Commentary

Free-agent Marshall looks to help return Avengers to prominence

Los Angeles looks to rebound in 2008 with a new defensive coordinator.

Originally Published: February 22, 2008
By Gary Horton | Scouts Inc.

This is a model organization in a very competitive market and there is none better in marketing, structure and community involvement. Owner Casey Wasserman bought the team at age 24 and he is a hands-on boss who sets the bar high. The Avengers have been to the playoffs in five of the past six years and they won the Western Division in 2005. This is a franchise that is innovative and aggressive and it is constantly looking for new ways to improve its product -- on and off the field. The Avengers remind you of a mini NFL organization.

Coaches and front office

Head coach Ed Hodgkiss is recognized as a brilliant offensive strategist and playcaller. His right-hand guy is Brent Winter, who wears several coaching and personnel hats. Bill Dobson coaches the OL and RBs, Johnnie Williams handles the DL, and Greg Hopkins oversees special teams and LBs. The one big change is at defensive coordinator, where Michael Church takes over for the departed Mike Wilpolt and he will insert an aggressive, attacking scheme in 2008. This is a well-run coaching staff and front office.

Key players

QB Sonny Cumbie -- He is ready to really take off in 2008 with a deep group of receivers. He can make every throw and plays with a lot of confidence. He passed for 4,370 yards, 83 TD passes in 2007 with a QB rating of 108.7 and he should lead a great passing game, if his pass protection holds up.

WR/DBs Kevin Ingram and Rob Turner -- Both are solid veterans with steady production. Ingram caught 103 passes for 26 TDs in 2007 while Turner led the Avengers with 105 catches and 24 TDs. They know this game inside out and they know how to separate from tight coverage.

WR Timon Marshall -- He was a huge free-agent acquisition from Grand Rapids, not only as a receiver, but also as a kick returner. He caught 102 passes for 27 TDs a year ago, but he is the best returner in the league with 83 returns for 1,801 yards and six TDs in 2007. He will upgrade the passing game and the underperforming Los Angeles special teams.

OL Sean McNamara -- He has good versatility because he can play any OL spot. He is the anchor of an OL that has some new faces.

FB Lonnie Ford -- He is one of the most dependable short-yardage rushers in the AFL. He's not flashy, but he's very steady and physical.

DL Ken Jones, Jason Stewart and Josh Jeffries -- They are part of a deep and talented defensive front. Jones is a coveted free agent from Columbus (9.5 sacks in 2007) while Stewart is an effective inside penetrator and Jeffries is productive as a pass-rusher.

DBs Damen Wheeler, Arnold Parker and Eddie Canonico -- Wheeler is the anchor at safety coming off a 60-tackle and six-interception season and his range gets him to a lot of balls. Parker is talented, but has had injuries that have slowed him down and Canonico led the team in tackles a year ago with 65, after coming to Los Angeles in midseason.

Players to keep an eye on

WR LaShaun Ward -- He is an exciting young player with more experience at DB, but his vertical speed and big-play capability gives him a chance to be a factor on offense. He had 41 catches and nine TDs a year ago.

DL Ryan Riddle -- He is a rookie who had a strong upside as a pass-rusher after bouncing around the NFL for two years. He posted 14.5 sacks as a collegiate senior at California.

K David Davis -- He replaces Remy Hamilton, but had a solid career at USC and he was the AFL2 kicker of the year in 2007. Coaches love his accuracy and they think he can get the job done.

Outlook

The Avengers should be an improved team in 2008, with as many as 15 rookies and to be elite they just need more consistency. When you watched them in 2007, in some weeks they played like they could beat anybody and at other times they seemed to play down to the level of their competition. They should be explosive on offense with Sonny Cumbie and a deep group of receivers, but they need to stabilize their offensive line and pass protection.

Defensively, they will be excellent up front which will be the strength of their team, but they have some holes to fill in the secondary. The biggest improvement may be in the kicking game with free-agent acquisition Timon Marshall who is the best returner in the league. They also have to replace kicker Remy Hamilton with a talented, but untested, AFL rookie David Davis.

This team will score a lot of points on offense, they will get after the QB with a ferocious pass rush and they will play more physical and aggressive schemes in the secondary. This will equal success, but the Avengers play in the same division as San Jose and that may mean that they are playing for second place.

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.