Commentary

Will the SaberCats dynasty repeat in 2008?

The San Jose SaberCats enter the 2008 AFL season as the defending champions and look to continue their dynasty.

Originally Published: February 21, 2008
By Gary Horton | Scouts Inc.

The SaberCats joined the AFL as an expansion team in 1995 and were an immediate success, winning their division and posting an 8-4 record in their inaugural season. They have since become an AFL powerhouse and one of the stablest organizations in the league. San Jose has made the playoffs in each of the last eight seasons and has won the last seven Western Division titles. Last season's Arena Bowl victory was their third AFL championship, and the SaberCats are now vying to become the first team in 12 years to repeat as AFL champs.

Coaches and front office

Head coach/general manager Darren Arbet returns for his 10th season and now has over 100 AFL wins to his credit. In his third year as the GM he has helped turn the team into a dynasty. Offensive coordinator Terry Malley is entering his 14th season with the organization and ninth as offensive coordinator, and he is recognized as guru on that side of the ball. Jeff Jarnigan will oversee the defense and special teams, and despite the fact this is Jarnigan's first year running the defense, this continues to be a very stable staff and organization.

Key players

QB Mark Grieb -- He is the most dependable QB in the league and is coming off a championship season that saw him toss 99 TD passes and only 13 interceptions, while throwing for an amazing 4,605 yards and a sparkling 125.3 QB rating. Grieb's completion percentage was 71.0 and he could be the best in the AFL at finding good matchups, seeing the field and making quick decisions.

WR James Roe -- He is Grieb's veteran go-to guy, catching 40 TD passes and racking up 1,560 yards last season. He still has excellent quickness and a short burst to separate and his hands and concentration are still top-notch. With the departure of WR Ben Nelson, Roe needs a big 2008 season.

WR Rodney Wright -- He must step up as the No. 2 receiver. Wright had 15 TDs and 1,072 yards in 2007 season but he is a small target.

PK A.J. Haglund -- Had an outstanding rookie season in 2007 and is poised to become the best kicker in the league. Scored 158 points a year ago and was 128-for-138 on PATs

DL Ronald Jones -- Quietly the best pass-rusher on this team, he had seven sacks last season. Jones is not flashy but he gets the job done.

DBs Omarr Smith, Clevan Thomas and Marquis Floyd -- This trio might be the best secondary in the AFL and all three are ball hawks, combining for 20 interceptions in 2007. Smith was the leading tackler with 87.5 tackles a year ago and he is a feisty guy with good range. Thomas was the second-leading tackler with 86 stops to go with nine interceptions. He wins with instincts and toughness and gets a great jump on the ball. Floyd is solid with 56 tackles and six interceptions a year ago.

Players to keep an eye on

WR Joshua Richey -- A star in AFL2, Richey is tall and rangy and could become an excellent red zone target. He will likely fill slot receiver spot vacated by Nelson.

OL Chris Pino -- A big, physical youngster with good feet and movement, Pino has a chance to develop into a solid pass-blocker.

Outlook

The SaberCats continue to be the most consistent franchise in the AFL and it's tough to argue with three championships in six years. They do an excellent job in personnel and while they don't have a lot of turnover they have a real knack for replacing departing veterans with new young players and that sets them up well for the future.

They do have some new faces on the offensive line and they must replace WR Ben Nelson, but they still have a lot of firepower with QB Mark Grieb and they are solid on defense, especially in the secondary. This is a well coached team that just doesn't make a lot of mistakes, which seems to keep them in every game. They are battle tested, confident and there is no reason to believe they won't be right in the thick of the mix to repeat an ArenaBowl championship for the first time in 12 years.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Gary Horton spent 10 years in the NFL as a scout and another 10 years at the college level as an assistant coach and recruiter. He is the founder and most seasoned member of the Scouts Inc. staff, and his extensive experience at all levels of football make him an excellent talent evaluator.