TAMPA — What began as a promising start for first-year coach Lawrence Samuels has taken a nose dive. The Storm (3-6) is in the midst of a five-game losing streak and hosts the team that started the skid, the Jacksonville Sharks, tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. At the halfway point of the season, it's time to hand out a midseason report card for the five-time champion.
Quarterback: The game's most important position has been a bit of a conundrum this season. Randy Hippeard has had his moments (second in Arena League at 280.9 yards per game) and his misses (fourth in the league with 12 interceptions). Hippeard isn't flashy and doesn't have the quickest release, but he's capable. Considering how bad the team looked on offense last week in his absence, Hippeard will be a welcomed sight under center. Grade: C+
Offensive line: The team retooled its line in hopes of fixing one of the league's worst units from a season ago. That has not come to fruition. Tampa Bay has surrendered the second-most (21) sacks in the league and must do a better job protecting the quarterback. Grade: D
Receivers: Traditionally a strength, the group as a whole has been mediocre. All-Arena receiver Joe Hills was slowed early in the season with a knee injury but appears to be rounding into form of late. However, there have been far too many drops and not enough separation from the rest of the group. Grade: C
Defensive line/Linebackers: Richard Clebert, although the starts don't reflect it, has been a disruptive force along the front three and Jean Fanor (third in league with 55½ tackles) has been extremely dependable at linebacker. But the club (fourth worst in the league with 10 sacks) has mostly struggled pressuring the quarterback, exposing the secondary too often. Grade: C-
Secondary: The defensive backs are tied for sixth with 14 picks, taking three back for scores. However, losing Chris Smith, who had six of those interceptions, to the CFL before the Philadelphia game last week was a huge blow. Rod Issac has been a bright spot, returning INTs in past two games. Grade: B-
Special teams: Michael Lindsey broke the club's career return yardage mark in April against Spokane and leads the AFL with 949 return yards. He's only ninth at 17.9 yards per game but is adept at handling the ball off the net. Kicker Juan Bongarra has been solid on extra points (8-of-10) and is getting good length on kickoffs. Grade: B