Tampa Bay needs a win tonight to have a small chance of a first-round playoff bye.
By JOHN C. COTEY
© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 21, 2001
TAMPA -- It doesn't seem that long ago that John Kaleo was throwing touchdowns to James Bowden, and the Storm pass rush was harrying quarterbacks into mistakes, and the defensive backs were shutting down the opposition, and the Storm was the ArenaBowl favorite.
But it feels longer than just six weeks ago for coach Tim Marcum, who faces the daunting task of re-tooling his team for a playoff run.
Kaleo is hurt and rookie Shane Stafford is starting. Bowden just returned from injury. And the Storm defense?
"Not very good right now," Marcum said.
Though the Storm (9-4) has to win tonight against New Jersey to keep alive a slim hope of getting a first-round bye in the post-season, which begins next weekend, it is also Marcum's last chance to fix his once powerful team before the playoffs.
He will start by benching defensive back Tommy Henry, who is having a woeful time lately. Opponents have produced the AFL Player of the Week three times the past five weeks by throwing at Henry and the rest of the secondary. Though he has set a team record for tackles and pass break-ups, it is clear to Marcum that a change is needed.
"Those stats just mean that the other team is throwing at you," Marcum said.
Last week, Henry gave up a 25-yard touchdown on the first play, failing to stop Corey Fleming on a simple fly route. But the play that may have sealed Henry's fate was a short pass to Jarrick Hilery, who faked out Henry for extra yards and then did it again after Henry recovered and try to stop Hilery near the goal line.
"They ran a short five-yard route on second-and-15 and turned it into a touchdown," Marcum said. "A five-yard route needs to be a five-yard gain."
Henry was also burned by Calvin Schexnayder for the winning catch in overtime three weeks ago, and had trouble with Orlando's Siaha Burley the week before.
Instead of Henry, the Storm will go with recent signee Dwight Henry and Jamie Coleman, who is returning from an injury.
Marcum also cut linemen Mark Gunn, suspended Keo Coleman and signed former Florida State star Eric Thomas to help shore up the shaky pass protection and pass rush.
At wide receiver, Greg Spann could see more playing time. Starter Bernard Edwards dropped a wide-open pass in the end zone last week, but Marcum said the wide receiver/linebacker's knees are giving him problems and "he is just beat up right now."
As for the team's best player, Bowden, he showed no ill effects after missing 21/2 games with an injury. Marcum must figure out how to get him on the field with Gunnard Twyner. While Bowden was injured, Twyner had huge games against Florida and Houston and is the Storm's fastest receiver.
Since both are offensive specialists, and teams can only play one at a time, Bowden or Twyner would have to play a defensive position. Bowden has played some linebacker.
Whether the changes restore the Storm as the ArenaBowl favorite is debatable. But whether they are needed is not.
"Yes, I do (think they are needed)," Marcum said. "It's not because of just one person or one person's fault. But we are not rushing the passer and not covering.
"Hopefully we can turn things around before the playoffs."
WHEN/WHERE: 7:30; Ice Palace.
RADIO: WDAE-AM 620. RECORDS: Storm 9-4, Gladiators 2-11.
COACHES: New Jersey -- Lary Kuharich (35-46, sixth season); Tampa Bay -- Tim Marcum (135-41, 13th season).
SERIES: Tampa Bay leads 4-1.
OUTLOOK: Tampa Bay needs to win and then hope for San Jose or Indiana to lose to sneak into the top four and get a first-round playoff bye. With a win, the Storm would have its fifth 10-win regular season, tying Arizona for No. 1 in league history. Sir Mawn, John Kaleo and Pig Goff are all out with injuries. New Jersey, formerly called the Red Dogs, is last in the league in scoring offense (38.6), total offense and sacks allowed (42). The Storm is first in fewest sacks allowed with eight. Kuharich coached the Storm to the 1993 title, but with a loss will have his third consecutive two-win season. New Jersey quarterback Connell Maynor is a former Storm backup, Gladiator wide receiver Lawrence Samuels played with the Storm from 1994-2000, and defensive back Corey Dowden was the Storm defensive MVP in 1993 and '95.