- Gary Horton, Scouts Inc.
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Looking back on a few things that caught our eyes as we head into Week 2.
• The Jack Linebacker: Defense in the AFL changed with the new rule that allowed the Jack linebacker freedom of movement and the ability to slide to the outside. It should lead to better coverage schemes and more interceptions -- especially in the flat. It was fascinating in Week 1 to see how the QBs tried to read the Jack in coverage and decide whether to continue to attack the outside or throw the ball back inside, the area the Jack now vacates to get in coverage. It seems like a lot of defenses are playing some zone schemes, almost a Cover 2 with two DBs deep and one DB and the Jack in short zones. But QBs may come back and either run the ball or attack the short middle, which will either create a productive play or force the Jack to stay home. It will be fun to watch the evolution of this new rule for both the offense and defense in the next few weeks.
It was fascinating to watch how the QBs attacked the defenses to counter the new rules. With several defenses playing zone schemes and either asking the Jack LB to drop into the short perimeter zone or having him fly to the outside in coverage on the snap of the ball, we saw a lot of short passes over the middle in the area vacated by the Jack. There were lots of dump offs and safe check downs, but surprisingly there weren't more inside runs. We may see the Jack in future weeks play a cat and mouse game with the QB, showing an outside drop and then staying inside or vice versa.
• Defensive Communication: A lot of us have wondered for a long time why the QB could be equipped with a device in his helmet that allows the coaches to give him the play electronically, but the same was not true for the defense. This year, the AFL allows one defensive player to have the same device as the QB and it lets the coaches get the defensive calls in without a lot of confusion. It also eliminates any possibility of the opposing team to steal signals. It's a good rule -- are you listening NFL?
• Two way or one way? Even though the substitution rules were in affect last year and players did not have to play both ways, it was a tough transition for the coaches. When you talk to guys around the league, they admit they continued to play guys in "Ironmen" roles, partly out of loyalty to players and partly because that was what everybody was used to. There were probably only four or five teams that took full advantage of the new rules by switching to mostly one way players, including ArenaBowl champ San Jose. But this year, the rosters reflect less "Ironmen" and more specialists, which will put a better product on the field.
• Pump Fakes: It seems like a lot of AFL QBs are utilizing pump fakes and double moves on routes by receivers to create big vertical plays. With receivers really having the matchup advantage because of motion, a lot of DBs try to jump routes and the pump fake gives the receivers a chance for deep routes on an out-and-up move. But remember that when a QB uses that pump fake, all the restrictions by defenders in the box are lifted, which gives the defense a little more freedom of movement.
• Corner Blitz? The only guy who can blitz on defense in the AFL is the Mack linebacker, but that doesn't mean that defense don't try to sneak a guy off the corner. It's a tough call for the official to pick up and in all fairness, a defensive player's instincts take over when he has a clean shot at the QB and it's hard to hold up. This rule is really tough on aggressive attacking secondary like in Chicago and Philadelphia.
• Arizona offensive coordinator Skip Foster is doing a nice job with QB Lang Campbell, who threw for 319 yards, eight TD passes and spread the ball around to a young group of receivers despite being without franchise wideout Siaha Burley. This may grow into an explosive pass offense as the season progresses.
• It is only one week into the season, but there are two franchises that really seem hopeless in 2008 -- New Orleans and New York. Both have QB injuries and we could add Grand Rapids to the list, but they haven't played yet. The AFL needs a contender in the nation's biggest market and while Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles all have good teams, it would be good for the league if New York followed suit.
• Utah worked hard to upgrade its defense and pass rush in the offseason, but gave up 63 points to a young and inexperienced Arizona offense. Without Siaha Burley -- now with the Rattlers -- the Blaze no longer have the explosive offense to bail out its defense.
• Even though Georgia lost to Dallas, the DL trio of Jermaine Smith, Earnest Allen and R.K. Truluck looks like the real deal and will be tough on opposing QBs. They already knocked out Clint Dolezel (separated shoulder) for up to six weeks.
• Orlando usually wins with an efficient offense and an aggressive defense that creates turnovers and big plays, but in a Week 1 loss to Philadelphia, the Predators had no tackles for loss, no sacks, no caused fumbles and not even a pass broken up. That is not the Predators defense that we are used to seeing and against the Soul, they just looked a step slow.
• With Dolezel out for several weeks, the power in the AFL shifts to Philadelphia and Chicago -- and they face off Sunday (ESPN2, 1 p.m. ET). For the next several weeks, they will be the best two teams in the league, but don't count Dallas out, even with backup QB Chris Sanders.
• Cleveland does not look like a first year team. We expected QB Raymond Philyaw to give them offensive respectability, but versus New York the defense was outstanding, producing four sacks, four tackles for loss, two interceptions and three forced fumbles. This is going to be a good football team.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm called The War Room.
19hMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne