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2014 Arena Football Season on ESPN3


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Today my Jacksonville Sharks start the season


03/13/2014 7:49 AM

JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Sharks begin their quest for a fifth consecutive South Division Championship this weekend, as the team opens the 2014 regular season on the road against the Orlando Predators on Sunday, March 16. Kickoff from CFE Arena in Orlando is set for 4:00 p.m., as the game will air live on AM 600 WBOB, as well as on ESPN3.com and via the WatchESPN app.

This marks the second consecutive season in which the Sharks will open on the road against a divisional rival, as Jacksonville defeated the Tampa Bay Storm in last year’s first game. Overall, the Sharks have put together a 3-1 mark in season-opening contests in the franchise’s four-year history.

Jacksonville heads into this week’s game with an impressive track record against the Predators. The Sharks have not lost to the Predators since the first round of the 2010 playoffs, a string of seven consecutive victories against Orlando. The Sharks have swept the Predators in each of the last three regular-season series, also taking down Orlando in the opening game of the 2011 postseason.

Though much has changed on both sides heading into this season, the majority of the Sharks’ roster will remember the teams’ 2013 matchups, as Jacksonville opens the season with an impressive total of 15 veterans who return after playing for the Sharks last season. That total includes quarterbacks R.J. Archer and Kyle Rowley, who are in competition for the team’s starting job. With seven years of combined AFL experience between the two signal callers, the Sharks will be in good hands regardless of who head coach Les Moss hands the ball to on Sunday.

The Sharks’ offense features a balanced and talented group at wide receiver. Leading the way at the position is Jeron Harvey, who heads into his fifth season with the Sharks after earning his first career All-Arena nod in 2013 and owns franchise records in every major receiving category. Joining Harvey at wideout is a pair of returning veterans, as both London Crawford and Shamar Graves bring size and skill to the table. Rounding out the position group is Mardy Gilyard, whose status as an AFL rookie belies his true experience. Selected by the St. Louis Rams in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Gilyard played in the NFL for four seasons and brings dynamic playmaking ability to Jacksonville.

Along the offensive line, the Sharks will benefit from continuity as well. Mainstays Brant Clouser and Cornelius Lewis are back in the fold to anchor the team’s pass protection unit, while R.J. Bibbs returns as well after first joining the team late in the 2013 season.

On defense, the Sharks’ potent front four is ready to build on the greatest collective single-season performance in League history, as Jacksonville established a new AFL record with 45 sacks in 2013. Last season, each of the Sharks’ four pass-rushing starters racked up at least 6.5 sacks apiece, and three of those players are back in the fold for 2014. All-Arena performers Aaron Robbins and Jerry Turner and nose guard Rashaad Duncan will anchor a unit full of veterans, as Justin Parrish returns for a fourth season in Jacksonville, while both Reggie Paramoure and Darnell Carter bring previous AFL experience.

While talent is spread throughout the Sharks’ roster, perhaps no position group is as loaded as the team is in the secondary, where Terrance Smith (First Team, 2013), Micheaux Robinson (Second Team, 2010 and First Team, 2011) and Tracy Belton (Second Team, 2012) have all notched All-Arena honors in their careers. These three veterans have been pushed in training camp by a pair of talented rookies in Xavier Brewer and Brodrick Brown, who are both set to contribute right away. The Sharks’ defensive backfield will certainly pose a challenge for opposing offenses.

To open the season, the Sharks will somewhat venture into the unknown as they face an Orlando team that has switched home arenas and almost completely overhauled its roster. The Predators will break in a new starting quarterback, likely veteran Jason Boltus, who did get some starting experience with the Utah Blaze last season. Though the Sharks did face Boltus during the 2013 season, they do not have as much knowledge about the rest of Orlando’s lineup, as the Predators currently have 10 rookies on the team’s active roster.

In looking at the Predators’ lineup, the position that stands out is wide receiver. The group is led by T.T. Toliver, who enters his 11th AFL season and racked up 127 receptions for 1,659 yards and 29 touchdowns a year ago. Along with the speedy Toliver, the Sharks will also have to deal with a pair of 6’6” wideouts in Braylon Bell and Greg Carr, two players with the size to challenge Jacksonville’s talented secondary.

