Questions face Predators as they host Gladiators
The Orlando Predators got what was easily their ugliest win last Friday over the Tampa Bay Storm at the Amway Center. A very unimpressive 63-61 win over the 2-6 Storm did nothing to distinguish that the Predators are back on the right track after back-to-back losses to the Spokane Shock and Jacksonville Sharks.
Sure, quarterback Nick Hill had one of his better games accounting for nine touchdowns (eight passing, one rushing). The concern lies with the Preds having to overcome four turnovers (three fumbles, one pick) and Storm return specialist Michael Lindsey accounting for 135 yards on just four returns for an almost 34-yard average.
So as we hit mid-season with the Preds sitting at 5-3, second to the Sharks (7-1) in the southern division. The question must be asked, where will the Predators go from here?
After an impressive 4-1 start to the season in which the Predators only loss was a first class choke job in Arizona against the top ranked Rattlers. The team has followed up with losing two of its last three contests while missing wide receivers Bobby Sippio (one game) and T.T. Toliver (two games). A common theme here is the Predators are 5-1 when both Toliver and Sippio play together with Robert Quiroga as the third receiver. Quiroga may be questionable this week after leaving last week’s game in the third quarter and not returning. He was seen afterwards with a noticeable limp, it will be interesting to see if he plays against the Cleveland Gladiators on Saturday night.
While the offensive line has struggled to protect Hill during this current slump, they did get a boost with the return of Julius Wilson who has served a six game suspension. On Thursday the Preds placed fullback James Lynch on injured reserve after he suffered a knee injury last week. Normally a defensive end, Mark Robinson has stepped in to play the fullback spot. So in short, the Preds QB who ranks third in the league with 190 rushing yards better keep his scrambling shoes on just in case.
Health always seems to be an issue with this team and I think the biggest thing will be keeping Toliver and Sippio on the field for the remainder of the season. Josh Bush has filled in admirably accounting for eight receiving touchdowns while hauling in 24 receptions for 323 yards.
Orlando’s defense really has not been the problem as they have forced 25 turnovers in just eight games. When your defense is forcing an average of three turnovers a game in the AFL you just are not supposed to lose games. In fact, there are a handful of other teams in the league that if they forced this many turnovers they would be winning games by 20 points every time out.
Defensive back Rayshaun Kizer leads the Predators and the AFL with eight interceptions while linebacker Marlon Moye-Moore has five thefts on the season. Kizer is making a strong case for Defensive Player of the Year honors while Moye-Moore continues his part-time Ironman duties as a red zone fullback with three rushing scores and one defensive touchdown to his credit.
The Gladiators come in at 5-2 after winning at home against the lowly Milwaukee Mustangs last week 50-41. Of course, the last time I saw the Gladiators they were dominating the Storm in St. Pete Times Forum taking a 66-26 win in Week two. Glads’ WR Troy Bergeron continues to be a beast with 47 receptions for 473 yards and 18 touchdowns on the year. Cleveland is on its third QB of the season as Dan Whalen came in last week in relief of Kurt Rocco. It remains to be seen which signal caller Glads’ coach Steve Thonn will employ in the Jungle.
This is just the kind of stiff test the Predators need to see if they are back on the right track or taking a turn in the wrong direction. We will find out on Saturday night at 7:30 in the Amway Center as the Preds put their 3-1 home record on the line.