TAMPA - It could be construed as a slap in the face to his former players or a vote of confidence in his current ones.
Whatever his intent, Storm coach Tim Marcum means it when he says he thinks his 6-7 squad is comparable to the one that won last season's ArenaBowl.
"I think our football team is as good as the one we had last year," Marcum said. "When we go in and we play, I like our secondary just as well. I like our receivers just the same, only they're a year older.
"We had inconsistency at quarterbacking last year in the games that we lost. But the other games, as we kept forward, we kept it short and did all of the things that we needed to do. I think we're a play or two away from being where we would have been last year."
The Storm was 10-3 after 13 games last season, but Marcum has a point. Tampa Bay's seven losses came by an average of nine points and many were decided by a play or two in the final minute. A year ago, the Storm outscored opponents by an average of 10 points.
"Arena football, the longer you're in it, you'll understand there isn't that much difference between winning and losing," Marcum said. "It isn't like you're ever going to be totally dominated. You make a play here or there. That's what makes this thing a unique sport."
TOEING THE LINE: The Storm did not allow a sack and had one busted protection in Sunday's 63-58 win at Orlando. But in a continuing effort to improve, Tampa Bay will work out offensive/defensive linemen D.J. Cooper and Mike Lawson. Cooper, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound pass rusher, was New Orleans' top pick in the expansion draft but was slowed in camp by a high ankle sprain. He previously played at San Jose and Dallas.
Lawson, a 6-3, 280-pound nose guard with good quickness and high energy, played for Storm assistant Dave Ewart with the Florida Bobcats and knocked former Storm quarterback John Kaleo out of last season's ArenaBowl when he played with Arizona.
NO EASY TASK: Though it greatly improved its prospects with victories the past three weeks, the Storm still has a long way to go to make the playoffs. Trailing eighth-place New York by 11/2 games, Tampa Bay likely needs to win its final three to extend its 13-season postseason streak.
The Storm's remaining opponents (Los Angeles, New Orleans and Dallas) have a combined winning percentage of .611, the third-toughest stretch in the league. Only Arizona (.667) and Orlando (.625) face a more difficult road.
The most likely scenarios to get Tampa Bay into the playoffs, according to team spokesman Steve Evans: The Storm wins out, Austin loses twice and Orlando and Indiana each lose once. Or the Storm wins out, Los Angeles loses twice and Orlando and Indiana each lose once.
OUT OF OPTIONS: If you're wondering why Orlando, down six with less than a minute left, elected to throw deep on fourth and 2 from its 10, it's because the Storm used its "smack coverage" to take away former Bucs quarterback Joe Hamilton's short options.
"You make them throw deep," Marcum said. "When you're pressing the down guys and you're grabbing that other guy at the line of scrimmage and running with him, they don't have a choice. They've got to try to buck that coverage, so they didn't have any other options. You can't throw short when people are covered."
NO CHANGE: The Storm will play Los Angeles at 3 p.m. Sunday at the St. Pete Times Forum, avoiding a move to Saturday to accommodate the NHL's Eastern Conference final. The University of Tampa's graduation ceremony was moved to the Tampa Convention Center, allowing the Lightning to play Saturday.
WAITING HIS TURN: Though he hasn't seen much playing time, former Florida State safety and Bucs draft pick Shevin Smith is making a name for himself. In his first game since being activated from the practice squad, he broke up a pass while filling in for T.T. Toliver. "We'll have to play him a little more," Marcum said. "He looked pretty good in practice."
ON THE AIR: Marcum will be the studio guest for NBC's coverage of the Arena League during the Storm's bye week on May 16.