#1 Arizona Rattlers (1-0) N/C
Joshua Gordon's three-sack performance was definitely a statement on behalf of this Rattler defense. Offensively, the team looks good too and deserve the top spot in the power rankings.
#2 Quad Cities Steamwheelers (1-0) N/C
The Steamwheelers victory was unlike any other win in the opening week: it was offensively the most diverse. Five different players scored for QC with the ball spread around equally between the skill positions. If they can play a full 60 minutes this way, there may not be a defense able to stop them.
#3 Nebraska Danger (1-0) N/C
Nebraska opened up the Pig Brown/Tommy Armstrong era with a disciplined victory. Despite having the ball for only a third of the game, the Danger found the end zone on all but one possession and won comfortably.
#4 Sioux Falls Storm (1-0) N/C
Miles Bergner was on no one's radar to be the hero of week 1, but he stepped up with a game winning field goal as time expired. Seven of 9 Storm completions were made by Brandon Sheperd.
#5 Iowa Barnstormers (0-0) N/C
The defending champs enter the power rankings this low not because they are a middle-of-the-pack team, but because they haven't had a chance to prove it on the turf yet. Turnover was high though and they start this campaign with a tough QC squad.
#6 Cedar Rapids River Kings (0-1) N/C
Tough way to lose when ushering in a new era as the River Kings. Kurt Palandech looked good in his debut though and there are a number of bright spots moving forward with this team.
#7 Tuscon Sugar Skulls (0-0) N/C
Enjoying the opening week with a bye, the Sugar Skulls get an extra week to put it all together. Adding Jake Medlock into things at quarterback will make things more difficult in the short term, but could open doors later in the season.
#8 Green Bay Blizzard (0-1) N/C
The Blizzard never seemed to get into a rhythm offensively. Green Bay has talent in the skill positions, but will have to find a way to get the ball to them; 36 of 41 offensive plays were passes or QB runs in week 1.
#9 San Diego Strike Force (0-1) N/C
San Diego looks to live up to their air raid monikers. The team led the league in passing offense, but had only two yards on the ground. Key interceptions were costly for SD.
#10 Bismarck Bucks (0-1) N/C
Someone has to be at the bottom, but Mike Tatum looks to be a legitimate receiving threat in this league. The key will be keeping Gibbs comfortable long enough to find his options.
Jake Medlock was cut from the Jacksonville Sharks. A hometown kid who played both high school and college football in the area, this should have been a great story for indoor football.
Unfortunately that wasn't the case for Medlock as he has now signed with Tuscon Sugar Skulls, back in the IFL from whence he came before. There's no doubt that he will bounce back and remain a top quarterback in which ever league he plays.
But the 2018 passing yards leader was brought in to compete with CIF runner up Liam Nadler for the open QB spot.
This was the only quarterback battle at the beginning of the offseason in the NAL and it was shaping up to be a great matchup. At least initially.
With Maine shutting down, their previously signed players are back on the market. One of those players, Jonathan Bane, has jumped into Jacksonville to fight for that starting role. With his addition, it was time to cut whomever wasn't leading the existing battle aka Medlock.
The Sharks were obviously unhappy with their offensive performance last season, finishing fourth in major passing statistics in the NAL with only the two now-defunct franchises behind them. With Maine making a massive push near the end of the year, Bane's Mammoths actually had stronger passing stats in the second half of the season.
For Jacksonville, the season that they had in 2018 was well below expectations. This is their league and to not even be considered a threat when the playoffs rolled in is not their style. In some ways, that can be good based on the growth of the league. But for most of the more vocal fans in Florida, there's a thought that this is a focus on league development and not on winning.
The Sharks responded by being very active in free agency and getting the pieces they wanted at every position. It wasn't just at quarterback, but they also improved their lines and the wide receiver position quickly. They're showing that they still want to be the team of old and win in their decade of dominance push.
