Storm opens Arena Football season Friday vs. New Orleans

TAMPA —A season that ends with a playoff appearance rarely is considered disappointing. But looking back on the 2013 Tampa Bay Storm, it would be hard to categorize it any other way.

"The way things ended left a very sour taste in our mouth," defensive back Jean Fanor said.

That's because after starting the Arena Football League season 7-4, the team dropped eight in a row, including a 69-62 loss to Jacksonville in the first round of the playoffs. The Storm led 34-13 in the third quarter against the Sharks, who scored two touchdowns in the final eight seconds to cap the comeback.

Two days later, third-year coach Dave Ewart was fired, signaling the beginning of a number of changes to come.

As the season kicks off at 7:30 tonight against New Orleans at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, here's a look at what else is new with the five-time AFL champs:

New man in charge: Former Storm great Lawrence Samuels, who will be inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame in April, takes over as head coach after two seasons as an assistant.

"I think we're a lot further along than where we were last year at this time," Samuels, 43, said. "We've made a lot of upgrades at all positions."

Locals dot roster: The most familiar addition for area fans is Stephen Garcia. The former Jefferson and South Carolina quarterback played for Montreal of the Canadian Football League in 2012 before sitting out the 2013 season.

"It's awesome (to be back home)," Garcia, 26, said. "It's a dream come true, and I'm really appreciative the Storm gave me this opportunity to continue my football aspirations."

Samuels has not tipped his hand regarding whether Garcia or incumbent Randy Hippeard will start. Hippeard played the first half of a preseason game against Jacksonville and Garcia played the second half. Hippeard is listed as the starter on the depth chart that appears on the team website.

Another name that will grab fans' attention is receiver Amarri Jackson. The former USF standout had 202 receptions for 2,631 yards and 55 touchdowns while with the Storm from 2011-12. He joins a receiving corps that features first-team All-Arena Joe Hills, who set franchise records for receptions (133), receiving yards (1,861), receiving touchdowns (42) and points (262) last season.

Bulking up: The team bolstered its offensive line, bringing in Raymond McNeil, considered one of the top linemen in the league. It also added Mario Henderson (6 feet 7, 330 pounds) and Carl Johnson (6-5, 255) up front.

"That was one of our biggest concerns coming into the year, and I think we've done a good job addressing it," Samuels said.

Addressing a need: Richard Clebert, who played at USF and with the Storm in 2011, returns along the defensive line. Newcomers Uriah Grant (Mississippi, 6-1, 295) and Jammie Kirlew (Indiana, 6-2, 250) will be counted on along with Clebert to help a pass rush that ranked second worst in the league in sacks last season.

Schedule

When Opponent

Tonightvs. New Orleans, 7:30

March 21 at San Antonio, 8:30

March 29 vs. Orlando, 7

April 4 vs. Philadelphia, 7:30

April 11 at Jacksonville, 7:30

April 19 at Orlando, 8

April 26 vs. Spokane, 7:30

May 3 vs. Portland, 7:30

May 17 at Philadelphia, 6

May 24 vs. Jacksonville, 7:30

May 30 at New Orleans, 8:30

June 7 at Philadelphia, 5

June 14 at Iowa, 8:05

June 21 vs. Orlando, 7:30

June 27 at Cleveland, 7

July 11 at San Jose, 10:30

July 21 at Spokane, 8:30

July 26 vs. Cleveland, 7:30

Tickets: Call (813) 301-6600 or order via ticketmaster.com

Roster

No. Name Pos Ht/Wt College

56 Rodney Beamon DL 6-2/285 Tenn. Chattanooga

93 Richard Clebert DL 6-0/300 USF

14 De'Audra Dix DB 5-10/180 John C. Smith (N.C.)

21 Jean Fanor DB 6-1/205 Bethune-Cookman

12 Stephen Garcia QB 6-3/230 South Carolina

92 Uriah Grant DL 6-1/295 Mississippi

53 Matt Hardison DL 6-4/300 Delaware

15 Andrew Helmick WR 6-0/192 Lindenwood

75 Mario Henderson OL 6-7/330 FSU

81 Justin Hilton WR 6-1/195 Indiana State

17 Randy Hippeard QB 6-3/205 UVA-Wise

68 Byron Isom OL 6-3/300 Auburn

29 Rod Issac DB 5-11/195 Middle Tennessee

11 Amarri Jackson WR 6-5/215 USF

55 Dexter Jackson DL 6-2/270 Bethune-Cookman

77 Carl Johnson OL 6-5/255 Florida

98 Jammie Kirlew DL 6-2/260 Indiana

10 Michael Lindsey WR/KR 6-1/200 NW Mississippi

3 Carlos Lopez K 5-10/200 Middle Tennessee

52 Alfred McCullough OL 6-2/330 Alabama

50 Raymond McNeil OL 6-2/315 Fort Valley State

4 Chris Smith DB 5-10/186 Northern Illinois

23 Donald Smith DB 5-9/175 Northern Illinois

84 Samuel Tranks WR 6-0/185 Seton Hill

Storm opens Arena Football season Friday vs. New Orleans 03/13/14 [Last modified: Thursday, March 13, 2014 11:04pm]

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