Written by Matthew Slinn

Images by Hubba Kimbrel

The Skyhawks Put Their Trust in South

Sometimes in sport, there is a team that just falls short when it comes to luck. A team that, when the chips are down, when it’s crunch time, things just don’t fall into place. In the SFL, there are a couple of teams that fit this bill, and I think one of those teams is the Carolina Skyhawks. Moments come and go for Carolina, moments that I look at and can’t help but think ‘Ahhh, that’s rotten luck‘. Take the end of last season for example. For a team like Carolina to make the playoffs is a rare thing. They haven’t graced the Post-Season since Season 11 and even then it was one and done with a 7-44 thrashing at the hands of the Queen City Corsairs. So, bearing this in mind, we can understand how¬†HUGE of a deal it would be to the staff and players if they heard their names called during a playoff game. Well, that reality nearly came true last season – at least, we thought it did. Technological faults and a game that needed to be replayed denied the Skyhawks a chance at the post-season, An agonising 19-10 defeat to the Charleston Predators ensued and the Carolina players and staff had to settle for the all too familiar feeling of a long off-season. Why am I detailing this streak of bad luck? Well, it puts into perspective why Matt South could be the perfect fit, moving from Portland to Carolina.

Matt South hasn’t had a good couple of seasons since he returned to the league to lead the newly-formed Portland Fleet. Portland no doubt signed South expecting to get out of him what the Baltimore Crabs did back in Season 8 – a confident quarterback who was accurate and had an eye for the end zone. Interceptions have always been a symptom of the way South plays the position, but Portland would probably have accepted that if he managed to win them a few games. As many of us remember, South’s first season for the Fleet was a disaster. He played poorly and didn’t have the supporting staff to make up for it – in fact, South was the figurehead for the offence, a position that seemed to big for him at the time. The result? One of the worst QB seasons in SFL history. Granted, Season 16 was much better. South reached double digits in touchdowns and cut his INT rate from 31 to 21. The catalyst for improvement most likely came from the upgrades the Fleet made in the running game, Ezekiel Love proving to be a marked upgrade from FB/HB, Jon Truezmann. Moving Truezmann back to FB and bringing Love in transformed the offense, putting less pressure on South. And now we come to my over-riding point. Matt South can be successful in this league, especially if he improves still further as a Skyhawk, but he needs a good supporting staff around him. Carolina will provide him that. Logan Jack is one of the best receiving backs in the SFL, as shifty as it gets out in the flat. Then you have Harish Prasad, possibly the best receiver South has ever had running routes (when he isn’t face down faking an injury). Heath McDaniel Sr. is also no slouch. South has pure receiving weapons in Carolina.

There is nothing wrong with Matt South’s natural ability. A change of scenery may be just what the doctor ordered.

Winless San Diego An Attractive Prospect For Some

Let’s be honest, there is only one way to go for San Diego after last season, and that is up. The 0-12 season, former players calling into question the ability of the front office, the drama that surrounded Mike Ryan’s departure – a lot of negativity infected San Diego’s debut season in the SFL. However, to their credit, and to the players’ credit, most of them have stuck around. Yes, losing your #1 pick is a bit of a blow, but it’s not an unrecoverable position. The spine of the squad remains in tact, furthermore, free agents have found a move to the West coast an enticing proposition also! The raised profile of the Mavericks this off-season may be a blessing in disguise.

Arguably the biggest of San Diego’s summer signings is wide receiver, Liam Hammer. Hammer returns to an SFL squad after a season-long hiatus and his presence in the receiver room should provide true #1 target for Javier Vasquez to aim for. Yes, Connor Weston has shown flashes of brilliance, but Hammer is a slight cut above. The 6’3 flyer provides a pure deep threat for Vasquez to uncork the ball too, not to mention his safe hands, which may be crucial in tense third down situations. Combining this with Weston’s ability after the catch was a smart move on the front offices part. Sliding infield to the trenches, the Mavericks decided to invest in protecting their QB for Season 17, a result of Vasquez being sacked 42 times in 12 games, the 2nd most in the SFL. If the 3rd year vet is going to find his exciting receivers, he needs time. Finley James will provide that. A stone wall blocker in the center for Tulsa last season, James has decided to depart the Desperados and try his luck in the Pacific division. With defensive tackles like Vernard Patterson to deal with, James will need to utilise all the tricks he knows. Once again, this is a smart move. San Diego have looked at one of their biggest weaknesses and addressed it.

Defensively, the Mavericks set about replacing a couple of holes left in their secondary by the departures of Jacob Clear and #1 pick in the draft, Mike Ryan. It seems like the SD front office went with a somewhat ‘like for like’ approach, bringing in a decent cornerback in Cai Cash who can also take snaps in the returning game, much like Clear did last season on occasion and signing St. Louis safety, Zac Holldorf, gives a young player a chance to shine in a starting role after sitting lower in the depth chart last season. Both Holldorf and Ryan are at similar stages of their career, with the departing #1 pick just having more time on the field of play. Holldorf played well when called upon in a strong Gladiators secondary, although it remains to be seen what he can do in a starting position. Cash was over-shadowed slightly in Houston by star rookie Ralger Lawe (who has ironically moved to St. Louis) but he is a capable player. It’s likely that he will start as the #2 CB behind Ron Hoff. This secondary is young and in reality, unproven as a unit together. The jury is still out on how good they can be.

