JACKSONVILLE – The Jacksonville Sharks (4-7) return to action on Thursday, June 12, as the team will travel to take on the Orlando Predators (7-5). Kickoff at CFE Arena in Orlando is set for 7:30 p.m., as the game will air live on ESPN and via the WatchESPN app, with the Sharks’ radio broadcast set to air on AM 600 WBOB.
Jacksonville heads into this week’s game looking to build on a 34-28 victory over the Spokane Shock last Saturday night. That win featured a stellar all-around defensive performance, as the Sharks got a defensive stop on each of Spokane’s final six possessions, keeping the Shock off the scoreboard for the final 33:16 of the contest.
This is a week of firsts for the Sharks, as it is Jacksonville’s first-ever Thursday night game and also marks the first time that the team will travel to the same opponent’s arena twice during a single regular season. The Sharks have dropped a pair of close games to Orlando in the teams’ first two meetings of 2014, falling 49-47 in Week 1 and 59-50 on Sea Best Field in Week 10. Still, Jacksonville remains just two-and-a-half games behind Orlando in the South Division race with a game in hand, making this week’s game a prime opportunity for the Sharks to close the gap.
The Sharks enter this week with the goal of replicating last week’s defensive performance, which was highlighted by defensive back Terrance Smith’s overall effort. In the first half, Smith broke up consecutive passes on third and fourth down to keep Spokane out of the end zone. He then snared two interceptions in the second half, including the eventual game-winning pick-six with less than five minutes remaining in the game. Smith’s work earned him recognition as the Riddell Defensive Player of the Week, and the Sharks hope to get a similar performance to slow down Orlando quarterback Bernard Morris.
After making his season debut against the Sharks in the teams’ last matchup, Morris has now appeared in four games with the Predators this season. He is off to an impressive start, firing 19 touchdown passes against just one interception while also averaging nearly 24 rushing yards per game. Morris has a talented array of weapons to work with, as Greg Carr (79 receptions, 1,075 yards, 25 touchdowns) leads the team in every major receiving category, while Khalil Paden averages a league-best total of 16.4 yards per reception.
The Sharks did a good job of containing Morris’ rushing ability in the teams’ last meeting, holding him to just 13 yards on five carries. But as Jacksonville knows firsthand, Morris is capable of impacting the game with his feet, as he has racked up five rushing touchdowns over the course of the last three weeks. While the Sharks’ front four will certainly be aggressive in rushing the passer, they must stay disciplined and prevent too many running lanes from opening up.
On the other side, the Sharks’ offense is looking to regain its rhythm. Jacksonville has scored just 35 and 34 points, respectively, in each of the team’s last two games, and will likely need a more efficient performance to keep pace with an Orlando squad that averages better than 57 points per game.
In order to get back on track offensively, Jacksonville quarterback R.J. Archer will need to quickly gain familiarity with a new-look group of wide receivers. The Sharks are now without the team’s two leading wideouts, as London Crawford and Jeron Harvey have both been placed on injured reserve. One of the team’s newest receivers made an impact on special teams last week, as Maurice Williams averaged 24.0 yards on his kick return chances. But it was rookie Charles Gilbert who made his presence felt the most.
After working with the Sharks during training camp prior to the 2013 season, Gilbert rejoined the team prior to last Saturday’s game against the Shock. The Jacksonville native and Ridgeview High School alum stepped into the lineup in his first week with the team, hauling in five receptions for 65 yards and two touchdowns. The second of those two scores tied the score at 28 late in the fourth quarter, setting the stage for Smith’s game-winning interception. Archer and the Sharks’ offense will look for Gilbert to continue to make a similar impact as the season progresses.
The Sharks will also need to focus on special teams this week, as Orlando has returned a kick for a touchdown in each of the team’s first two matchups. The second of those returns was the most costly, as Gerald Young took a missed field goal to the house, scoring the game-winning touchdown with just one second left in the team’s regular-season matchup. Though Jacksonville’s kick coverage has been much improved in recent weeks, the Sharks cannot afford to let Young get loose on Thursday.
After Thursday’s game, the Sharks will get set for another divisional matchup on the road, as the team travels to take on the New Orleans VooDoo on Saturday,
About the Jacksonville Sharks
The Jacksonville Sharks are members of the Arena Football League (AFL). The ArenaBowl XXIV and four-time South Division Champions are presented by Sea Best Seafood and play all home games on Sea Best Field at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Season Tickets for the 2014 season are now available, two tickets for as low as $89. To purchase your season tickets or for more information, please call (904) 621-0700. Follow the Sharks on facebook at facebook.com/jaxsharks and on Twitter @jaxsharks, as well as the Attack Dance Team at facebook.com/sharkattackdance and Chum at facebook.com/chumsharks.
About the AFL
Since its inception in 1987, the Arena Football League has showcased a fast-paced and exciting game to millions of fans in a myriad of markets across the country. The ESPN family of networks and CBS Sports Network will nationally broadcast AFL games each week for the entire season. The AFL schedule then culminates with the ArenaBowl Championship game live on ESPN.