Written by ‘The Inside Man’    Images by J.R Lawless

Season 15 has finally opened her door to us. Signings have been made. Rookies have been drafted. Rosters have been finalised. The stage is now set, all the props are in place. Week 1 is just around the corner. Before we round that corner however, I would like to share with you a series of articles that were placed on my desk a short time ago, allegedly written by the SFL’s very own ‘Inside Man’. These analytical pieces, written in emerald ink with a cool hand, were simply titled ‘S15 Previews – Courtesy of IM’. Who this ‘Inside Man’ is, and whether he will ever grace us with his musings again, I do not know. All that I can tell is that he seems to demonstrate unerring confidence in his ability to assess a squad and I can imagine he will stand by the predictions he makes in the forthcoming analysis until it is definitively proven right or wrong. There was no introduction, no prelude, no inkling about motives or affiliations. Every word lent towards assessment of the franchises of the SFL. Before I let you peruse over his previews, I want to say this directly to the ‘Inside Man’ whom I know will be reading this. Next time, get with the 21st century and type your ideas…it makes my life a lot easier man! 

Fort Worth Toros

Steering the Ship

Owners: Stephen Hacker & Luis Gonzalez
Vice President of Player Operations: Robert Garrett Jr. (VPP)
General Manager: Jason Williams
HC/OC/DC: Stephen Hacker & Luis Gonzalez
Scouts: David Horrell, Cameron Curtis, Delaney Nash, Chris Comisac
Director of Communications: Cameron Curtis

The Schedule

As is to be expected with a new franchise, the SFL gods have been kind(ish) to Fort Worth with the schedule. Three games against losing teams from last season and four more against fellow first-season franchises gift the Toros a schedule that is 15th in strength at 0.477. However, games against Jacksonville and Queen City (Hacker and Nacho returning) will be extremely difficult to come through successfully and a presumably tough mid-season encounter with Florida will make those claiming the new boys have it easy sit up and listen. A double whammy match-up with the Lone Star Glory will make for some interesting viewing, as will the Week 12 battle with fellow novices, Portland.

Game to Watch:  The 2-Part Series with Lone Star

The Locker Room

For a team new to the league, Fort Worth did a good job of bringing in some excellent veteran presence that will be needed if they are going to have a successful first season. Owners Stephen Hacker and Luis Gonzalez brought their respective players over from the Queen City Corsairs (players of some skill and quality might I add) and they also gave big contracts to running back Jason Williams and tight end Robert Garrett Jr. The almost unending experience of EK Vinson will most certainly help to steady the defensive front 7 and Xander Gold made a somewhat spectacular return to a helmet after flirting with the idea of retirement, following a disappointing season in New Orleans.

A total of 11 names were called for the Toros during the draft, with names like #1 overall pick David Horrell and defensive end Joey Schwindt standing out. Fort Worth got some big personalities for the wily veterans to curb and it will be interesting to see if their play on the field is as bold as they are off it. Overall I think that the Toros are in a very strong position (as a new team) heading into Week 1 and it looks like they will be a long-term fixture in this league.

Player to Watch:  Jason Williams, Running Back                                                                                                      Best Draft Pick: Cameron Curtis, Wide Reciever

Final Assessement

I think the Fort Worth Toros are a sneaky tough team with a sneaky tough schedule. They have a relatively experienced staff across the board and the roster they have put together will definitely be competitive. I would advise to look for a couple of big surprises against heavily favoured teams but to also expect inconsistency – a phenomenon that plagues so many young teams in this league.

Predicted Record – 5-7

Portland Fleet

Steering the Ship (Literally)

Owner/HC: Jacob Bouvette                                                                                                                                  General Manager: Nelson Lozano                                                                                                                              OC: Mel Davis                                                                                                                                                             DC: Chuck Hook

The Schedule

When you look at the unnervingly challenging Week 1 game against a reeling Sioux Falls team who are coming back after losing in the championship game, it looks like the SFL have done the newbies dirty with an almost unfair schedule. Things don’t exactly get toom much easier as the Fleet play host to the Denver Nightwings and then travel to Vegas, with one of those teams buoyed by a Week 1 ‘Vice Wars’ victory. However, when you delve a little deeper into the Fleet’s 12 games, whilst there are never any easy games in the SFL, it does seem poignant that only two of the remaining games are against squads who had a winning record last season. In actual fact, Portland has the 17th toughest schedule in the league, and while I have already stated that there are no easy games in the SFL, that schedule may help them achieve at least a few wins. The aforementioned end of season clash with Fort Worth is one that all SFL fans should mark on the calendar, as well as the double header against what will be a strong Louisiana Revolution team. Mid-Season trips to Mexico City and Vancouver will be a true test of whether this upstart Portland outfit belong as a staple in the SFL.

