2015 Season Preview: Jacksonville Sharks
2014 in review
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is already full of red banners hanging from the rafters with division titles and an ArenaBowl championship. The year 2014 though, was the first in the history of the Jacksonville Sharks where there was nothing to celebrate. There was no division title. There was no playoff bid. Heck, there wasn't even a winning record.
Then again, it might have been a bit of a miracle that Les Moss was even able to make this a 7-11 team with all of the issues that went on.
A preseason trade cost the Sharks Matt Marcorelle and Bernard Morris (and ultimately, Tracy Belton) for the rights to Aaron Garcia ended in disaster. Garcia didn't report at the outset of the year, and he ultimately only showed up long enough to throw 42 passes before leaving Jacksonville for the second time, leaving the team in a lurch.
Mardy Gilyard, who looked like he was going to be the real deal at the start of the season, left for Canada early in the year, and Jomo Wilson, Jeron Harvey, London Crawford and Jeff Hughley were seemingly in and out of the fold all year long thanks to injuries or refusals to report.
Jacksonville's defense was still quite good, holding teams down to just 47.9 points per game, but the offense was just never in sync enough to keep up with the top teams in the league.
Jeff Bouchy made it clear in the offseason that he wasn't going to tolerate losing once again. His response? Seven new players have been brought in with All-Arena experience, the most important of which is Tommy Grady from the now-defunct Pittsburgh Power.
Grady has a history of putting up gaudy stats, but he has never gotten anywhere close to the ArenaBowl in his career. 22,000+ yards and 500+ touchdown passes is a marked improvement on what the Sharks had with RJ Archer last season, but whether or not Grady can win an ArenaBowl is a different story.
He's certainly going to have the weapons at wide receiver to do the damage. The argument could be made that, at least on paper, this is the best receiving corps in the history of the AFL. Tiger Jones already has over 10,000 receiving yards in his six years in the league, Joe Hills, who has over 3,000 yards and 80 touchdowns over the course of the last two seasons, and Chase Deadder, who is 6'5". can really be a huge threat near the red zone. Add in the returning Wilson, Harvey and Crawford, and the only question is whether there will be enough footballs to go around in 2015.
On top of that, Terrance Sanders is one of the most electrifying return men in the game and a tremendous defensive back, Joe Sykes is one of the most feared defensive linemen in the league, and Wayne Tribue is a rock at offensive guard. Caesar Rayford didn't play in the league last season, but he has 28.5 sacks in four years as well and has been an All-Arena player in the past.
Archer is on other league exempt at this point, but clearly with Grady coming in, that's no big loss. Aaron Robbins is about the only notable loss on the other side of the ball, as he had five sacks last year and was a force at the mack linebacker position.
The 2015 season will be a success if…
… Egos are kept in check. Clearly, Jones, Hills, Crawford and Wilson aren't all going to be 1,000+ yard receivers, and not all of the four can have 30+ touchdowns either. It's going to be tough for this offense to manage plays going to each of the receivers, especially if there is ever an issue with anyone getting upset over playing time or production.
It's a tough dance to play, but the talent here is so immense that it shouldn't make a difference as long as egos don't tear this team apart.
Jacksonville's 2015 MVP will be…
Moss. Sure, Grady is the one throwing the ball, and we would bet on some of these receivers really being fantastic. Terrance Smith is going to do things on both sides of the ball, and Micheaux Robinson might be the most underrated defensive back in the league.
Still, it's up to Moss to juggle all of these names. It's a good problem to have to have a more talent than you can put on the field at one time, and if there is a man who can manage all of it, we know it'll be Moss. Remember that last year was the first time that Moss didn't make the playoffs in his career at any level of his arena league coaching in any respect, and though the future Hall of Famer has nothing to necessarily prove, you know that his competitive juices will make him hungry to win again, and the only thing which will satisfy that craving would be to get the Sharks back to the playoffs and ultimately to the ArenaBowl.
In 2015, the Jacksonville Sharks will win…
16 games. Sure, that's high, but look at this schedule and find any game in which the Sharks won't be favored. Maybe at Philadelphia? Maybe at home against San Jose? Maybe at Cleveland? Maybe at Orlando? Then again, maybe not.
Regardless as to how many games this team wins though, it’s going to be all about the playoffs. Anything less than three wins in a row in the postseason resulting in the franchise's second ArenaBowl would be a disappointment. That's where we're not all that sure that Jacksonville will be able to succeed. By all accounts though, there shouldn't be a team in the American Conference capable of beating the Sharks in the playoffs.
We would bet that the ArenaBowl will be played in Jacksonville this season.