Utah looking to get over the hump in 2008
The Utah Blaze are looking to take the next step and become an elite AFL team in 2008, writes Gary Horton.
This is a top-notch organization from the top to bottom. The Blaze are active in the community, they get the fans involved and they are very aware of creating a positive image. They received the 2006 Commissioner's Award as the AFL's best organization and support staff. They have made two playoff appearances in a row and are recognized as an exciting and explosive offensive team, but now they need to take the next step and become an elite team.
Coaches and front office
Arena Hall of Fame head coach Danny White is the face of this organization. He has built the franchise from the ground up and he not only coaches but also oversees personnel decisions. He leans on his personnel director and line coach Ron James, though, who has a reputation as a great teacher. Arena legend Hunkie Cooper runs the defense and Lindsay Hassell coaches the DL/LB, while Scott Lieber handles the special teams. White is a great offensive playcaller and he has assembled a solid teaching staff in Utah.
Key playersQB Joe Germaine -- Coming off a record-setting season in 2007 in which he threw for 5,005 yards and 107 TDs with only nine interceptions, for a sparkling 128.2 QB rating. Germaine has NFL skills and experience and has adapted well to the indoor game, but he heads into 2008 without his top two receivers from last season, Siaha Burley (free agent to Arizona) and Orshawante Bryant (Achilles injury). WRs Tom Pace, Aaron Boone and J.J. McKelvey -- Pace is a steady guy who had 111 receptions in 2007 for 1,198 yards and 20 TD. McKelvey is a well-thought-of free agent from Philadelphia who had 50 catches and 19 TDs last season for the Soul. Boone is talented but has been bothered by injuries. OL Devin Wyman -- Wyman is a first-team All-AFL performer in 2007 who was obtained in a trade with Dallas. He is tall and rangy and will be an excellent edge pass protector for Germaine. DLs Dwayne Missouri and E.J. Burt -- Both are free-agent acquisitions -- Missouri from Philadelphia and Burt from Chicago -- and both had six sacks a year ago. Neither is flashy but they are veterans who are expected to upgrade and stabilize the weakest position on the team. DB Reggie Doster -- A free agent from Georgia who should provide a significant upgrade in the secondary, Doster posted 78 tackles and six interceptions a year ago and has excellent ball skills. PK Steve Videtich -- Videtich is a steady, dependable kicker who posted 143 points a year ago.
Player to keep an eye onWR Anthony Brown -- With a suddenly thin receiving corps he has a chance to make a contribution. He played in AFL2 in 2007 but his size (6-foot-6, 230 pounds) makes him a tough matchup and a big target in the red zone.
OutlookA year ago Utah was a scoring machine with an explosive pass offense and the best QB/WR duo in the AFL - Joe Germaine and Siaha Burley. Luckily, they were able to outscore a lot of their opponents because they were simply lousy on defense. They couldn't stop the pass, they couldn't make key stops and it seemed like every game was a high-scoring shootout.
Now, leading into 2008 it looks like the roles may be reversed. The Blaze have lost their best two receivers, Burley and Orshawante Bryant and the depth at wide receiver is shaky. No matter how good Germaine plays, it's doubtful he can match last years' numbers, but Utah had a very active offseason and they really worked hard to upgrade their defense and improve both sides of the trenches.
They head into this season with a defense that will be competitive, but an offense that will not be nearly as explosive as a year ago. That all adds up to a .500 type team in a very competitive division.Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.
2008 AFL Preview
Can the San Jose SaberCats become the first team in 12 years to repeat as ArenaBowl champions? Can Dallas finally overcome its playoff slump? Can the combination of Sherdrick Bonner and Damian Harrell lead Chicago to title? As the Arena Football League prepares to kick off its 22nd season, ESPN.com answers all the questions heading into the 2008 season.
Horton: Predicting every records, playoffs and ArenaBowl winner
Experts pick awards, ArenaBowl winner
Preseason power rankings
Preseason All-AFL Team
Horton: 10 things to know
AFL 101: 22 things to know going into '08
Horton: Team by team QB breakdowns
Players to keep an eye on
Last Man Standing
Episode 1: Welcome to camp
Episode 2: Bonding, bad dances and a scrimmage
Episode 3: Cut down day
Central Division preview
Picks and awards
Chicago | Colorado | Grand Rapids | K.C
Eastern Division preview
Picks and awards
Cleveland | Columbus | Dallas | New York | Philly
Southern Division preview
Picks and awards
Tampa Bay | Georgia | New Orleans | Orlando
Western Division preview
Picks and awards
Arizona | Los Angeles | San Jose | Utah
Chat wrap: AFL commish David Baker
Commissioner Baker on First Take
Play AFL Pick' Em
Engel: Week 1 preview
AFL on ESPN
Schedule of games on ESPN networks