Power/Preds Best Candidate for First Round Upset

After 20 weeks, the fates of six Arena Football League teams have been sealed. No postseason party invitations were to be had for those clubs. Better luck next year.

Eight teams remain in the race for the ArenaBowl trophy. The bracket looks like this:

NATIONAL CONFERENCE:
(4) Portland Thunder at (1) Arizona Rattlers (Sunday, 6:00 p.m. ET,  ESPN3/WatchESPN)

(3) Spokane Shock at (2) San Jose SaberCats (Saturday, 10:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3/WatchESPN

AMERICAN CONFERENCE:
(4) Philadelphia Soul at (1) Cleveland Gladiators (Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network)

(3) Pittsburgh Power at (2) Orlando Predators (Sunday, 2:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3/WatchESPN)

That (3)/(2) matchup in the American Conference is perhaps the best game of the first round.  Out of all of the games this weekend, this one just might be the best chance for an upset. It’s dripping with so much intrigue.

The visiting Power went 15-3 in the regular season, second in the Eastern Division. They’re led by Tommy Grady, who went 429-for-710 passing (60.4 completion percentage) in the regular season for 4,717 yards and 115 touchdowns to just 17 interceptions.

Shaun Kauleinamoku, the rookie out of Western Oregon, caught 124 of Grady’s passes for 1,359 yards and 19 touchdowns, while Prechae Rodriguez, a former member of the Predators, snagged 85 passes for 1,138 yards and 32 touchdowns, giving him the team lead in the category. Look for both receivers to be targeted often by Grady on Sunday afternoon.

Pittsburgh is led in the running game by Tommy Taggart (167 yards and 10 touchdowns on 67 carries in the regular season.) Even Tommy Grady (17 carries for 31 yards and one touchdown in the regular season) has gotten in on the action. The short-yardage attack will be another key area of interest.

Defensively speaking, the Power are led in sacks by the duo of Jake Killeen and and Curtis Young (14.5 combined sacks.) Al Phillips and Sergio Gilliam lead in tackles (148.5 combined stops) and defensive back Virgil Gray set the Power franchise record in interceptions (11) this season.

For the South Division champion Orlando Predators (11-7 in the regular season), quarterback Bernard Morris has gone 157-for-242 (64.8 completion percentage) this season with 2,191 yards, 47 touchdowns, and just six interceptions.

Bernard has split quarterback duties with Jason Boltus (198-for-339[58.4 completion percentage], 2,711 yards, 54 TD 11 INT this season.) Boltus and Bernard have combined for 404 rushing yards and 20 TD on 92 carries in the regular year.

Greg Carr, the rookie out of Florida State, has been fabulous this season, catching 111 passes for 1,413 yards and 36 touchdowns. Fellow rookie Khalil Paden out of Northern Arizona has hauled in 76 receptions for 1,265 yards and 21 touchdowns.

On defense, the Preds are led by Earl Okine (5.5 sacks), Anthony Shutt and Tracy Belton (133.5 combined tackles) and Tanner Varner (5 INT.) Varner, out of Northern Iowa, also has 61 tackles on the year.

Another intriguing aspect of this game is the head-coaching matchup: Ron James vs. Rob Keefe. These two men were formerly on the Utah Blaze coaching staff, with James serving as the man in charge and Keefe as the team’s defensive coordinator.

Both teams have been playing at the top of their game down the stretch. If they crank their intensity up, we could be in for quite the game on Sunday afternoon.

Too many words about Asdrubal Cabrera

drewzuhoskydaily:

Could Tribe deal away Cabrera prior to Thursday’s 4:00 p.m. ET deadline? Anthony Castrovince talks about the economic impact of such a deal.

Originally posted on CastroTurf:

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
On Twitter:@Castrovince

Asdrubal Cabrera makes $10 million this year.

Somehow, this is a fact that floored me when somebody brought it up the other day. The hypocrisy of the hippocampus is such that a person might quickly recall the precise date of his last dental appointment but not his own social security number. There’s really no telling what the mind will deem important enough to remember, and somehow in the midst of more pressing matters – including, but not limited to, a brilliant Food Network game-show idea that I can’t reveal much about other than to say it involves the boiling of pasta, the racing of the clock and the pressure of instantaneous mental math – the particulars of Asdrubal Cabrera’s backloaded contract escaped me. My apologies.

