- Gary Horton, Scouts Inc.
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This continues to be one of the most stable franchises in the AFL, although the Predators are not as dominant they have been in the past. This organization has been to the playoffs 16 times in its 18 years. The Predators get a lot of community support and visiting teams will tell you that "The Jungle" is the toughest arena in the league in which to play. Plus, due to the limited personnel turnover, the continuity of Orlando's franchise is excellent.
Coaches and front office
The face of the organization is Jay Gruden, who is the head coach and director of football operations. He was a great player in the AFL and he is recognized as one of the most creative minds in the history of the league and has six rings to show for it. He makes all the coaching and personnel decisions and he has a very loyal, stable staff. Les Moss, who has been with Orlando for 15 years, is the assistant head coach and he runs the defense. Willie Fears coaches the line, Sean Beckton coaches the receivers and Mark Novell handles the special teams.
QB Shane Stafford -- He was a huge free-agent acquisition a year ago, but his 2007 production was not eye-popping. He threw for 4,284 yards, 76 TDs, only 10 INTs and a 112.7 QB rating. Those are respectable numbers, but he didn't seem to make enough big plays. He has excellent physical tools and he should be better in 2008.
WR Antoine "T.T." Tolliver, Javarus Dudley and Ron Johnson -- With starting WR Jimmy Fryzel out for the season with a knee injury, these guys must step up and fill the void. This trio did post 68 TDs a year ago and there is a lot of talent still to develop.
OL Qasim Mitchell -- He has NFL experience with Cleveland and Chicago and he is a massive wide body with a reputation as a pretty good pass blocker. He could be good on the edge protecting Stafford.
DL B.J. Cohen, DB Kenny McEntyre, DB Damon Mason -- These are three aging veteran free agents expected to make a huge impact on the Predators' defense. Cohen had 28 tackles and six sacks a year ago for Kansas City, McEntyre recorded 57.5 tackles and nine interceptions for Kansas City while Mason had 93 tackles and four interceptions for Austin in 2007. The Predators lost their top two defensive playmakers in 2007 now gone, DL Greg White and DB Lin-J Shell, there is a lot of pressure for the new defensive players to blend quickly.
LBs A.J. Nicholson and Marlon Moye-Moore -- These two may be the best linebacker duo in the AFL. Both are athletic with good range and they should have a big year.
K Jay Taylor -- He remains as the model of consistency entering his fifth season and he converted 101 PAT out of 109 attempts in 2007.
Players to keep an eye on
OL Jonathan Clinkscale -- He is a promising rookie who can play center and guard. His instincts and footwork seem to be good, but he will be asked to start.
WR Roosevelt Kiser -- He is a 22-year-old rookie who should be the No. 3 or No. 4 receiver. He runs great routes for a young guy and he is excellent at catching the ball coming out of his breaks.
DB Ahmad Carroll -- He was a late training camp addition and if he sticks with it he could be something special. He has 28 NFL starts under his belt with Green Bay and Jacksonville and he is a superb athlete who excels in press coverage, which could make him a shutdown corner if he has the patience to learn the Arena game.
FB Odie Armstrong -- He was great in AFL2. He is big and physical and the coaches are excited about his potential red zone production.
You have to give Jay Gruden and the Predators credit for at least trying to shake up their roster with a combination of aging veterans and some interesting young players, but for this group to come together and play at a higher level than a year ago is asking a lot. The Predators are not a high-scoring team and are not overly explosive, but defense usually carries them and limits their opponents' scoring ability and 2008 will be no different. On offense they have lost WR Jimmy Fryzel for the year with a knee injury, but they have four quality receivers who should be fine stepping into the void. There is work to be done on the offensive line, but they have eight linemen over 300 pounds and the coaches realize how important pass protection is for QB Shane Stafford.
Defensively, Orlando has signed three former Predators (DL B.J. Cohen, DB Kenny McEntyre and DB Damon Mason) who were part of the team's championship in 2000, and while they have 29 combined years of experience, all are nearing the ends of their careers. To stay competitive on defense Cohen, along with some promising young pass-rushers, will have to come along and compensate for the loss of Greg White, who had 15 sacks a year ago. McEntyre and Mason must solidify the secondary quickly, but the Predators do have arguably the best LB tandem in the league in A.J. Nicholson and Marlon Moye-Moore. This will be a solid team, but Orlando may not be explosive enough to win a lot of close games and Tampa Bay and Georgia will be very tough within the division. The Predators look like a .500 team again in 2008.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
Gary Horton says QB Shane Stafford and the Predators should be better in 2008.