JACKSONVILLE – The 2012 South Division Champion Jacksonville Sharks (6-1) look to bounce back from the team’s first loss of the 2013 season on Saturday, as the Sharks head to Texas for a meeting with the San Antonio Talons (2-4) on Saturday, May 11 at the Alamodome. The game is set to kick off at 9:30 p.m. Eastern and will air live in front of a national audience on CBS Sports Network as part of the League’s “Net10 Wireless Arena Football Saturday” series.
The Sharks return to the playing field seven days after falling to the Arizona Rattlers, 58-48, on Sea Best Field last Saturday night. The defeat ended the team’s season-opening six-game winning streak, and the Sharks now stand just one game ahead of a hot Tampa Bay Storm team in the South Division.
Heading into this week’s game, one key for the Sharks will be improved pass protection. Last Saturday, the Arizona pass rush recorded two sacks and brought consistent pressure that impacted Shark quarterback Bernard Morris’ timing on several other occasions. The Jacksonville offensive line will need to execute from the start on Saturday, as a talented pass-rushing unit is perhaps San Antonio’s biggest strength.
Entering this week, the Talons have racked up a total of 16 sacks - good for the second-highest total in the League behind the Sharks’ own 20. Worth noting is that San Antonio has recorded those sacks in six games compared to the Sharks’ seven. The Talon pass rush is led by Joe Sykes, the reigning Riddell Defensive Player of the Year. As a member of the San Jose SaberCats in 2012, Sykes dominated the opposition to the tune of a league-record total of 16 sacks. After moving to San Antonio this past offseason, Sykes is at it again, entering this week at the top of the AFL leaderboard with 5.5 sacks in 2013.
A defining characteristic of the Sharks’ pass rush is that any member of the front four is capable of getting to the quarterback at any time. The same holds true for San Antonio, as beyond Sykes, Tim McGill has totaled four sacks this season, while Mark Weivoda has 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. To help counter the Talons’ strength and bolster their own pass protection, the Sharks added mammoth offensive lineman Trevis Turner this week. Standing at 6’8”, 340, Turner should prove to be a valuable asset as the season progresses.
Heading into this week, the Sharks rank fourth in the league in scoring offense with an average of 58.6 points per game. But after crossing the 60-point mark in each of the first four games, the Sharks have not topped 55 points in any of the team’s last three contests. What should help the Shark offense this week is the return of playmaking receiver/returner Jeff Hughley, who has rejoined the team after participating in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ rookie mini-camp this past weekend. The team leader with 516 receiving yards, Hughley ranks second in the League with an average of 192.5 all-purpose yards per game and will impact the game both on offense and on special teams.
Despite the Sharks’ overall reduced offensive output, receiver Jeron Harvey heads into Saturday’s game having scored three or more touchdowns in each of the Sharks’ last three contests. He pulled in a career-high five touchdown grabs in Week 6 at Philadelphia and leads the team with 16 receiving scores overall. Thanks to the work of Harvey, Hughley and fellow receivers Markee White and Jarvis Williams, Morris remains among the league leaders in pass efficiency with a total of 39 touchdown passes against just two interceptions.
While the steady hand of Morris has guided the Sharks to a strong start to the season, the Talons have experienced an incredible amount of turnover at the quarterback position in 2013. To begin the year, longtime AFL veteran John Dutton took the helm of the Talons’ offense before suffering a season-ending injury in the team’s second game of the season.
Soon after, the Talons turned to a former Orlando Predator in southpaw Nick Hill, but he in turn was not available for the team’s last game against Iowa. In all, four quarterbacks have thrown 20 or more passes for San Antonio this season, and there is no doubt that Talon head coach Lee Johnson is looking for stability at the position to help get his team back into the playoff picture.
Despite the turnover under center, a familiar face to Shark fans is on the way to a great season with San Antonio. Jomo Wilson was one of the key figures in the Sharks’ prolific offense during the team’s ArenaBowl Championship season in 2011 before heading to San Antonio prior to 2012. After leading the Talons in receiving yards and touchdowns last year, Wilson is at it again in 2013 with team-high totals of 35 catches, 482 receiving yards and 11 scores. Wilson leads a veteran Talon receiving corps that also features third-year players Dwayne Eley and Burl Toler.
Defending Wilson at the rest of the Talon receivers is a veteran Shark secondary that is looking for a game-changing turnover this week. Though Tracy Belton did force two fumbles in the Sharks’ Week 6 win in Philadelphia, the Sharks have totaled just one interception in the team’s last three games. While the Jacksonville offense tries to solve a stingy Talon defense (49.8 points per game), the Shark defensive backs hope to take advantage of a turnover-prone San Antonio attack (12 interceptions, five fumbles lost). In what could end up a low-scoring affair, the swing provided by a defensive touchdown could go a long way toward wrapping up the Sharks’ seventh victory of 2013.