2015 Jacksonville Sharks Season Preview
by Erik Watkins
2015 will continue Jacksonville’s move into uncharted waters. For the first time since their inaugural season in 2010, the Sharks do not enter the season as South division champions. Also, Jacksonville has had arguably their biggest offseason ever, looking to improve on an offense that struggled throughout the 7-11 season.
After 2014 saw both Aaron Garcia and Bernard Morris come and go, Jacksonville knew their first task was to find a quarterback, as R.J. Archer signed a deal with the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks in February. They landed that signal caller in Tommy Grady, who spent last season with Pittsburgh, leading them to a 15-3 record while throwing for 4,717 yards, 115 touchdowns, and only 17 interceptions. With Lee Chapple returning as the potential backup, the quarterback conundrum could be solved once and for all after a couple of rocky seasons.
To complement Grady’s Arm, the Sharks landed Joe Hills from division rival Tampa Bay and Anthony “Tiger” Jones from Philadelphia, who combined for 71 touchdowns for their respective teams in 2014. This adds an extra bit of speed to complement Jeron Harvey’s size and Jomo Wilson’s power. Whether they can replace the likes of London Crawford (Physically Unable to Perform) and Jeff Hughley (Refused to Report) will be seen, but if the offense can fire on all cylinders, there’s potential for being one of the top five, if not the best, in the league.
On defense, the biggest loss was Front Five defensive anchor Aaron Robbins, who left for hated rival Orlando in free agency. Not to be outdone, the Sharks boosted their offensive line with Donte Rumph, Joe Sykes, and Caesar Rayford. The question now is what to do with five linemen. Will Coach Les Moss decide to use at least one of them in a Robbins-type hybrid role, or will they shift full time to the linebacker spots?
The floor: 8-10
Looking at the schedule, there are at least seven winnable games as a worst case scenario. New Orleans hasn’t really improved, and Tampa Bay could join the Predators in nipping at the Sharks heels in the revamped three-team South division. Looking at a season sweep of the VooDoo and beating the Storm at home is four games in the books. As another worst case, Orlando could pull out their broomsticks, sending the division title back to Orlando.
Winning two of three against the Soul and splitting the games against the National Conference means that a wild card could be in the works (assuming four teams per conference still make the playoffs, it would be four out of six). From there, Jacksonville could be one and done come playoff time.
The ceiling: 14-4
If the offense can live up to what it looks like on paper, there may be no one in the American Conference who can stop them, and they could compete with Arizona for being the best in the league. If that holds, and the defense is at least a semblance of the powerhouse that it has been over the years, then Jacksonville can win the division running away. Again, the National Conference schedule is a little daunting, but hosting expansion Las Vegas and paying a visit to the silver turf of LA makes that a little easier. Having one, potentially two, playoff home games would make the road to ArenaBowl XXVIII if the other conference contenders pan out as expected.
Players to Watch
Honestly, there are at least five to choose from on this list, but the most important is Tommy Grady. In their history, the Sharks have seen their fair share of both good and average quarterbacks, from Hall of Famer-to-be Aaron Garcia to Omar Jacobs and Bernard Morris to Kyle Rowley. The only common thread is, because of trades and injuries, a lack of consistency. When there’s been one main man to turn to, Jacksonville has more than held their own, and Tommy Grady will look to be that man for 2015. If he can keep his Utah and Pittsburgh form this year, he’ll insert himself into the conversation for MVP.
It’s up to Jacksonville to restore the order and take back the South division, and they’ve put themselves in a good position to do so. Now, it’s time to get on the field and make it happen.