But for the time being, it looks like Jacksonville is still growing their quarterback situation as the battle begins between Nadler and Bane. Let's see how it plays out.
Marcelo Metzelar - Contributing Writer
This week’s AFT Play of the Week comes to us from Arizona via Green Bay. In just the fourth play of the game, Green Bay’s Justin Billiot faces some serious pressure from the Arizona defensive front three. He finds a semi-open BJ Hill. A few steps into Hill’s catch, Rattler DB, Devontae Merriweather punches the ball out causing the ball to fly forward into the sticky hands of Phillip Henry for the first turnover of the game.
Though many would think this was a lucky play; this was a well-executed play that good defenses are trained to do in their every day drills. From the coverage, to the pursuit angles, the punch out and the successive interception; these are all taught techniques.
The play begins with the pass rush. Indoor football is designed to be a pass heavy league, as the trend in all football is. Regardless of how good the defensive secondary is, the pass rush is the strongest factor in developing good pass defense. Because Indoor Football limits the types of blitzes, the front three must be overpowering – and the Rattler’s defensive line was just that. All game long, the Arizona defense held the Blizzard to under 250 yards of offense, under 50% completion percentage, three interceptions, and a sack. Play of the Week #1 started with defensive line play.
Once the catch was made, Merriweather leaves his coverage responsibility to help tackle the Blizzard’s Hill, taking a pursuit angle that forces Hill to continue lateral movement versus vertical movement. BJ Hill has good speed so just before he runs out of reach, Merriweather punches the ball out. Running backs are expected to have the speed to run away from defenders and to be caught from behind will result in some teasing from colleagues. Defenses are taught to punch the ball out especially when coming from behind. Had Merriweather been in front, he would have made initial contact on the ball. As seen in the video, the punch works and is redirected upfield.
In man coverage, DBs are not just required to eye the man they are covering, but to keep their head on a swivel, meaning to constantly switch back from their man to the QB back to their man. Henry’s WR ran a clearing route which vacates the shallow area giving Hill the space to run, and it was this area Merriweather was trying to cover and aid in the tackle when the ball flew into his hands.
Even after the interception the defense continued with their training. Though, inaudible during the game, defensive players call out “OSSKEY” whenever an interception is made to alert the rest of the team that, “You need to block for me.” One nearby DL was able to make a block until ultimately, Billiot was making a touchdown saving push.
This play was no accident. Time and effort are put into each practice to perfect these techniques. Individual periods are spent and catching tipped passes, taking proper pursuit angles, forced fumble drills, and pass rush techniques are all part of the everyday repertoire of winning defenses, and that is why Arizona makes its perennial run for the championship every year.
By Toph Kopchak
Head of AFL Coverage
Now we can focus on getting some players!
Football is pretty much a year around sport in Columbus, Ohio once again because the Destroyers are back! As you can see, the colors are a little different from the red, white, and blue days of Destroyers past. Personally, I think it's a sharp look.
As of today, 700 season tickets have been locked up. A very impressive number, mostly because outside the reporting circles, there is still not a ton of buzz going around about the Arena Football League. A lot of hardcore football fans in the area still thought their leg was being pulled when I or someone else would throw out an update. However, with the hiring of former Cleveland Gladiators Defensive Back Columbus local and Otterbein alumni Dominic Jones being named Director of Football Operations, things are looking good. All the Columbus news outlets reported on the team today and their coverage has only picked up the last couple of weeks. Seeing this, it gives me strong belief they can get near 5,000 season tickets holders this season. Yeah, that's a strong number, but, that's only a third of the fans that came to most of their games from 2004-08 when they were here before. The video of this morning's press conference has already been seen by 11,000 fans. There's some buzz.
Chicago Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy who lead Columbus to Arena Bowl XXI even took the time to make a video message that went up on the big screen inside Nationwide Arena.
Smart decisions are being made and people care. It's good to have spring football back in The Buckeye state. It's good to have arena ball back again. Go Destroyers, you have been missed.
