Jeff Bouchy, managing partner of the Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League, took part in a conference call Friday to discuss the upcoming season and shared his thoughts on a wide range of issues that included recent roster transactions, upcoming team promotions, increased corporate sponsorship of the AFL, Jacksonville’s bid to host the ArenaBowl in the near future and the Sharks chances of making the trip to Orlando for ArenaBowl XXVI.
The Sharks have earned three consecutive South Division titles and one AFL championship (2011) since joining the league in 2010 and Bouchy clearly believes the team will be in the thick of the fight not only for a fourth consecutive division title this season, but for their second league championship in the clubs four-year history. One look at the Sharks roster and it is easy to see why Bouchy is looking to this season with a great deal of excitement. Jacksonville has made significant additions through free agency that bring both experience and playmaking ability to both sides of the ball to a team that fell one game short of a second consecutive ArenaBowl appearance last season.
Since the first of the year the Sharks have added Jerry Turner, Julian Hartsell, Jordan Carlson and Dusty Bear to the defensive line as well as DB Tracy Belton. Bear and Belton may be the two biggest impact players added.
Bear totaled 11 sacks, 43.5 tackles (34 solo), one interception, a fumble recovery and two safeties for the Dallas Vigilantes while earning a spot on the All-Arena Second Team in 2011 but saw his production fall due to injuries last season. Belton is coming off an outstanding season with the Georgia Force last season that saw him pull in 11 interceptions and total 54.5 tackles (49 solo) despite missing six-games.
Quarterbacks Lee Chapple and RJ Archer (also a former member of the Force) have been added and will be part of a three-way battle with Bernard Morris to earn the starting job.
Chapple is a rookie out of North Alabama State while Archer has two years experience in the league, most recently with the Force where he tossed 49 touchdowns with only 12 interceptions and had a QB rating of 97.52. Morris had a solid season for the Sharks in 2012 that included 59 TDs (14 INTs) and a rating of 105.56. He also led the team in rushing with 275 yards.
Returning to lead the receiving corps will be Jeron Harvey (102 R, 999 yards, 25 TDs). Jeff Hughley was with the Philadelphia Soul last season and made 77 receptions for 1001 yards and 19 scores and will be competing for the No. 2 slot.
Bouchy said the team’s main area of concern is the offensive line, which has been weakened by the loss of SirVincent Rogers to the Canadian Football League.
The Shark D will give opposing offenses headaches as well as providing extra scoring opportunities for their own offense, an offense that has the potential to put up points fast.
Bouchy is looking forward to a four-week stretch in the season that begins with a road game against Philadelphia on April 27. The following three-weeks will see the Sharks take on the Arizona Rattlers at home (May 4), the San Antonio Talons on the road (May 11), then end with a home contest against the San Jose SaberCats and QB Aaron Garcia. Bouchy projected that Jacksonville would be 5-0 going into Week 6- he also believes that ArenaBowl XXVI is likely to see Arizona and Jacksonville square off in Orlando.
The hour and a half discussion came to an end the same way it began-with Bouchy speaking of his eagerness to get the season started and his belief that the Sharks have improved on a roster that was already one of the top in the AFL.
Time will tell if Bouchy is correct in his belief that Jacksonville is poised for their second AFL title in three seasons, but with the talent on this team it is more than just a positive attitude he is displaying- it is a legitimate belief brought about by the combination of talent and experience on this team.