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Storm expects improvements

And major ones are needed for the four-time league champ that doesn't look fondly on last season's 9-7 finish.

By SCOTT PURKS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2001


TAMPA -- "I'm not just blowing smoke when I say this, but I think the Tampa Bay Storm is ready to return to the glory days," Storm quarterback John Kaleo said. "We're turning this around. We're way, way ahead of where we were at the beginning of last season.

"Way, way ahead of that."

But that wouldn't be hard to do, considering almost nothing went right in the beginning of 2000.

Shoot, in the weeks before last year's opening game:

The league was threatening to cancel the season over a labor dispute.

Storm starting quarterback Peter Tom Willis announced his retirement.

Willis' replacement, all-star Mike Perez, was acquired from New England. He announced his retirement on a cell phone on his way to board a plane to Tampa and never made the trip. The Storm gave up defensive back Corey Dowden, fullback/linebacker Alan Campos and a fifth-round pick in the expansion draft for Perez.

Longtime receiving star Stevie Thomas angrily left the club, saying he was treated poorly.

Then, in the first few weeks of the regular season:

Newly acquired quarterback Thad Busby played poorly.

Injuries rolled through the team like a flu.

The kicking situation was a mess.

After you added it up, the Storm was 0-3 for the first time in franchise history.

"We had to quickly make some adjustments," Storm coach Tim Marcum said. "We had to."

They did.

Marcum acquired league veteran Kaleo from the New England Sea Wolves and a few weeks later the Storm were rolling, winning seven of their nine final games, losing 34-24 to Orlando in the playoffs.

In the off-season, Marcum suffered another loss when his most consistent player, wide receiver/linebacker Lawrence Samuels, left for bigger bucks in New Jersey.

But the coach replaced Samuels with Bernard Edwards, who averaged 861 yards and 15 touchdowns for a struggling Florida team from 1993-98.

Along with Edwards, Tampa returns offensive specialist James Bowden, who led Tampa with 70 catches for 859 yards, and averaged 20 yards on 41 kickoff returns. Bowden and Edwards will be complemented by receiver Sir Mawn Wilson (34 catches for 289 yards).

"I think that's a real good group to throw to," said Kaleo, who played for Albany, St. Louis, San Jose, Anaheim, Cleveland and New England before coming to Tampa, where he went 8-3 and threw for 2,883 yards and 50 touchdowns. "I think we picked up momentum through last year and we're ready to take it to the next level this season. I feel real good about what this offense can accomplish."

So does Marcum, particularly now that he also has signed the league's all-time leading kicker, Mike Black.

The coach has concerns, however, with the defense.

"I don't think we're rushing the passer very well right now and I think we can cover the secondary better than we have been," he said after a preseason in which the Storm beat Buffalo (49-27) and Orlando (55-50). "We need (Jamie) Coleman, or Pierre (Hixon) or (Tommy) Henry to step up in the secondary and make some plays.

"And I know our pass-rush guys -- guys like Robert Goff, Torry Epps, Mel Agee and Darion Conner -- know what to do. But they also need to step it up and get some pressure on the quarterback."

Conner said he not only understands, but he's confident the Storm will get the job done: No way Tampa finishes 9-7 in back-to-back seasons.

"I think we came in at the beginning of last year and thought, "Hey, we're the Storm and although we've had a little frustration, we're still going to win because we're the Storm,' " Conner said. "I think we almost took for granted that we were going to win.

"Well, we're not taking anything for granted this season. Right now, we're feeling like we're not getting any respect and we have something to prove.

"This year, I really feel we're going to make it happen."

Tonight: Storm vs. Florida

WHEN/WHERE: 7:30; Ice Palace, Tampa.

RADIO: WDAE-AM 620.

COACHES: Florida -- Dave Ewart (15-22, fourth season). Tampa Bay -- Tim Marcum (126-37, 13th season).

TICKETS: $12-$35 ($100 for front-row seats); (813) 301-6600.

NOTES: Tampa leads the series 13-1. The Storm's only loss, 31-30, came in last season's second game. Tampa avenged that with a 77-26 victory in Week8. Florida quarterback Rickey Foggie begins his first season with the Bobcats after four seasons in New Jersey. Foggie has 12,045 career passing yards, ranking 12th in AFL history. Storm quarterback John Kaleo has played seven seasons with seven teams. After becoming the starter early last season, he finished with a career-high 50 touchdowns and led the Storm to a regular season club record of four games with 70 or more points. A victory would give Tampa its first season-opening victory since 1998, when it finished 12-2 and hosted Arena Bowl XII. It would also mark the team's 50th regular season home victory, an AFL first. -- Compiled by Scott Purks.

Storm schedule

Ton. Florida Bobcats 7:30

4/21 Nashville Kats 7:30

5/4 at Milwaukee Mustangs 8:30

5/12 Toronto Phantoms 7:30

5/18 at Detroit Fury 7:30

5/27 at G. Rapids Rampage3

6/1 Carolina Cobras 7:30

6/10 at Orlando Predators 3

6/15 Arizona Rattlers 7:30

6/25 at Florida Bobcats 7:30

7/1 Orlando Predators 4

7/7 at Houston T'Bears 7:30

7/13 at Nashville Kats 8:30

7/21 New Jersey Gladiators 7:30

Meet the Storm

(No. Pos. Player Ht.Wt. School)

1 K Mike Black 5-6 145 Boise State

2 WR/DB Kevin Williams 5-10190 Rutgers

3 QB John Kaleo 6-0 205 Maryland

5 DS Tommy Henry 6-0 200 Florida State

6 WR/DB Pierre Hixon 5-10190 Western Michigan

9 WR/LB Bernard Edwards 6-5 205 Ohio State

10 OS James Bowden 6-0 185 North Carolina A&T

12 DS Jamie Coleman 5-9 180 Appalachian State

13 QB Shane Stafford 6-3 220 Connecticut

17 OS Harvey Middleton 6-0 180 Georgia Tech

21 WR/DB Sir Mawn Wilson 6-1 207 Syracuse

22 WR/LB Gregory Spann 6-2 210 Jackson State

23 DS Clinton Hart 6-3 198 Central Florida C.C.

30 FB/LB Andre Bowden 6-2 249 Fayetteville State

43 FB/LB Darion Conner 6-2 260 Jackson State

44 FB/LB Nyle Wiren 6-2 250 Kansas State

50 OL/DL Rod Williams 6-2 302 Florida A&M

52 OL/DL Torry Epps 6-2 285 Memphis State

55 OL/DL Keo Coleman 6-3 285 Mississippi State

60 OL/DL Robert Goff 6-3 285 Auburn

64 OL/DL Anthony DeGrate 6-3 215 Stephen F. Austin

75 OL/DL Mel Agee 6-5 315 Illinois

90 OL/DL Mark Gunn 6-5 288 Merced College

94 OL/DL Ken Bouie 6-1 275 Central Missouri State

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