the upcoming grind when it plays nine-consecutive weeks, starting Sunday, May 1 (2 p.m. kickoff) against in-state rival Jacksonville at Amalie Arena, the Storm’s second home game of the season following contests in Cleveland and Arizona.

The Storm were able to rest. They healed up and got a few players back onto the field. They made some moves to add depth to the roster.

“And we actually got two weeks to prepare for Jacksonville,” Storm defensive back James Harrell said. ‘So that was the best part.”

The most notable addition the Storm made during the off week was the acquisition of wide receiver Mike Washington through a trade with Arizona five days after the Storm lost to the Rattlers 60-27. The 5-foot-8, 175-pound veteran has played five seasons in the AFL, averaging 106 catches and 1,320 receiving yards each season. Washington spent his first three years in the league in Pittsburgh before moving to Spokane for the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

Washington says he’s a leader who can bring wisdom and experience to the Storm locker room.
“With T.T. (Toliver’s) veteranship, my veteranship, and on top of that my speed and quickness, that can really change the whole dynamics of a team,” Washington said. “It’s kind of like basketball: One key piece can really change the whole course of how a team plays.”

Washington, who has been practicing with Tampa Bay for a week, said it shouldn’t take him too long to get familiar with the Storm playbook.

“I’m a six-year vet, so I’ve probably seen just about every playbook out there,” he said. “Fortunately, the scheme here is the same scheme I came from [in Arizona]…But, really, it’s all about developing a rapport and chemistry with the players because the (AFL) is a big fraternity of brothers, and everybody’s got to gel at the same level and same stage.”

Tampa Bay head coach Lawrence Samuels said the biggest key for the Storm this week against Jacksonville is to execute. The Storm have been in games and had chances to win but haven’t been able to produce that momentum-changing play in critical spots.

“That’s the thing right now: We haven’t been executing these last three weeks that we’ve  played,” Samuels said. “We had a lot of injuries, but we’re overcoming the injuries and guys are coming back. Now it’s time for us to nail some things down and tighten some screws.”

Jacksonville (1-3) presents a formidable challenge for Tampa Bay on Sunday. The Sharks are led by former Storm wide receiver Joe Hills, who has 40 catches for 531 yards and 14 receiving touchdowns through four games this season and is the second-leading receiver in the league.

“We’ve definitely got to watch out for Joe this week,” Harrell said. “But we’re not changing anything. We’re playing our game plan. Our biggest thing is just communicating this week –they’ve got really good receivers – and just playing our game.”

Tiger Jones adds a one-two punch with Hills at receiver, contributing 397 yards and five touchdowns on 28 catches to rank fourth in the AFL.

Jacksonville quarterback Tommy Grady has tossed 23 touchdown passes to just two interceptions this season and leads the AFL for passing yards (100-of-153 for 1,234 yards).

“We’re playing a high-powered offensive team,” Samuels said. “It’s all about execution. We want to be able to slow them down and hold serve. We’ve got to do some work on the offensive side, as you know, and we’re working diligently to get that corrected. But our thing is about execution and staying with those guys, and I think we’re going to get it done.”