The 2015 Arena Football League season kicks off at the end of the month, so this is the perfect time to preview the upcoming season. Here’s Part I of our five-part 2015 AFL Season Preview series, centered around the American Conference’s South Division:
Jacksonville Sharks (our pick for division winner)
Key Additions: QB Tommy Grady, WR Tiger Jones, WR Joe Hills, WR Chris Summers, OL Jason Holman, OL Wayne Tribue, DE Joe Sykes, DB Terrance Sanders.
Outlook: I’ve been harping on Jacksonville all off-season, and think they are indeed the most improved squad in the entire league. With All-Arena additions such as Grady, Jones and Hills, as well as offensive line depth with the additions of former Soul linemen Holman and Tribue, the Sharks have the potential to be the league’s top-scoring offensive attack. And on defense and in the return game, Sykes and Sanders easily turn this squad into an ArenaBowl favorite, even with the Cleveland Gladiators and defending champion Arizona Rattlers looking to make a trip back there this season. Don’t sleep on coach Les Moss’ Sharks this season, as he’ll be going for his second AFL Coach of the Year award and his fifth ArenaBowl championship out of the South Division.
Key Additions: QB Randy Hippeard, WR Antonio Robinson, WR Brandon Thompkins, WR Julian Williams, OL Ray Dominguez, OL Justin Anderson, DB Derricus Purdy.
Outlook: As mentioned above, Randy Hippeard will step in and replace the void that Boltus left at the quarterback position this off-season. I’d honestly take the 29-year old Hippeard over Boltus any day, especially after tossing 93 touchdowns and 4,406 yards for the 8-8 Storm squad last season. With the two-QB system of Boltus (340 attempts) and Bernard Morris (242 attempts) no longer needed, and Hippeard taking over as the full-time starter, the Predators have the leadership and solidity at the quarterback position for the first time in a while. They can now begin to build around their franchise QB and he already has a few weapons at his disposal in WR Greg Carr (last year’s Rookie of the Year) and veteran ArenaBowl champion Larry Brackins. Depth at receiver has also been added, with Robinson, Thompkins and Williams, among others.
Tampa Bay Storm
Key Additions: QB Jason Boltus, QB Luke Collis, WR Johnny Thomas, WR Jarvis Williams, OL Cory Brandon, DL Everett Dawkins, DB Al Phillips.
Outlook: With last season’s starting quarterback Randy Hippeard now with division foe Orlando after one season as the Storm’s full-time starter, former Spokane, Utah and Orlando quarterback Jason Boltus will take over the reins in 2015. Tampa/Orlando will certainly be an interesting match-up this season as the two team’s starters basically just switched uniforms this season. Boltus (2,711 yards, 54 TD, 11 INT in ’14) will team up with wideout T.T. Toliver, but TB will be without their top two receivers from a season ago (Amarri Jackson and Joe Hills). It’ll be tough to replace that kind of void, but Johnny Thomas hopes to step in and pick up some of the slack. On defense, coach Lawrence Samuels has some fresh talent to his disposal as he enters his second season at the helm of the Tampa Bay Storm. The losses on offense, however, could be too much to compete with Jacksonville and Orlando in the division this season.
Up Next: National Conference Pacific Division Preview
Photo: Scott Audette/Tampa Bay Storm