TAMPA — In the pass-happy AFL, the defensive line's job can be pretty straightforward and tedious.
See ball snapped. Make move upfield. Hit or sack the quarterback.
This week presents a different and unusual set of problems for the Tampa Bay defense. The Storm (5-3) travels to Alabama (5-4) at 8 tonight and will likely run up against a side of the AFL rarely seen — the running game.
"They certainly like to run it some," coach Tim Marcum said. "Especially around the middle of the field."
While it's not uncommon for teams to run the ball near the goal line, it is unusual anywhere between the 5-yard lines. Alabama leads the league in rushes (95), yards (306) and touchdowns (28). To put it in perspective, Iowa is second in the league with 74 rushing attempts.
"We've worked more this week on reading and reacting to (the run)," Marcum said. "They like to do tosses to the middle out of certain situations and we're going to have to be ready for that, especially to the strong side because there won't be much going to the weak side."
Dan Alexander has carried the bulk of the load for the Vipers, pacing the team with 53 rushes for 160 yards and 21 touchdowns.
"Not too many teams will run it in the middle of the field like they do," Marcum said. "They like to go with a heavy package and give Alexander the ball."
Though the defense will need to be cognizant of the run, lineman Kelvin Kinney said that won't stop the line from "pinning their ears back and getting after the quarterback."
"We still want to get upfield," Kinney said. "We just have to react more and have to be ready to get some more pursuit down the line."
Kinney said he welcomes the challenge. Too often linemen wind up empty-handed due to short three-step drops.
"We want to try to hit somebody on every play," he said. "That's what we love to do so if they're running at us, we're going to be able to get some hats on people."
Though Alabama's attack is unusual, it's not the first time Marcum — a 21-year coaching veteran — has seen this act.
"Back in the old days, you'd have ex-NFL guys who would come in here and try to establish the run," Marcum said. "But usually those teams would get (crushed)."