TAMPA — There couldn't be a better time to welcome in an expansion team. Or so it would seem.
Tampa Bay, losers of three straight, welcome in first-year Portland at 7:30 tonight at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. But even though the Thunder is just 1-5, tonight's game is far from a layup.
"They are a good football team with some good players," Storm coach Lawrence Samuels said. "And they are definitely better than their record says."
Portland lost five games to open the season and was miserable offensively during that stretch, failing to eclipse 36 points in any game. But the Thunder signed veteran QB Kyle Rowley two weeks ago and picked up its first win of the season last week, upsetting Jacksonville 69-62. The loss put Jacksonville (2-4) behind the Storm in the South Division race.
"They're a lot like us," Samuels said. "They are a young team that's trying to get better each week."
Bongarra Returns: Juan Bongarra signed this week, bringing the kicker back for his third stint with the team. Bongarra holds the club's all-time record for extra points attempted (241), extra points made (207) and ranks third all time in points scored kicking (225). In 2012, he broke the team's single-season record for extra points made with 116.
"We always preach it takes all three aspects of the game to win in this league," Samuels said. "And we had to do something to help our kick coverage team out."
Tampa Bay cut ties with Geoff Bower, who was 24-of-27 on extra points this season but had trouble reaching the nets on kickoffs.
Transactions: The club tweaked its secondary this week, signing defensive backs James Harrell and Terrence Mitchell. This is Harrell's second go-around with the team this season. The Plant High product played in two games this season after getting in five last season. In his two stints with the team, he has 39½ tackles and one interception, which he returned for a touchdown.
Mitchell, who played at Hillsborough High and USF, has experience on both sides of the ball. He started in 11 games for USF from 2010-12 with 38 receptions for 474 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed four times for 43 yards and a score. On special teams, Mitchell had 42 punt returns for 379 yards and 10 tackles on defense.
To make room on the roster, the club placed Donald Smith on inactive reserve and WR Samuel Tranks on injured reserve.
"Terrence has adapted very well (to the indoor game)," Samuels said. "He's looked very good in practice this week and can help out on both sides of the ball."
Streaks: QB Randy Hippeard was intercepted in his fourth straight game last week against Spokane. Joe Hills has caught a touchdown in 24 consecutive games played. Hills, who set franchise records for receptions (133), receiving yards (1,861), receiving touchdowns (42) and points scored (262) last season, has been slow to get back into the groove since returning April 11 against Jacksonville following offseason knee surgery. Hills has yet to catch more than five passes or top 85 yards receiving in any of his three 2014 games.