The ArenaBowl XXIV Champion Jacksonville Sharks concluded minicamp on Saturday morning with the team’s third practice in as many days. Saturday’s workout took place at Glen Kernan Golf & Country Club and was the first practice of the season to be held on natural grass.
This practice began with a prolonged offensive walkthrough, highlighting the importance of installing the entire playbook at this stage of camp. The walkthrough tended to focus on running plays and screen passes.
Following individual drills, the team portion of practiced focused on the “red zone,” as the ball was never spotted farther than 15 yards away from the goal line. As opposed to Friday’s practice, in which Chris Leak took the first turn at quarterback, Omar Jacobs led off Saturday’s team session. Both quarterbacks again worked with a varied group of wide receivers.
Throughout the spirited team session, players on both sides seemed eager to work with full pads. Count offensive lineman Josh Vernon among those looking forward to Monday’s full-contact practice.
The practice concluded with the Sharks’ first special teams work of the season, as the coaching staff covered both kickoff coverage and kickoff returns. The group of players to line up at kick returner included, among others, newcomers Sean Mackey, Trey Williams and T.J. Wright.
The Sharks were assigned two players on Saturday, WR/DB Bryan Evans and FB/LB Andres Morales. The 25-year-old Evans (5’10”, 180) is a Jacksonville native who played at Georgia, while the 23-year-old Morales (6’2”, 250) is a former Rutgers Scarlet Knight.
Both players participated in Saturday’s practice, as Evans worked at defensive back while Morales played fullback
Secondary Coming Along
While every player on the team is competing for a roster spot and playing time, maybe the most intriguing position battle of camp thus far has been in the secondary. It appears that second-year veteran LaRoche Jackson will hold down one of the spots in the Sharks defensive backfield; however the remaining spots are open to a full competition.
The young secondary unit has shown flashes throughout the first two days of camp, and they continued to do so Saturday. The group combined for multiple pass break ups during team drills. However, the play of the day for the defense came in the form of an interception near the goal line by rookie T.J. Wright.
For a unit that has little Arena Football experience defensive coordinator Jake Grande is pleased at how fast the group is adapting to the indoor game.
“They’re adjusting well,” Grande said. “They’re picking up the little nuances of the game. It’s a lot different from the outdoor game. The ball comes out a lot quicker. They’re starting to realize that and they’re competing out here every day.”
One major difference between the Arena Football League and both college football and the NFL is that the offense may have one player in forward motion at the snap. This presents a new challenge for many of the Sharks’ young defenders. Throughout the first three days of practice, Grande has patiently helped his defensive backs refine their approach in dealing with that motion.
The secondary continued to bring a certain level of intensity to the practice field, something they have done since camp opened. Saturday marked the last practice before the team puts on pads for Monday’s practice. With the energy level already high, it is obvious the players are looking forward to hitting once the pads come on.
“Monday we put on the pads and that separates the men from the boys as they like to say in football,” Grande said. “We’ll see who’s real physical and who really wants to play once the pads are on.”
The Sharks did make one addition to the group of defensive backs Saturday. Former Georgia Bulldog Bryan Evans joined the Sharks training camp roster, adding one more person competing for a spot in the Sharks secondary. Evans in a Jacksonville native who most recently spent time with the Cincinnati Bengals of the National Football League.
“He’s a good player,” Grande said. “He’s been in the NFL and the UFL (United Football League) and we’re looking for him to come in and compete and see if he can earn a spot on this team.”
The Sharks will not practice on Sunday, which will be the first off day since camp began. Instead, the team will undergo physicals conducted by the Sharks’ medical staff in advance of full-contact work.
The team returns to Plantation Park in St. Johns County on Monday for the first of three consecutive days of full-pad practices. Monday’s practice is open to the public and will begin at 8:30 a.m.
The Jacksonville Sharks are members of the Arena Football League (AFL). The ArenaBowl XXIV and back-to-back South Division Champions are presented by Sea Best Seafood and play all home games on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Season Tickets for the 2012 season are now available, two tickets as low as $135.