tampabay.com

Storm tries to tackle the secondary issue

By FRANK PASTOR
Published March 23, 2005


Concerned about its secondary after missed tackles contributed to a 69-63 loss Sunday at Philadelphia, the Tampa Bay Storm had discussions Tuesday with former Orlando defensive specialist Damon Mason.

In what Jay Gruden called "the most difficult decision I've ever had to make as a coach," the Predators waived Mason, a three-time All-Arena second-team selection, to clear salary-cap room to sign former Storm defensive specialist Johnnie Harris.

Storm coach Tim Marcum said Mason called him later in the day to discuss the possibility of playing for Tampa Bay.

"We're mulling it around right now," Marcum said. "I don't know exactly what move we're going to make yet." Marcum, who Tuesday was suspended by the league, apparently now will be out of the loop until April 4.

In addition to Tampa Bay, Mason said, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Grand Rapids and Austin called to express their interest.

"I thought naturally Tampa is a place I would love to play," Mason said. "Coach Marcum, I respect him as a coach and respect him in general. No matter how bad Tampa has started off or ended up, he's always had his guys ready to play."

Mason said Grand Rapids made an offer and had an airline ticket ready for him for a 7:30 flight Tuesday night. Austin was prepared to make an offer that would have him in uniform for Friday's game against Orlando.

Even if Mason signs elsewhere, there's a possibility he could play for the Storm next year.

"Whatever I end up, I'll probably sign a one-year deal so I can have the option to come to a place like Tampa or whatever suited me best for next season," Mason said.

Orlando traded fullback/linebacker Rupert Grant to Nashville to make room for Harris, who had spent the past five seasons with the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants.

The Predators (5-3) made the move after a 49-47 loss Saturday at Georgia kept them a game behind New Orleans and Georgia (both 6-2) and half-game ahead of the Storm (4-3) in the Southern Division.

"The opportunity to get a player of Johnnie's caliber, we couldn't pass up," Gruden said. "Tampa Bay was very interested in him and San Jose was very interested in him, and there's a reason for that. He's a great player."

Harris, the league's 1998 defensive player of the year, signed for $5,500 a game (the equivalent of $88,000 a year), Marcum said. He will join three-time defensive player of the year Kenny McEntyre in Orlando's secondary.

"We're looking to make a run here," Gruden said, "and I think with Johnnie and Kenny there, it's going to be difficult for teams to score."

Signing Mason is one of the options the Storm is considering to make it more difficult to score against its secondary, which yielded 320 passing yards and eight touchdowns to Philadelphia.

"He brings a little attitude, he brings toughness, he's quick but he's physical; he'll come in and he'll pop you," Marcum said. "That's what I've always liked about him. He's got a good nose for the ball. He's not as quick as he used to be, but he'll help somebody."

Mason, who had 491/2 tackles, two interceptions and five pass breakups in eight games with Orlando, could cover the high motion, with Jonathan Ordway sliding over to Tramain Jones' spot on the side.

Other options include moving two-way player T.T. Toliver to the middle; activating players such as Lynaris Elpheage, Kenny Christian and Ernest Ross, who are on injured reserve or the practice squad; or sticking with the current alignment of Ordway, Jones and Toliver.

"We're going to have some competition in that secondary," Marcum said.

STORM FLURRIES: Center Louis Williams was traded to New Orleans to free roster space for center Rod Williams, who was activated from injured reserve. ... With 523 receptions, Lawrence Samuels passed Stevie Thomas to become the Storm's all-time leader. ... Lineman Kelvin Kinney will be fined $100 by the league for his ejection from the Philadelphia game. Kinney inadvertently hit an official who had put his hands on him as the official tried to separate Kinney from a Philadelphia player.