2015 Season Preview: Tampa Bay Storm
The Tampa Bay Storm, arguably the most storied franchise in the Arena Football League, failed once again to reach the postseason in 2014. The Storm havenít captured a division crown in over a decade and have missed the playoffs all together three of the past five seasons. 2015 brings plenty of new faces and a chance for the Storm to rebound in a newly remodeled Southern Division.
2014 in review
Perhaps the most memorable moment of the 2014 campaign wasnít even a win for the Storm on the field. After another up and down kind of year, one that saw the Storm win five straight games in the middle of the season only to end the year on a four-game skid, any notable accomplishments were hard to single out.
The Storm began the season 2-0 for the first time since 2008 and looked to be a stronger team on both sides of the ball. An opening night win over the New Orleans VooDoo followed up by an impressive defensive effort on the road in San Antonio made it look like the Storm finally turned the corner. The following week however, the Storm would lose a heartbreaker at home to the Orlando Predators and would go on to lose two of three in the season series to the hated interstate rivals.
The remainder of the regular season was quite the wild ride for the Storm. Lengthy streaks, both good and bad, plagued Tampa Bay to yet another sub .500 record.
All of this explains why just having the opportunity to play in a ďwin and youíre inĒ final game at home against the most dominant American Conference team was probably the most memorable highlight of the Stormís 2014 season. Entering the game with an 8-9 record, having the chance to play for a playoff bid was remarkable in itself.
Of course, the Storm would go on to lose the game and the Cleveland Gladiators would eventually reach the ArenaBowl, but this was honestly what the Storm should take the most from in 2014. In a perfect world, the lost opportunity fuels the fire in 2015 and more consistent winning occurs.
The Storm had a fairly eventful offseason and basically swapped out their entire 2014 roster. While the Storm are relying on some fresh faces to make it out of training camp, they were involved in some offseason signings.
The most notable change for the Storm in 2015 will be the quarterback play. The Storm acquired QB Jason Boltus from the Orlando Predators in September, and he is expected to be the Tampa Bay starter. Boltus completed 198-of-340 passes for 2,711 yards and 54 touchdowns last season in Orlando. He also rushed 42 times for 149 yards and nine touchdowns.
An important part of the Storm defense in LB Dexter Jackson returns for a second season. Jackson started in all 18 games during the 2014 season, finishing third on the team with three sacks. He also saw time at fullback, carrying the ball 29 times for 63 yards and four touchdowns.
Too many to count. The Storm lost a ton of talent to various teams and for many different reasons. Fan-favorite and star WR Michael Lindsey is no longer playing in the league. Local product WR Amarri Jackson was picked up by the Cleveland Gladiators. And another WR in Joe Hills, who caught 38 touchdown passes for the Storm last season, was signed by division rival Jacksonville. Together, those three players accounted for over 3,000 yards of the Storm offense last year.
The 2015 season will be a success ifÖ
The team can gel. Put simply, this is a brand new team full of brand new guys. Chemistry will be key to the Stormís success throughout the season. Most of these players have never been with one another and the majority are brand new to the Arena Football League all together.
Tampa Bayís 2015 MVP will be...
T.T Toliver. Toliver is a reliable veteran and key asset to both the Storm offense and locker room. Entering his 13th season in the league, Toliver knows what it takes to win. He will undoubtedly help the young, more inexperienced players that will most likely be at the core of this Storm team.
Toliver returned to the Storm last season after spending six seasons with the rival Predators. In 12 games played for the Storm in 2014, Toliver had 69 receptions for 812 yards and 16 touchdowns.
With a full 18-game schedule? Look for even better numbers from Toliver this season.
In 2015, the Tampa Bay Storm will winÖ
8 games. Tampa Bay is clearly the weakest link in the Southern Division. Jacksonville is the favorite to not only win the division, but the American Conference. Orlando will be much better and could easily put together a deep run. Keep in the mind, the Storm have to play both of those teams three times each throughout the season. Unfortunately for the Storm, I donít see any way this season is too much of an improvement from last. The Storm managed eight wins last year, and they did it with a much more talented team on paper. A wild card spot is the way to go for the Storm in 2015. Although itís probably way too early to declare a team out of the division race, I just donít see any chance for Tampa Bay to make a run to the top.
New faces represent new beginnings though and as the Storm have showed us in the past, anything is possible.