Game to Watch: Week 12 @ FTW

The Locker Room

Interesting…very interesting. The first word that shouts at me when I look at what Portland did this off-season. Now let me be clear, the team build is fairly safe and it follows well rehearsed and successful build types. A lack of o-line might seem controversial to some, but personally I feel like the jury is still out on stacking cap value into the offensive line compared to other areas. The area Portland seem to have poured their cap space into is the line backing corps – it could prove to be the best in the SFL this season. Frank Champion, Aman Takess and Mel Davis are all big free agent signings on big contracts and I can’t wait to see then take the field together. Couple that gold standard level of experience at the second level with the four-star defensive line (all drafted rookies) and the Fleet should be very hard to run the ball against this season. The very inexperienced secondary is another matter however, and offenses may look to exploit the five rookies that populate Portland’s last line of defense, especially early in the season. One player that peaks my interest, is Derek Majors. Call it a gut feeling, but I feel like the #1 corner will have a solid season.

On offense, Portland have a nice blend of youth and experience. Formerly retired quarterback  Matt South, was seemingly brought back from the dead after numerous seasons out of the league and was rewarded with a nice contract to boot. South’s potentially rusty arm will be looking to find one of there rookie receivers, all of whom seem to be of a similar ability, which is no bad thing – the Fleet may be holding one of these three emerges as a true #1 receiver. Like the secondary on the other side of the ball, I see a weakness in Portland’s running game. Truezmann is unproven at running back and I can see him being bottles up for alot of the season, even with Jacob Farmer pushing ahead in front of him at fullback.

Once again – interesting…

Player to Watch: Mel Davis, Linebacker                 Best Draft Pick: Derek Majors, Cornerback

Final Assessment

It’s going to be tough sledding for the Fleet this season. Despite one of the ‘easier’ schedules in the SFL, I’m not sure they will have enough offensive firepower to trouble the better defenses in the league, and despite having a strong front 7, the inexperience of the pass defense may haunt them each week. However, it is not all doom and gloom – if this group of players stays together, Season 16 could be a playoff one.

Predicted Record – 2-10

Louisiana Revolution

Steering the Ship

Owner/HC: Gerald Smith
General Manager: Jeff Melinyshyn
Director of Communication/Social Media: Jonny Pichler
Asst. GM/Scout: Ross Napoli
Asst. Coach/Scout: Mike Twinscrew

The Schedule

The Louisiana Revolution’s schedule is technically the 13th toughest in the SFL, although looking over the slate, I can’t help but feel like they have struck a lucky match in their first season. An entirely winnable opening trio of games against St. Louis, London and Tulsa gives Louisiana a crucial opportunity to get ahead early in the season, which is almost more important for the morale of a rookie squad. Tough mid-season contests versus Baltimore and at Jacksonville may prove to be inconsequential if the Revolution can gain good results over Portland (twice), Houston and a Vancouver team many are predicting will take a dip in form. A Week 12 trip to Florida however, could be the toughest trip of the season and Louisiana will not want to be in a playoff dogfight at this point, especially if it’s a win and in situation – I wouldn’t fancy their chances. Gerald Smith’s squad need to get those wins early. It’s as simple as that.

Game to Watch: Opening Day against St. Louis

The Locker Room

Let’s just get this out of the way. I LOVE what Louisiana have done with their roster. Throughout the entirety of free agency and the draft, the Revolution seem to have looked to the future whilst also feeling in mind the fact that they could have a good chance of going to the playoffs. It is one of the best squads in the league for my money, so it stands to reason that I like this group more than the other three in this article. Shall we just start from the top?

The long drawn out ‘Jonny Who Will He Pichler?’ saga ended with the expected trip to Louisiana, following his coach, giving the Revolution one of the SFL’s most exciting young talents. Add to that a resurgent Reggie Streeter, who in Season 13, was by far and away the best running back in the league. A strong if not spectacular receiving corps will help keep drives alive and make the odd big play, supported by one of the shrewdest signings of the off-season – Cody Scott. The experienced tight end is one of the best in the league and will provide Pichler a talented target over the middle of the field. I also like the two offensive line pieces that were added in the supplemental draft.

