It's been two weeks since the Storm last took the field, but Tampa Bay will have a decidedly different look tonight at Philadelphia.
Two of Tampa Bay's most productive players — quarterback Randy Hippeard and defensive back Chris Smith — will not be in uniform when the Storm meets Philadelphia at 6 at the Wells Fargo Center. Hippeard was placed on injured reserve and Smith signed with the Canadian Football League.
The Storm signed linebacker Darian Payne, quarterback Brendan Crawford and defensive lineman Rashad Dukes this week in an attempt to right a quickly sinking ship. The Storm has lost four in a row and is coming off its first bye week.
"We were a tired football team and I think that showed in the first half against Portland (May 3)," coach Lawrence Samuels said. "We needed a break. The bye came at just the right time."
Hippeard hurt his knee in the second half against Portland and was placed on injured reserve. He is expected to miss at least two weeks. Hippeard ranks third in the league in passing yards (2,223) and touchdowns (48). BJ Hall came on for Hippeard against Portland and went 4-of-13 for 46 yards with two fumbles and one interception.
Smith, who was arguably the Storm's biggest playmaker, signed with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. Smith, who was third in the AFL with six interceptions, had a 42-yard fumble return for a touchdown as well as a score on a botched onside kick.
"Yes, losing Chris impacts us greatly," Samuels said. "But I am happy for anybody on our team that gets to move up a level. I would be the first one to tell him to make the move and go. Now someone else is going to get the same opportunity here that Chris got."
Tampa Bay also placed defensive lineman Matt Hardison on injured reserve and waived defensive back Donald Smith and lineman Terence Crosby.
Last Time Out: The last time these two teams squared off, things were looking much better for Tampa Bay. The Storm defeated Philadelphia 63-49 on April 4 and was 3-1 in the South Division.
But that seems like eons ago.
Since then, the Storm has dropped to 3-5, two games off the wild card pace. Philly has been red-hot. The Soul has gone 4-1 since losing to the Storm and is starting to look like the two-time defending American Conference champions.
"I knew it was a matter of time before (Philadelphia) got back on track," Samuels said. "They are loaded with veterans on offense and defense."