But I do believe you’ll join me in opining that $10 million is (in the Cleveland market at least)…

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Giants Report: The Short Story of Eli’s New Offense

drewzuhoskydaily:

More MMQB reads by Peter King. This time out, Peter discusses Eli Manning’s new tools on the Giants’ offense.

Originally posted on The MMQB with Peter King:

Eli Manning will be operating a new system behind a rebuilt offensive line (Seth Wenig/AP)
After an NFL-high 27 interceptions last year, Eli Manning could be primed for a bounce back season. (Seth Wenig/AP)

I’m in East Rutherford, N.J., the year-round home of the Giants, at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center. It’s in the mid-80s this afternoon, Cincinnati-humid, and the Giants have an afternoon practice under partly cloudy skies. The practice was scheduled to begin at 1:20 p.m., but, as you may know, this franchise operates on Coughlin time. The first play in a pre-practice walkthrough was snapped at 12:50.

One vivid memory from watching practice

Short passes. The greatest pass of Eli Manning’s life—high school, college, pro—was the bomb down the left sideline to Mario Manningham that led to the winning touchdown in their Super Bowl upset of New England three years ago. That pass travelled 46 yards in the air, and was good for a 38-yard gain. Watching the Giants practice…

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Lions to Pay Tribute to Simon’s Career Friday

At the close of the 2013 CFL season, Geroy Simon, who spent 15 seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, B.C. Lions, and Saskatchewan Roughriders,  was unsure as to whether or not his playing career would continue.

Simon had a decorated 15-year run, highlighted by nine consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards with the Lions and 13 years with at least 700 receiving yards all told.

He’s the third CFL player to have 1,000 career receptions and first to have 16,000 career receiving yards. These achievements were logged in successive games last season during Simon’s one-year stint with Saskatchewan.

Simon achieved this after the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers inked him to a contract to be part of their practice squad in 1997, at which time he had hoped to make it big stateside, but it never materialized. After weighing his options, the former Maryland Terrapin decided to take his talents to Canada.

Back in the spring, amid the labor strife between the CFL and its players’ union, Simon made a headline of his own. On June 4, he called a press conference to announce that he was hanging up his cleats after a decade and a half of pro football.

At the press conference that afternoon, Simon recalled his three Grey Cup championships as the most gratifying part of his career.

“Hands down,” he said “those are the three most important times in my career and my most cherished accomplishments. When I first got here [in the CFL]. winning wasn’t that important to me, it was my individual success.”

However, as time progressed, Simon’s attitude toward success changed to a team dynamic.

“I think the maturity of being here and evolving as a person, as a player with a few great organizations,” he told the media “switched my thinking to where it stopped being about individual success as opposed to winning games and winning Grey Cups.”

Simon’s final career statistics read out like this: NOTE: Statistics reflect both regular and postseason games.

Games played: 259

Receptions: 1,114

Receiving yards: 17,580 (CFL record in the category)

Average yards per reception: 15.7

Longest reception: 103 yards (achieved in 2003 with the B.C. Lions)

Touchdown receptions: 110

To commemorate Geroy Simon’s illustrious CFL career, Kerry Jang, deputy mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia declared on Monday that this Friday, July 25, will be Geroy Simon Day throughout the city.

As part of the celebration, the Lions will pay tribute to Simon in a halftime ceremony at Friday’s home game versus the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (10:00 p.m. Eastern Time, TSN, TSN GO, ESPN3, WatchESPN.) During the ceremony, the Lions will also retire Simon’s #81 jersey.

Simon is a man who had a very successful playing career, and he remains very grateful for all the opportunities he was given and made the most of. All of the tributes he will receive later this week are well deserved.

What Jerry Rice was to the NFL, Geroy Simon was to the CFL. Hats off to him.

 

Former Blaze Coaches Now Achieving Individual Success

Flashback- 2012: In their sixth season in the Arena Football League, the Utah Blaze achieved a 12-6 record during the regular season, good for third place in the National Conference’s West Division, this after a 6-2 record through eight games, their best start ever.

Their success continued with a surprising playoff upset.

In the first round of the 2012 AFL Playoffs, the #4-seed Blaze narrowly defeated the #1-seed San Antonio Talons, 35-34 in a nationally-televised game on NFL Network.

