The Tampa resident and Tampa Bay receiver has performed best when and where his Arena team has needed him.
By FRANK PASTOR
Published March 27, 2004
TAMPA - He doesn't have Freddie Solomon's speed or David Saunders' size. He isn't as popular as ArenaBowl MVP Lawrence Samuels.
But there's one thing Clif Dell does as well as any Storm receiver.
He makes plays.
"The biggest thing with Clif, flat out, he gets open," quarterback Shane Stafford said. "As a quarterback, you know where he's going to be. He makes it easy to anticipate where he's going to be and where you can make throws to him."
Dell had more throws headed his way during Sunday's 54-43 loss at Carolina, when he replaced the injured Solomon at offensive specialist. The Tampa native and South Florida graduate made the most of the opportunity, catching five for 115 yards, his most in two seasons with the Storm. His three touchdowns tied a career high.
"I thought it went pretty good," said Dell, 28. "I got a couple of touchdowns. I felt pretty comfortable out there playing the middle."
Dell usually backs up T.T. Toliver at receiver/defensive back. He plays in the second offensive rotation and is replaced by Shea Showers when Tampa Bay goes on defense. But Dell practiced at offensive specialist last week, so he was ready when Solomon pronounced himself unfit to play two days before the game.
Unlike the two-way spot, where he started at the snap of the ball and ran mainly underneath routes, the offensive specialist starts each play in motion toward the line of scrimmage and is the primary deep threat.
"It's more fun because you get a lot more balls thrown to you than you would at other positions," Dell said. "But on the other hand, you don't play defense, so you're not hitting people."
Solomon is expected to return tonight at Georgia, but that doesn't mean Dell's role will be any less significant. He'll move to the backup receiver/linebacker spot to spell the injured Saunders.
"I don't feel we're losing too much," Stafford said. "The only thing we're losing with Dave not being there is he's got size (6 feet 2, 210 pounds to Dell's 5-10, 175). But that's probably the only thing that's any different."
Through seven games, Dell has 15 receptions for 243 yards and five touchdowns. His 16.2-yard average leads the team. In addition, he averaged 12.3 yards on three kick returns.
His versatility was one of the reasons Storm coach and general manager Tim Marcum made it a priority to re-sign him as a free agent in the offseason.
"He's like a utility infielder," Marcum said, "a guy you can put in all the spots and know you're going to get a good solid performance."
After setting USF records for yards per reception in a season (23.3) and a career (18.6), Dell had a couple of tryouts with the Jacksonville Jaguars. They didn't lead to a NFL roster spot, but Dell found a home in the Arena league after Orlando coach Jay Gruden saw one of his highlight tapes.
Dell, whose given name is Ralph ("Clif" is short for Clifton, his middle name), quickly developed a reputation as a Storm killer, scoring twice in a quarterfinal playoff victory over Tampa Bay in 2000 and earning Ironman honors in two games against the Storm in 2001.
He returned to his hometown when Tampa Bay signed him as a free agent before last season. He was the team's third-leading receiver with 38 catches for 531 yards and nine touchdowns, including six for 80 yards and a score in a 54-51 loss to the Predators in his first visit to Orlando as an opposing player.
"It was different being in the visitors locker room and not running out of their tunnel and all that," said Dell, who lives and works in Tampa. "But I was very excited to make the move back here."
So excited, he re-signed with the ArenaBowl champion Storm after his contract expired.
"He's a quality receiver," Stafford said. "I'm glad we have him on our team, because he could be making trouble for us if he was on the other teams."