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In this type of Arena, the offense never rests

It is one of the charms of Arena Football. There is little platooning or specialization. Athletes play on both sides of the ball. But you'll have a hard time convincing a wide receiver who hasn't played defense since he was a 130-pound freshman in high school that it's a charming experience to learn a pro defense in a two-week crash course.

Coaches can teach them how to backpedal. They can teach them about the three-yard cushion between the defender and the receiver. They can tell them to watch the quarterback's eyes to figure out where he'll throw the ball.

What they don't teach is that there's no place to hide after a receiver has sped by a defensive back on his way to a touchdown.

"It scared me to death the first time I went out there on defense," said Tampa Bay Storm receiver/defensive back Brad Calip. "It's not something you can learn overnight. You're out there in the middle of the field and you've got to get the job done or else you could see a touchdown.

"I still don't have the techniques down very well. Most of the time, you're just going on sheer athletic ability."

Arena Football rules permit only two specialty players on defense (one replaces the quarterback and the other replaces a wide receiver). The Storm, forseeing the need for experience in the secondary, uses both specialty players _ Rawland Crawford and Kevin Guidry _ as cornerbacks.

But that still means a pair of converted wide receivers are forced into pass coverage at safety and linebacker.

"It was an awakening for me back there. I kept setting up a lot deeper than normal because I wanted to make sure nobody was going to run past me," said receiver/linebacker Jeff Mayes. "I've been concentrating a lot more on my defense. I've been doing the offense so long, it comes much easier."

It also looks much easier. It's not hard for coaches to figure out who is the real defensive back and who is moonlighting.

"You can see which guys are not the true defensive players," said Storm assistant coach John Fontes. "You look at the other team's personnel to see who they are trying to hide on defense. And they're doing the same to you."

The Orlando Predators did it pretty successfully last Saturday night in St. Petersburg. The Storm lost the season opener to Orlando 51-38, chiefly because Predators quarterback Reggie Collier found open receivers for seven touchdown passes.

Not all of the touchdowns were the fault of the Storm secondary. Some were caused by a poor pass rush. Some were just great plays on Collier's part. But some, no doubt, were breakdowns in coverage.

Anthony Howard, Tampa Bay's one wide receiver who doesn't play on defense, sympathizes with his teammates who have to learn pass coverage. When Howard tried playing defense during training camp he developed a new appreciation for cornerbacks and safeties.

"It's not an easy job. And it's especially tough in this league because you have to play man-to-man all of the time," said Howard, who is the Arena League's leading receiver with nine catches for 117 yards.

"That's a receiver's dream, to get man-to-man coverage. The receiver should win the majority of the time."

The Storm receivers are not expected to become expert coverage people, Fontes said. Tampa Bay has Crawford and Guidry to take on the opponents' best receivers. Darren Willis, meanwhile, is an experienced defensive back who is learning to play receiver for the Storm.

So receivers like Calip and Mayes are mostly the supporting cast in pass-coverage situations. They're not counted on to win games on defense, but they have to perform well to avoid blowing games on defense.

"Everybody played both ways when they were kids, but when you get to college you become specialized," Fontes said. "This is fun. This takes you back to grade school. You choose up teams and go both ways.

"We try to keep it fun and simple for the guys on defense. We just teach them the basics so they can play both ways and not have any fear."

The game

Who: Tampa Bay Storm (0-1) vs. Columbus Thunderbolts (0-1).

Where: Ohio State Fairgrounds.

When: 7:30 tonight.

Television: SportsChannel-c.

Last game: Tampa Bay lost 51-38 to Orlando. Columbus lost 33-12 to Dallas.

Notes: The Storm will use both Jay Gruden and Chip Ferguson at quarterback. Marc Zeno, a former All-America receiver at Tulane, will make his debut for the Storm after missing last week's game with an injury. Cornerback Rawland Crawford will likely miss tonight's game with an ankle injury. Tampa Bay receiver Anthony Howard leads the Arena League with nine receptions for 117 yards. Columbus is one of the three expansion teams in the league. The Thunderbolts scored only one offensive touchdown in their debut last week.