The Jacksonville Breeze defeated the Baltimore Charm on Saturday night by a 27-12 count to get the 2014 Legends Football League USA season underway. The Atlanta Steam are preparing for their sophomore Legends, formerly known as the Lingerie, Football League season and will be defending the division title they captured in their inaugural season.
Atlanta is working hard under the leadership of new Head Coach Dane Robinson to get ready for their opener on May 10 when they will travel to Toledo to take on the Crush. While this is Robinson’s first year as a head coach, he was a member of last season’s staff that worked with Coach Ray Norell and has years of experience both in training/conditioning and football. Robinson took some time to talk about the upcoming season, his approach to training, projected starters, and injury updates just days before the Saturday league opener.
Robinson believes strongly that the better conditioned team will be successful. “We have made game like conditioning a huge part of our practices where we condition at the beginning of practice and hop right into game situation like Red Zone or 2 minute offense to be able to execute perfectly when we are fatigued.” He went on to say that loss of focus can result in “blown assignments or allowing external emotional factors cloud your thinking ability on the field.”
To prepare the Steam for game action, Robinson runs a regimented practice schedule that he believes creates a fast tempo that is similar to game situations. Atlanta was unprepared for the speed and physicality of their opening game last season and was steamrolled by the Breeze-Robinson has reminded the 2014 edition of that game often as well as had the team watch the game film on more than one occasion to remind them of what can happen if they are not prepared from the opening whistle.
Increased film time is another feature of Robinson’s preseason prep that looks to have paid early dividends. The rookies have had a shorter learning curve this season due to a combination of increased understanding of the X’s and O’s and having some veterans that can share their experience from last season.
There are 11 rookies and nine returning players on the initial 20-player roster. Two of those rookies that are going to play a big role in the Steam offensive attack are quarterback Dakota Hughes and running back Dee Salter-both projected as opening day starters by Coach Robinson. Hughes is a local girl from Canton, Georgia that turned 19 on April 10; Salter is a 29-year old 5-foot-3 playmaker from Pittsburgh with breakaway ability.
The defense is going to be counted on to get some stops to give their young QB a few extra possessions each game and, with the leadership of vets like strong safety Alfye Gore and free safety Sharlene Fuller, that is a challenge that this D looks to ready to meet. Robinson models his defense on the Baltimore Raven scheme, so having outstanding play from the safety position is critical to success. Fuller and Gore can provide that on a consistent basis.
With the Steam opener less than 30-days away, there are a handful of injury questions that will not be answered until game week.
-Ashley Pope (OG/DE) is recovering from a high ankle sprain. She should be ready for the opener, but high ankle sprains can linger and she is missing practice time. Ashley is a returning player so the loss of field time is not as critical, but conditioning may be an issue in the first game back.
-Jodie Nettles (WR/QB) is working her way back from a knee laceration. She hopes to be ready, but it will not be determined until game week. The receiving corps is already thin, and Jodie’s absence from the Toledo game will put pressure on the running game.
-Nas Johnson (RB) is recovering from surgery after an injury ended her season last year. She is being counted on to split time with Salters in the backfield.
-Delaney Hall (CB) is working her way back from a knee injury.
The offense has the ability to put points on the board but with half of the playmakers untested in the heat of battle, it remains to be seen how they will perform under the lights. The defense will keep games close so Atlanta will be competitive-but that’s not where Robinson and the Steammates have set the bar.
This team will not be satisfied with anything less than another division title and a trip to the championship game. In a four-game season, every game counts and Atlanta knows they must be ready come May 10.
Coach Robinson will have the club prepared and the veterans will help the new players through the rigors of what is a long game day that includes many distractions leading up to kickoff. Look for Atlanta to return home with a 1-0 mark after taking a hard-fought physical game with the Crush.