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Storm returns optimistically Friday night to smaller Arena League

 Tampa Bay Storm defensive back James Harrell during team practice at Skyway Park in Tampa on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times

Tampa Bay Storm defensive back James Harrell during team practice at Skyway Park in Tampa on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. OCTAVIO JONES | Times

TAMPA — The Storm has failed to make the playoffs in four of the past five seasons, but that's one thing it won't have to worry about this season.

The Arena Football League is trying something it never has done in its 29-year history — usher all eight teams into the playoffs.

"I've always been an optimistic guy," Tampa Bay vice president Jeff Gooch said. "I look at it as an opportunity to make history. The AFL has always been a league unafraid to embrace things from a different way."

The league has trimmed back from 12 teams in 2015 to eight, the fewest clubs since the AFL's sixth season (1992). And with all eight making the playoffs, the regular season is essentially about jockeying for postseason seeding.

"Nobody wants to play on the road, especially in the playoffs, when they could be playing at home," Storm coach Lawrence Samuels said. "Each (regular season) game will go a long way toward deciding that."

While Samuels agreed the new league setup is unorthodox, he was optimistic the product on the field will be better. Losing four teams, with 24-man rosters each, means 96 rostered players from 2015 are vying for spots elsewhere. "The talent pool is much deeper this year," Samuels said. "You're going to see a better brand of football on the field. We had to make some cuts that we wouldn't have made in years past."

Gooch agreed.

"The talent pool is deeper, and I think that will be reflected in the play," he said. "It's addition by subtraction."

And fans will get their first glimpse at 7 tonight at Amalie Arena when Tampa Bay and Orlando open the season in the AFL's 3,000th game. "It's always a war," defensive back James Harrell (Plant High) said.

Harrell is one of the key returners from 2015 and anchors the Storm's stongest unit. Despite missing four games last season with a broken hand, Harrell finished with seven interceptions and five fumble recoveries on his way to second-team All-Arena honors. He is joined in the secondary by free agent pickup Cameron McGlenn, who has 37 interceptions in five seasons and was also second-team All-Arena in 2014.

The Storm is also deep at wideout, with breakout star Julius Gregory (98 catches, 1,036 yards, 27 TDs in 2015), Phillip Barnett and T.T. Toliver all returning. Toliver, a 13-year veteran, enters 2016 just 75 receptions behind Damian Harrell's all-time mark of 1,164.

"I like our depth at wide receiver," Samuels said. "Julius really took off last year, and T.T. just seems to keep rolling along. He's like another coach out there on the field."

The Storm also returns two offensive linemen — including Countryside's Tyler Moore — up front and added free agent Isaiah Tuiasosopo and Andrew Miller (trade with Arizona). In fact, Tampa Bay returns 12 players from last season and has just three rookies on the roster.

"We have a nice returning core of players, which is something we couldn't really say the past few years," Samuels said. "And with the new faces we added, I think this is a special group."

One new face that likely holds the key to the season is quarterback Adam Kennedy, who was signed in the offseason to replace Jason Boltus, last year's league leader with 5,025 yards. Kennedy threw for 2,863 yards, 43 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 13 starts last year for New Orleans.

"We have always liked Adam, and he's had a very good camp," Samuels said. "Between him and Jonathan (Bane), we feel we're in good shape at the quarterback position heading into the season."

Schedule

Tonight Orlando, 7

April 9 at Cleveland, 7

April 16 at Arizona, 9

May 1Jacksonville, 2

May 9 at Philadelphia, 7

May 13 at Orlando, 7:30

May 23Cleveland, 7:30

May 29Arizona, 2

June 6 at Portland, 10

June 11Jacksonville, 5

June 18Los Angeles, 7:30

June 24 at Orlando, 7:30

July 11 at Los Angeles, 10

July 16Philadelphia, 4

July 23Portland, 5

July 31 at Jacksonville, 5

Tickets: Call (813) 301-6600 or go to ticketmaster.com.

Roster

No.NamePos.Ht/Wt

15 Jonathan Bane QB 6-3/205

11 Phillip Barnett WR 6-3/215

92 Rony Barrow DL 6-2/295

93 Everett Dawkins DL 6-2/300

12 Terrence Ebagua WR 6-6/230

2 Julius GregoryWR 6-4/225

5 James Harrell DB 5-10/195

45 Undra Hendrix FB 5-11/290

4 Rick-J Hill DB 6-1/211

8 Adam Kennedy QB 6-5/230

94 James McClinton DL 6-1/285

18Cameron McGlennDB 6-0/195

74 Andrew Miller OL 6-4/310

73 Tyler Moore OL 6-6/325

79 Ben Ossai OL 6-6/330

19 Craig Peterson K 6-3/220

55 Dominie Pittman DL 6-3/250

21 Cortez Stubbs DB 5-9/180

1 Antoine ToliverWR6-0/185

77 Isaiah Tuiasosopo OL 6-3/315

98David WashingtonDL 6-2/320

90Kendrick WashingtonDL 6-4/275

24 Seth Williams DB 5-11/190

3 Gerald YoungWR5-10/170



Storm returns optimistically Friday night to smaller Arena League 03/31/16 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2016 8:48pm]
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