tampabay.com

Pirates seeking balance

By JOHN C. COTEY
Published August 25, 2006


GULFPORT - The big mystery in Pinellas County this season?

Boca Ciega.

What will the offense look like? What will the defense be? Can Stevie Thomas coach?

All questions that will start being answered with tonight's season opener.

As for a sneak peek, Thomas is coy. He doesn't want to let on how many running backs he'll play, if he'll use a tight end, if he likes his offensive line big or smaller but fast.

"You have to wait and see," he says.

The first-year coach, a former Bogie star who went on to Arena Football fame as a wide receiver with the Tampa Bay Storm, likens his team to, well, himself in 1991. That year, no one knew anything about him. By the end of the year, he was hugging a championship trophy as one of the league's best players.

THROUGH THE AIR: The perception is Bogie will air it out in 2006, since Thomas comes from the pass-happy AFL. Instead, he said he just wants more balance than the run-happy Pirates have shown in recent years.

He inherits a gifted quarterback in Orhian Johnson, who was capable of starting last year. Johnson has mobility and a good arm, reminding some of former player of the year Terrell Skinner.

Wide receiver Allan Sherrard is a top prospect. Not quite as fast as the departed Jamar Newsome, Sherrard has good hands and should be the main threat. The wide receiving corps, though, is deep, giving Johnson plenty of options. Preston Pace and Aaron Kincy, both 6-foot-1 targets, will see lots of action as will a handful of others that Thomas believes are good enough to start at some other schools.

"It's a pretty deep group," Thomas said.

ON THE GROUND: Senior Josh Bellamy has 1,000-yard potential, and will be spelled by banger Cedric Williams and slasher Mundrae Francis. Thomas also mentioned fullbacks John Homzak, Ricky Stephens and Keon Burden, so forget talk of five-wide receiver sets every series.

Center Cody Hampton, a 6-1, 245-pound junior, anchors an offensive line that isn't necessarily huge as it is cohesive and quick. The guards are Trevor Yawn (6-1, 225) and Matthew Best (6-2, 240), while Ross Fairbiarn (6-4, 260) and Nick Null (6-3, 245) hold down the tackle spots.

DEFENSE! DEFENSE!: Ends Julius Forte and Johnny Hartsfield, both 6-4, 245-pound speed rushers, will be counted on to get at the opposing quarterbacks, with Stephens and Burden clogging the middle. At linebacker, George Durant, Homzak and Francis are quick and aggressive. Pace and Kincy will use their big frames to guard the corners at defensive back, with Bellamy, Williams and Eric Clayton sharing safety duties.

JUST FOR KICKS: Bogie has struggled with kickers the past few seasons, but Thomas said he has three good candidates - Blake Fraser, Randall Klafter and sophomore James Wilson, who can also punt.