Dark Clouds Gathering for Storm

Sam Sez

Sam Wolfson
Contributing Editor

May 02, 1999

TAMPA, Fla. - If the saying "Defense wins championships" is true, the Tampa Bay Storm is in a lot of trouble. Since the Storm's goal every season is to win the Arenabowl, then it is the defense that should be leading the way. Much of the Storm's past success has been due to a standout defense in a league dominated by offense. This year, the defense has been for the most part absent.

Most people would be quick to pin the demise of Tampa Bay's defense squarely on the shoulders of the secondary. Last year's Defensive Player of the Year, Johnnie Harris, is in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders. Also trying to make it in the NFL is Corey Dowden, whose horrific B.O. had to be a deterrent to any opposing receiver. The only member of the Storm secondary with any real experience is Tracy Perkins, who has never excelled in tight man coverage.

In the AFL, however, with the exception of the occasional player like Johnnie Harris, nobody can tightly cover the speedy receivers of the league for much longer than a few seconds. Any QB in this league will be able to find an open receiver if he has enough time. So, it is up to the defensive line and the mac linebacker to generate a pass rush strong enough to disrupt the quarterback's timing.

This is where things start to look bleak for the Storm. Against the Albany Firebirds, QB Mike Pawlawski couldn't tell you whether or not the Storm even had a defensive line, the pass rush was so non-existant. On Thursday against the Mustangs, the pass rush did show up to record 4 sacks and to force Milwaukee QB Todd Hammel to throw an INT returned by Stevie Thomas for a TD. The only problem was that at other times, Hammel had as much time as anybody could want to sit in the pocket and find receivers. When the line wasn't able to apply pressure, Hammel was able to dissect the Storm's secondary, moving the Mustangs with ease.

The most disturbing thing about the lack of pressure from the Storm is that the defensive line and linebackers are mostly arena veterans. Willie Wyatt, Sylvester Bembery, Terry Beauford, Pig Goff, Mel Agee, and Steve Houghton all played on the Storm's top-ranked defense last year. Mac linebackers Andre Bowden and Les Barley have been as good as anybody in this league. After the loss to Albany, Storm head coach Tim Marcum was most distressed that it was "the guys who have been here and played forever. Those are the guys making the mistakes."

It's possible that the Storm has just hit the proverbial wall. Look at the roster. You'd be hard pressed to find many spring chickens there on either side of the ball. There is certainly something to be said for veteran experience and leadership. But, maybe it would help to infuse some of the speed and energy that comes with youth. These veterans can't play forever, so the youth movement needs to get started sooner or later. Better sooner than too late.

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