Defensively, I first want to address what may be the main perceived weakness of this squad: the all-rookie defensive line. Napoli, Schillizzi, Gond and Wilder were all drafted this off-season and will have to gel together very quickly to compete with offensive lines and quarterbacks that are getting better each season. It’s brilliant news for the future if these guys can get and stick together, but for now, it’s hard to argue that they may struggle to compete with the best. Behind that, Louisiana are stacked. Chuck Diesel and Blake Craize provide a LB room that borders on elite, Hood and Evan Arthur at Cornerback are solid and the safety trio of Tank Bennett, Jeff Melinyshyn and Nathan Blake is as dynamic as it is fearsome. All round, the Revolution have impressed.

Player to Watch: Reggie Streeter, Running Back           Best Draft Pick: Ross Napoli, Defensive End

Final Assessment

A great roster. Not the toughest schedule in the world. An owner/coach who is bordering on elite. The Revolution are primed  to make the playoffs.

Predicted Record – 7-5

 Lone Star Glory

Steering the Ship

Owners: Charles Dougherty and Wally Herman
General Manager: Dave Axis
HC: Charles Dougherty
OC: Brian Craven
DC: Charles Dougherty

The Schedule

On paper, The Glory have the toughest schedule of the four newly-formed teams, and after a quick glance at the list, you can see why. The road schedule is BRUTAL, especially late in the season, with daunting trips to Sioux Falls, Queen City and Chicago in store. Earlier road games against the Vancouver Legion and the Hyenas may provide a more winnable test, but losing both of these early season games could be a danger in the heart to Lone Star’s season early. The Glory’s home games are much more inviting, and I could actually see them going 4-2 or even 5-1 in their home stadium, something that will be of paramount importance. One final wrinkle that I find fascinating on Lone Star’s schedule, is the aforementioned double header with Fort Worth. I can see these two newbies taking it down to the wire, and the winner of this series could be the ones gaining an unlikely Wildcard spot.

Game to Watch: Two games against Fort Worth

The Locker Room

It seems like the Lone Star Glory have quickly established themselves as a team that it’s trendy to want to be on. Popular figures in the SFL media like Brian ‘Coach’ Craven, Doug Day and Dave Axis have attracted many an interested player, although the Glory’s roster only half reflects that. Wally Herman and Chatles Dougherty seemed to go into this off-season with a strict plan, and seem to have executed it perfectly. LSG were in rarified air for a new franchise, only needing 6 picks in the 7 round draft to fill out their roster – 3 of whom were big contracts late in the supplemental draft. They were excellent at attracting veteran free agents and their roster is only stronger for it.

The offense is dominated by the 3 headed bull of an offensive line, which should do a fantastic job of not only protecting rookie QB, Ace Fenech, but opening holes for fellow rookie, Ike McBride. Such is the potential of this line, it could spark both rookies into the Offensive Rookie of the Season debate. The drawback? There are only 3 weapons to throw to, the nest of which comes in the form of rookie tight end, Adam Williams. Williams looks like a mismatch waiting to happen, with attention being drawn away from him and onto Season 14 breakout star, Liam Hammer.

Defensively, the Glory are stacked. They have a fully professional front 7, illuminated by the ‘Bash Brother’ pairing of Craven and Day. They also manage to secure the services of mammoth defensive tackle, Jukyn Roukyn, who returns for another season after Seattle disbanded. Roukyn could have his best season yet on that line, which only spells disaster for opposing teams. One weakness I can perceive in the Glory defense may be rookie safety, Thomas Smith. Smith is clearly a talent, although his rawness may be a target for opposition quarterbacks. With any luck, Lincoln Kingseed Jr. will be able to help Smith acclimatise to the SFL.

Player to Watch: Liam Hammer, Wide Receiver            Best Draft Pick: Adam Williams, Tight End

Final Assessment

Lone Star look to be a polished team with a tight knit locker room and a roster that has been maximised to it’s full potential this season. A tough schedule and inexperienced coaching could limit their playoff chances, but I still think they have a good chance. One thing is for certain – their off the field activity will stand them in good stead for the future. I can only see greatness on the horizon.

Predicted Record – 5-7

Well, that’s the first chapter of the pages that this mysterious writer left me. I envision there will be at least 3 more chapters. Until that time, goodnight, and make sure you watch and enjoy Baltimore vs Atlanta later tonight.