The Sharks will see a few familiar faces on the Orlando defense as well, as defensive backs Tanner Varner and Cortez Stubbs each participated in Jacksonville’s training camp prior to the 2013 season.

After Sunday’s season opener, the Sharks will enter their first bye week of the 2014 season. Jacksonville’s home opener is set for March 29, when the team welcomes the San Antonio Talons to Sea Best Field. Tickets for the home opener and all Sharks home games may be purchased by calling the Sharks Ticket Office at (904) 621-0700.


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game 2 of the season tonight


03/26/2014 7:38 AM

JACKSONVILLE  – The Jacksonville Sharks (0-1) have returned from their first bye week of the 2014 season and will host the San Antonio Talons (0-2) in a Week 3 matchup on Saturday, March 29. Kickoff on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is set for 7:00 p.m.

This is the first of two meetings between these squads in 2014, as the Sharks will make the trip out to San Antonio in Week 17. These two squads matched up once a year ago, as the Talons came away on top of a 34-30 result in the Alamodome in Week 8 of the 2013 season.

In some ways, the bye week served as a chance for the Sharks to reset themselves after a tough season-opening loss in Orlando in Week 1. In that game, Jacksonville fell behind two scores in the early stages of the first quarter and could not quite come all the way back. After fullback Jared McGriff-Culver scored on a short rushing touchdown with eight seconds left, R.J. Archer’s would-be game-tying two-point pass fell incomplete, allowing the Predators to hold on in a 49-47 final.

For the Sharks, one key to getting back in the win column is for both the offense and defense to finish drives on a consistent basis. Though they did not lose a fumble or throw an interception, the Jacksonville offense turned the ball over on downs multiple times in Week 1, resulting in empty possessions. On the other side, while the Shark defense was largely stout on early downs, the team allowed four fourth-down conversions in five attempts. Locking down the Talons’ offense on fourth down could be an easy way for Jacksonville to gain an early advantage.

When the Sharks have the ball, Archer will largely look to a talented trio of wide receivers. Jeron Harvey, London Crawford and Mardy Gilyard combined to pull down 26 of the team’s 27 receptions in Week 1 and accounted for six total touchdowns. Harvey was the team’s top red-zone target, picking up where he left off in his All-Arena 2013 season with a team-leading 11 receptions for 93 yards and three touchdowns. Crawford made his biggest impact as a deep threat, catching two passes of 40 or more yards en route to a six-catch, 128 yard, two-touchdown performance. Finally, in his first career arena football game, Gilyard racked up 172 all-purpose yards and found the end zone with a four-yard rushing touchdown. There is no doubt that the Sharks’ talented trio of receivers will pose a challenge for the Talons’ veteran secondary.

On defense, Jacksonville will need to establish an effective pass rush early and often. The Sharks’ veteran group of front four was disruptive at times throughout the team’s season opener, but Orlando quarterback Jason Boltus managed to escape without being sacked. Led by returning All-Arena performers Aaron Robbins and Jerry Turner, the Sharks’ front four will be on a mission to bring down Talon signal callers Mitch Mustain and Marcus Jackson.

For their part, the Talons head into this week’s game desperate for a win of their own. San Antonio opened the year with consecutive home losses to the Los Angeles KISS and Tampa Bay Storm. Each contest was a low-scoring affair, a style of game that has become commonplace for the Talons since the start of the 2013 season. If San Antonio is able to keep the game in the 40s, each Jacksonville possession becomes that much more critical.

On defense, the Sharks will need to key on playmaking receiver D.J. Stephens, who through two games has been San Antonio’s most potent offensive weapon. Stephens has accounted for all but one of the Talons’ six touchdown receptions, and his 225 receiving yards comprise exactly half of the team’s total. Shutting down Stephens will go a long way toward getting Jacksonville the result it desires on Saturday.

Perhaps San Antonio’s greatest strength lies in its defense, particularly in the secondary. Jack linebacker Jamar Ransom victimized the Sharks for two interceptions in the teams’ meeting last season, and San Antonio has pulled down a total of six interceptions over the course of their first two games. Archer and the Jacksonville offense must be cognizant of the Talons’ playmaking ability in this area of the game.

Tickets for Saturday’s game are still available, and may be purchased by calling the Sharks Ticket Office at 904-621-0700.

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