However, in the next week’s National Conference Championship, the Blaze were extinguished by Kevin Guy’s Arizona Rattlers. Though Utah fought hard that August night, the eventual world champions disposed of them, 75-69.

For his efforts throughout the 2012 AFL season, Blaze head coach Ron James was voted the League’s Coach of the Year, and quarterback Tommy Grady  was named AFL Offensive Player of the Year

In 2013, the Blaze couldn’t find the magic that they had a year prior, and fell to last place in the division at 7-11.  After the season, both Utah and the Chicago Blaze folded.

In the 2013-2014 offseason, team owners required two-year commitments of their member clubs. Neither Chicago nor Utah filled out and submitted their respective commitment forms in time.  In the case of Chicago, they had no owners around to make a request.

All three members of the Blaze’s coaching staff are now employed as head coaches in Arena Football. Former Utah offensive coordinator Matthew Sauk was the first to be hired in such capacity, taking the reins of the expansion Portland Thunder last October 9.

Sauk, the 2011 and 2012 Arena Football Assistant Coach of the Year,  began his AFL coaching tenure as the Spokane Shock’s offensive coordinator in the 2010 season, which saw the Shock capture ArenaBowl XXIII 69-57 over the Tampa Bay Storm.

Now, the 5-13  Thunder have secured a playoff spot. By virtue of the LA KISS’ 72-65 defeat to the San Antonio Talons last Saturday night, Portland has clinched the #4-seed in the National Conference bracket, setting up a first round battle against the Arizona Rattlers on August 3.

Rob Keefe was the defensive coordinator for the last year and a half of the Blaze franchise. Utah, who had allowed 64 points a contest prior to Keefe’s arrival, gave up only 51 a game en route to the team’s playoff run in 2012. Just two days before Christmas, Keefe was hired as the head coach of the Orlando Predators.

Under Keefe’s watch in Orlando, the Predators have gone 10-7 this season, and have clinched the South Division and #2-seed in the American Conference bracket, setting up an interesting first round matchup versus the #3-seed Pittsburgh Power at home.

Speaking of the Power, Ron James was hired as head coach  in the bye week between the games against Cleveland and San Jose to begin the season. James has turned the ship around tremendously.

Currently, the Power are on an 11-game winning streak, which has enabled the team to secure its first postseason berth in the process.

The working relationship between James and Tommy Grady has also aided the Power in their success. With one game remaining before the playoffs, Grady has thrown for 4,581 yards and 108 touchdowns this year.

When the individual successes of these three coaches come to mind, so does the quote from LeBron James about his former Miami HEAT teammates Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh: “We are brothers for life.”

Much like the Big Three, the former Blaze coaches forged a brotherhood themselves.

Cornish Still Out for Stamps, Could Return July 24

Back in Week 1, Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish took the now-infamous clothesline hit to the head from Montreal Alouettes linebacker Kyries Hebert in a 29-8 Calgary victory.

As you’ll recall, Hebert was given the maximum allowable fine (50 percent of a game check), but wasn’t suspended for the Als’ July 4 24-9 home opener win over the BC Lions. Cornish has been out of action for the Stamps ever since that illegal blow.

Over the weekend, Cornish told the press that he’d be ready to practice starting yesterday. Yesterday came and went, and there was no sign of Cornish on the practice field. Today’s practice came and went, and Cornish returned to the field.

Cornish’s time on the practice field was limited to just individual workouts today, and slotback Nik Lewis was present for the team workouts.

Stampeders head coach John Hufnagel confirmed to the press that Cornish will be out of this Friday night’s game versus the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (10:00 p.m. Eastern Time, TSN, TSN GO, ESPN2, ESPN3.)

Calgary will also be without linebackers Keon Raymond and Deron Mayo.  Nik Lewis will start in Friday’s game, providing a much-needed boost to the Stamps, who are looking to improve to 3-0 with a victory over the Ti-Cats this week.

Hufnagel’s decision to keep Cornish out of the game is a precautionary measure.

Calgary Sun sports reporter Scott Mitchell said today that Hufnagel hopes to have Cornish back in time for next Thursday’s game versus the Edmonton Eskimos (9:00 p.m. Eastern Time, TSN, TSN GO, ESPN3,) 27 days removed from the clothesline hit.

Still, without Cornish in the backfield, the Stamps have done well in the rushing department. In last Saturday’s 34-15 Calgary win over the 1-2 Toronto Argonauts, running backs Matt Walter and Jock Sanders combined for 61 yards on 15 carries.