All in all, this FA Frenzy series has been about smart decisions when team building. San Diego fit that bill. Signing a true #1 receiver to a nice, large contract? Smart. Upgrading an area of weakness on the O-Line? Smart. Making sure you mitigate secondary losses by signing good, young players? Smart.

I like what the Mavericks have done this off-season. Now, there is no excuse for the coaches. You have the roster. Go out and make it work.

An Attitude Adjustment In Sioux Falls?

What are the first three things that come to mind when I think of the Sioux Falls Sparrows?

  • Colin Hart
  • A brutal run-first approach
  • Hard-nosed, experienced linebackers

For seasons, this has been the identity of the Sparrows. For seasons, it worked. Sioux Falls were synonymous with the playoffs. Yes, they were always the bridesmaid and never the bride, but they were one of the first teams listed under ‘Who will make the playoffs this season?’. Many talking heads within the SFL Media actually predicted Sioux Falls to take it all last season. And yet, we sit here a season later talking about a Sparrows team looking to bounce back from the ignominy of finishing bottom of the West division. Many, including myself, think that the Sparrows need a change of approach. It appears that the staff over in Sioux Falls share our thoughts.

You might be looking at the Sioux Falls roster and saying ‘Slinn, why are SXF even in this article? They have only made one signing?’. Yes, you are right. Only one free agent has joined, that free agent being Kae Marion. What’s important is the position that she plays – wide receiver. Marion will be the #2 receiver on a depth chart that contains four star pass-catchers. Over the last couple of seasons, since the rosters opened up to allow 20 star players, only a handful of teams have taken this approach. If this is not a statement of intent that the Sparrows will have at least a more balanced offensive game plan going into Season 17 then I don’t know what is. Maybe the fact that they drafted a center in the first round of the draft last night proves it move, but that’s a story for another article. So, what will Sioux Falls be expecting from their new receiver?

Last season, as a rookie, Marion didn’t catch that many passes in DC – 35 to be exact – and she caught them for a fairly standard 11 yards per reception. One thing she did do very well though, was find the end zone. On limited catches, Marion scored a TD 5 times, essentially catching a TD pass every 7 catches. I don’t care who you are, that’s not a bad return for your investment. What did the Sparrows really struggle to do last season? Pass the ball into the end zone. Julian Tyree had one of his worst ever seasons, the legend only hitting receivers for 6 pointers on 11 occasions. If the Sparrows want to balance their attack this coming season, that number needs to improve. Gunner Lewis can’t do it alone. Marion could provide that much-needed red zone presence for Tyree.

The Corsairs Are Gathering Their Crew For A New Adventure

Almost in parallel to the Sioux Falls Sparrows, the Queen City Corsairs acted like a fallen giant last season, bitterly holding on to past glories whilst simply not having the quality to maintain a winning season. Unlike the Sparrows, who seem to be changing their offensive approach, the Corsairs have decided to sink the old ship and start afresh with a new vessel. Hopefully, a vessel destined for success.

The rebuild starts with inside linebacker and new GM, BJ Loveless. Loveless has prior experience in this position and has been an excellent servant for the Arizona Scorpions ever since the team was conceived. Possibly the best coverage linebacker in the SFL, Loveless knocked down a whopping 21 passes last season, putting himself in passing lanes and showing an ability to cover receivers almost as well as the top safeties. He will be a huge loss in Arizona, but their loss is the Corsairs’ gain. The intelligence behind this signing is that he could be a catalyst for many more great players down the line – he already appears to have been busy. Joining Loveless in the defensive front seven is Andre ‘The Krimm Reaper’ Krimm and DJ Majesty, a solid linebacker who has decided to move forwards to defensive end as he hits the prime of his career. Krimm and Majesty are nice veteran options to have, especially when replacing an All-Star like Jeff Duffy. Both defensive ends have some development to do, especially Majesty, but this is a rebuilding squad after all. I think Loveless is looking beyond Season 17 and to the long term future of the Corsairs. Another move Loveless has made to bolster the defense is to bring in Maurice Lloyd who replaces free safety, Albert Begin. Lloyd will take the reigns of the deep safety position and I like this signing because of the winning mentality Lloyd should have, coming from Denver. This under the radar great move brings a winner to QCC, and when you are building a team, one of the first things you need are winners. Lloyd should help promote that mentality.

Changing lanes to the offense, QCC have two new weapons to play with, both in rather supplementary positions but important nevertheless. Chris Comisac has moved over from a successful Fort Worth franchise to help build another QCC dynasty (I’m pretty sure he is adding off the field value also in a coaching position) acting as a lead blocker for powerful runner, Jett Zero. The power back enjoyed a much improved season last time, and now he has Comisac sharing the backfield, his impact should only be greater. Last, but not least, certainly in terms of stature, enters big-bodied receiver, Jae Hayden. Hayden has made the move from the Baltimore Vultures, once again, bringing a winning mentality to the Corsairs squad as they try to overthrow the Vultures as North division champions in the next couple of seasons. Hayden provides AJ Caswell with a different type of receiver, one with a large body and good hands. He may not set the stadium alight by outstripping every defender on the way to an 80-yard TD, but he will be safe, and potentially deadly in the red zone and on 3rd down.

I’m a huge fan of what QCC are doing. They don’t appear to be rushing their rebuild. Sport is often a ‘Here and Now’ business and we forget to look to a future beyond the current season. They might not challenge for the division and in the playoffs this season, but that doesn’t appear to be priority. They are laying the foundations, setting the stage. Prepping the ship before it embarks. We don’t know it now but Loveless, Comisac and company may give the Corsairs their greatest adventure yet.