The Jacksonville Sharks start the 2013 season looking to win their fourth consecutive South Division title. This time, however, the road will be a little bit easier.
It’s a new season, a new team, and a new league. Over the offseason, the AFL trimmed three teams: the Kansas City Command ceased operations, and the Milwaukee Mustangs suspended operations looking to return next season. However, the biggest subtraction for the Sharks is that of one of their key division opponents, the Georgia Force. Georgia ceased operations on October 14, which left the South division with only four teams going into this season instead of five. Plus, with seven teams in each conference instead of nine, Jacksonville is already in a much better position to make their fourth consecutive playoff appearance (the format will remain the same, with division winners and two wild card teams qualifying from each conference).
As for the new team, the Sharks will start their training camp on March 2 missing some familiar faces, such as backup QB Collin Drafts, FB/WR Jamarko Simmons (who signed with San Jose) and kicker Marco Capozzolli, who set a franchise record with his game-winning 50-yard field goal against Georgia in the conference semifinals. The Sharks already have some replacements in mind, however, such as acquiring R.J. Archer from Georgia.
With the contraction, the schedule will feature more home and away series not only outside of the division, but outside of the conference. The Sharks will play five games against East division opponents (Philadelphia once, Pittsburgh and Cleveland twice), and seven non-conference games (once against every team except Chicago, and Spokane twice).
The key questions will come at wide receiver. If Bobby Sewall can stay healthy and play a full season, will he be able to replace Simmons in key situations? Will Terrance Smith (team-high 1,158 yards and 29 TDs) and Rendrick Taylor (239 yards and 5 TDs) at least come close to their amazing seasons last year? If so, then Bernard Morris should be able to at least repeat his 2012 season, which saw him finish with a 105.44 passer rating and more than 2,400 yards passing despite not being the full-time starter. If he is the number one man behind center, Jacksonville will have no problem repeating as division champs, and could potentially make another deep playoff run.
The questions will start to be answered when the Sharks host a preseason scrimmage sponsored by First Coast No More Homeless Pets against the Orlando Predators on Friday, March 15, at 8 p.m. at Sea Best Field at the Veterans Memorial Arena. Admission is free, but pet food donations are requested.
To find out more about the game, or the rest of the Jacksonville Sharks season, log on to www.jaxsharks.com. You can also follow the team on Twitter @jaxsharks, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jaxsharks. For more information on the rest of the league, go to www.arenafootball.com