Sanders made a huge splash in the first half of the win, returning a missed Swayze Waters field goal 121 yards down to the Argos’ 5-yard line, which led to a Stamps touchdown.  This return won Sanders the CFL Special Teams Player of the Week Award for Week 3.

Calgary assistant head coach Dave Dickenson isn’t too concerned about the absence of Cornish this weekend.

“Our certainty is we’ll have good tailbacks playing [on Friday].” Dickenson told the press yesterday. “I saw him and I thought he looked pretty good, so I’m happy for him. He’s, at least, closer, but no pressure from our organization for Jon to rush [back from injury].”

Dickenson says that the team will monitor Cornish’s progress, “but he did look back to being himself a few days ago, actually.”

Jon Cornish is the most integral piece to this Calgary Stampeders team. Having Cornish at 100 percent next week will help the team immensely.

This is only the Stampeders’ third football game of the year, so if there was a good time for them to be without Cornish, now is it. Having Cornish at full strength in October will be more vital than having Cornish at only 85 percent this Friday.

Don’t fret, Stamps fans. Your team will be fine without Cornish this week.

UPDATE: The Calgary Stampeders have placed running back Jon Cornish on the 6-game injured list (concussion.) He’ll be eligible to return to the starting lineup on Saturday, September 6 versus the Edmonton Eskimos. Here is the story from TSN: 

http://www.tsn.ca/cfl/story/?id=457741

 

Siegel Buys Preds; Team Returns to Amway in ’15

To paraphrase Skylar Grey, “They’re comin’ home, they’re comin’ home, tell the world they’re comin’ home.” Yes, the Orlando Predators, who had to spend this season playing home games inside the University of Central Florida’s CFE Arena, are returning to their former arena, the Amway Center.

It’s all thanks to new ownership. David Siegel, the owner of Westgate Resorts, an Orlando-based timeshare, bought the Predators franchise recently.

His acquisition was made official in a Tuesday afternoon press conference, where it was also announced that Jared Saft, executive of Westgate Resorts, would become the team’s new president. Siegel was unanimously voted as the new owner of the Predators by the AFL’s board of directors.

Siegel plans to team the Predators up with his Westgate Resorts Foundation, a nonprofit which backs local charities in Orlando. He plans to use proceeds from game tickets as a means of fundraising for such charities and will donate free tickets to underprivileged youths.

Orlando previously called Amway home from 2011 to 2013, after which time, declining attendance forced the ballclub to default on its lease with the venue, prompting the move to the CFE Arena.

Siegel’s purchase of the Predators ends a two-month stretch where the franchise was without an owner. Back in May, Predators managing partner David Pearsall  stepped down from the position.

According to a report from Wednesday morning’s Orlando Sun Sentinel, Siegel will be aggressive in his attempt to get crowds to come to the games.

“We’re going to fill up the 18,000 seats in this arena or die trying,” the 79-year-old Siegel told the press on Tuesday afternoon “and I don’t plan on dying any time soon.”

During Siegel’s press junket, he announced that head coach Rob Keefe will remain in such capacity, and he’ll also oversee all personnel changes.  Keefe discussed the workload the franchise has been putting in this year.

“We’ve been burning the midnight oil,” Keefe said to the media. “We’re [working] 20-hour days right now. I think the new ownership understands that and they recognize that we stabilized an environment that was very unstable. Now we can all get together and look forward to the future as a positive.”

The press conference, which was also attended by members of the Orlando Solar Bears, a minor league hockey team which will share Amway Center as its home with the Predators and NBA’s Orlando Magic next season, and Orlando City SC, the newest franchise in Major League Soccer, included remarks from Arena Football commissioner Jerry Kurz on Siegel.

“It was important for us to find somebody who was a visionary, not just in business, which he is, but also doing good for the community,” Kurz said.

“All of our teams need to be doing good for the community, and this one needs to be again. This is an important franchise not just to this city, but to this league.”

David Siegel is a very bright businessman. His initiatives will help the Predators organization, as well as the local economy in the Orlando area, tremendously in the long run.

This also has to ramp up the enthusiasm of the players associated with the team. Think about it: They’re in the lead in the South Division, they’re in the playoffs in all likelihood, and now they’re going back home next year. If I’m a Preds player, coach, or fan, color me excited for 2015.

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