By Toph Kopchak
Head of AFL Coverage
In just about an hour, Ron James will be introduced as the Head Coach for the brand new Atlantic City franchise of the Arena Football League. James is the AFL journeyman if there ever was one. James becomes a new coach for a franchise for the 3rd time in just four seasons. This will be James 6th time being in charge of an AFL team. James ranks 14th all time in AFL history with 72 wins (counting playoffs) as a Head Coach. James has been named Coach of The Year twice, with his most recent effort with the Tampa Bay Storm earning it for him in 2017. The Storm went 10-4 making the playoffs, won their semifinal game, but came up short facing the Philadelphia Soul, losing 40-44.
James now returns to action with a team and league that in large part, are run by the man he was trying to beat in Arena Bowl XXX, (2017) AFL Chairman Ron Jaworski. It's really no secret the league was looking to add another team in the Soul's neck of the woods, and with the addition of the Albany Empire last season
and the new team in AC that goal has been reached, as the league now hopes to grow a little more out West next season, You can be sure QB Tommy Grady and WR Joe "Superman" Hills will be on Coach James' radar for players to sign. Both played for him, Hills in the 2017 Arena Bowl season and Grady from 2011-13 in Utah.
**Columbus: 11 AM ET Press Conference From Nationwide Arena**
Grady will also be a target for the Columbus (Destroyers, we think) new team, when they introduce Matt Sauk as their Head Coach tomorrow inside Nationwide Arena, Grady was coached by Ron James (Head Coach) and Sauk in 2011 when Sauk won the NFL Network Assistant Coach of the Year award his first season with the team. That season he even stepped in, acting as the head coach in two games. Sauk coached five AFL teams in toal, winning the Arena Bowl with the Spokane Shock, where quarterback Kyle Rowley set an Arena Bowl record 9 touchdowns with zero interceptions. Arizona's Nick Davila tied the TD mark in 2012 at ArenaBowl XXV, but it has yet to be broken.
Sauk attended Orange Coast College out of high school, he had two solid seasons and almost went to TCU to finish his football career, but not all of his grades carried over. He returned to Orange Coast for two weeks of fall classes. Right before the season started, Utah State gave him a call. Long story short he lead the Aggies to a share of the Big West Conference title in 1997 and guided them to the 1997 Humanitarian Bowl to face Cincinnati. During that regular season Sauk lead the Big West in most touchdowns responsible for and total plays while on the field. He also accounted for 2,898 total yards, good enough for 18th best in the nation.
Sauk also played in both the AFL and af2, (AFL minor leagues)
In 2001, he was named af2 Rookie of The Year. In 2005, he was named the af2 Offensive Player of the Year. Sauk was even horered with an induction into the af2 Hall of Fame in 2009.
Side Note: His last boss... Norm Macdonald, kinda.
Boasting a representative team from every state in New England, the NEAL is quickly becoming a reality. According to their website, the New England Arena League has signed four teams: New England Cavalry, Vermont Bucks, Rhode Island Riptide, and Mass Wolverines. Soon to be added is the Beantown Bullies and a team representing Connecticut.
For their inaugural season the league will play all games at the Longplex Family and Sports Center in Tiverton, Rhode Island. This is not unlike the Elite Football League (EIF) which is also a professional developmental league who plays the majority of their games at the Statesboro Indoor Sports facility in Statesboro, Georgia. This one-field dynamic promises to keep costs low for NEAL team owners who will not have all the costs associated with a home facility.
But, will it work? As with any sport, fans enjoy going to their local arena and cheering on their home team. However, short of driving two hundred miles south, Vermont Bucks fans won't under the NEAL format. I guess a more accurate question is What is the leagues end game? According to league management “the vision for the league is a junior hockey league, for junior hockey teams, we just play arena football” Kevin James said. “This comes from my background in junior hockey and outdoor football, so I’m basically blending the two.”
