As a lockdown cornerback at Oklahoma State in the mid 1990s, Storm defensive back Jeroid Johnson usually had his way with opposing offenses. He rarely allowed a receiver to catch a touchdown and "never gave up more than one in a game."
Times have changed.
A nine-year Arena football veteran, Johnson is considered one of the league's elite defensive players. But even for him, keeping a receiver out of the end zone is a heck of a lot harder than it was in 11-man football.
"This," he said, "is a passing league."
And a scoring one. A high-scoring one. Because of this, a defensive player's mentality must change, must be reprogrammed for him to thrive, or even survive in the Arena league.
"If a team scores 21 points on the big field, it's like, 'Dang, we ain't doing something right,' " Johnson said. "If you give up 21 in this league, the defense has had an outstanding game."
He isn't kidding.
"There," Storm defensive line coach Dave Ewart said, "has never been a shutout in this league."
Actually, that's not true.
It has happened — once.
In 1992, Orlando beat San Antonio 50-0.
"To keep a team under 40, that's a great thing," Storm defensive lineman Kelvin Kinney said.
At least at first glance, the Storm, which plays at New Orleans today, has what one would believe might be mediocre defensive statistics. In two games, it has allowed 49 and 48 points, 10 touchdown passes and an average of 307.5 yards passing.
Yet & the team is 2-0.
And get this: It's fifth among 17 teams in points allowed.
In the AFL, "It's about stops," Storm coach Tim Marcum said.
Case in point: March 7, Georgia scored on 5 of 7 chances in the red zone (inside the 10). Tampa Bay was 9-for-9 and won 69-48.
In the AFL, "a short-term memory is a must," Ewart said.
That, however, takes time for many to develop. And for some, it's something "you never get used to," Kinney said.
"You know they're going to score," Johnson said. "That's the history of the game. It's a scoring game. You have to be patient, to understand that things are going to happen. Being a passing league, the most important thing is control. It's like a virus you can't get rid of. But you've got to control it."
That means taking any victory you can.
A fourth-down stop here. A goal-line stand there. Holding the opponent to a field goal.
"Our main point is we don't want to give the other team anything," Ewart said. "We want to be disciplined and do all the things we're supposed to do. Once you learn this game, you figure it out."
But, he added, all those points can be "tough on a guy."
Instead of worrying about how much the other team has scored, Kinney, in his ninth AFL season, tries to keep things simple.
"If one team has 50 and the other has 40, we're either up 10 or down 10," he said. "So the score doesn't matter."
Players who can grasp that and have thick skin survive.
The ones who don't, Kinney said, "don't last long."