According to a previously released information bulletin, the league is composed of teams who want to project their players, their team, their brand and their logo on a stage for national exposure. In addition, James says he’s focused on “helping, projecting and launching players to the next level.”
The New England Arena league is set to release their schedule in the next few weeks. The season will begin play the the first or second weekend in April, 2019 and wrap things up before June. James hopes to start the season with eight teams playing six regular season games and then the playoffs. James encourages fans and potential players to visit their new website neal.footballshift.com for the upcoming tryout slated for Saturday, March 2 and for more information about the NEAL.
Albany owner Dan Nolan told the Albany Business Review that the Arena Football League could expand to 20-25 teams in the next few years.
Ambitious? Yeah, but it's the kind of quote necessary for the business-focused coverage of AFL front offices in the last 18 months. In that regard, it's a good quote that shows that the AFL is a good bet.
That said, Nolan also said that the team was a loss last season despite the success on the field and with attendance. Not unheard of with start up costs, but it requires a second look when paired in the same article with massive expansion goals.
The AFL's resurgence has been based completely on the financial strength of a very small group of individuals and corporations. They've done a great job at it too with attendance, amount of teams and fan interest all increasing since the Scott Butera days.
But with limited influence, cash flow and liquid assets are a real problem. The richest people in the world could lose it all if they don't have the ability to spend it cause it's already locked in investments.
Without another major player coming on board, the kind of expansion discussed by Nolan would be foolish. If all teams suffer that initial loss like Albany did, the ability to grind it out for the natural progression of the business would be difficult. Cuts would have to be made, and the ever diligent AFL fans would notice.
That said, Nolan got to be in the position he's in for a reason. A saavy businessman, he would know that rapid expansion at this level would be tough, especially when things like increased payroll and travel costs increase so much with every new team.
So what's a realistic goal for expansion?
In terms of gaining teams quickly, bringing back the Cleveland Gladiators would be the easiest. Their arena renovations are taking their own sweet time, but the general consensus is that everyone wants this franchise back. Cleveland's ties with Dan Gilbert could also bring in that new investor to put a team in Detroit at Little Caesars Arena. Close regional ties with similar ownership is the bread and butter of the AFL these days, so this is a natural fit.
The league would be with eight teams in that hypothetical. There's a much harder way to get another six teams, but it would be needed to stay on the timeline with Nolan's comments. That would be to absorb the National Arena League.
Half of the NAL's franchises are either directly from the AFL or named after old AFL teams. The geographic footprint is the best fit for the AFL to expand on travel costs while still having the Midwest to put new teams. It just comes down to how much would the AFL have to offer to grab these teams and put them in their brand. It would be way more difficult than I'm writing about here, but it fills the need for our expansion subject.
There might be a couple of AAL teams that might outgrow the league in the next few years too, but such a large jump would require significant economic research and would be limited to only two or three franchises.
Even with this absorbtion, at least another six teams would be needed. Markets like Louisville, Cincinnati, Grand Rapids, Fort Wayne, Hartford and Providence are all available. Depending on how quickly the AFL gets there, they could bully out smaller and younger teams in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Chicago.
Nashville and Portland, Maine are tied to the NAL and could be available too. Think how wild that would be to see the AFL bring back the Maine Mammoths the way the NAL brought back the Orlando Predators? It would be a fitting resolve in so many ways.
Now if the NAL absorption doesn't happen, that's fine too. The AFL is putting plenty of solid internal infrastructures in place to continue expanding. The difference is the timeline. A 12-team AFL by 2024 is more than reasonable with the growth shown by the league recently. With 12 teams, it is a bit more understanding of celebrating why that success happened and therefore, a more sustainable development.
While logic is a pesky thing in this case, I don't believe Nolan is off base with his comments and goals. I'm glad he is this excited about the potential of the AFL and that is a great way to bring in new fans to the sport. But pairing those lofty goals with reasonable expectations is how you retain fans and is needed in this circumstance.