POSTED ON MARCH 31, 2010:
Hittin' the Turf
Tulsa Talons opens the newest season of the revived Arena Football League
Race for the Top. Standout quarterback Justin Allgood faces stiff competition for the starting job this year as new acquisition Mike Potts shakes things up.
Tulsa's favorite arena football team returns to action Saturday night. Head Coach Mitch Allner leads the squad again this year. Half of last year's roster returns intact but much has changed since the end of last season.
For 10 seasons, the Talons dominated af2 play. Arena Football 2, while very entertaining, was a step below the more prestigious Arena Football League.
Economical issues forced the AFL to cease operations. Several af2 franchises, including your Tulsa Talons, swooped in to purchase the rights to the AFL name, logo and other significant rights.
This season, the Talons compete in the reincarnation of the AFL against heavy-hitters such as Arizona, Dallas and Chicago. The level of the game has been raised.
Will the Talons take their rightful place atop the AFL, or will the competition overwhelm the once proud af2 franchise? Will we recognize the game or players when the Talons take the field?
"The product on the field, when it comes to rules of the game, will be the same as what our fans have always seen in the past," Allner said.
Several players return from last year's team. Standout quarterback Justin Allgood faces stiff competition for the starting job this year.
Newly acquired QB Mike Potts is making noise as well. "Mike's done a great job in camp so far, too. Mike is a young guy. He spent some time with the Pittsburgh Steelers. (He) played four games in arena 2 last year at the very end of the season with the Manchester Wolves," Allner said.
Potts lacks arena football seasoning. It is shaping up as a nice problem for Coach Allner with the amount of talent at the most important position on the field.
Whoever wins the starting job will have a cache of weapons at his disposal. The diminutive Jeff Hughley returns. The five-foot-eight dynamic pass-catcher is joined by Carlese Franklin and AFL vet Sale Key. Key has made a strong showing in camp.
Another returning receiver, Donovan Morgan, should elicit excitement throughout Talons fandom. Morgan suited up for the Talons in the past and earned tryouts with NFL squads such as the Green Bay Packers. His size (6'3", 220 lbs.) and explosiveness should make an immediate impact.
Additional former Talons returning to the fold include James Sadler and Odie Armstrong.
"It will be nice to get some of those former faces back on the team and also throw in the mix a few of these new guys the fans don't know about yet," Allner said.
One of those new guys to keep an eye on is Steve Watson, a linebacker with previous af2 experience with the hated Arkansas Twisters. It's OK to cheer for him now. He's with the good guys.
"He was a First-Team All-AFL linebacker in the league," he said. "He's a guy who's been very successful and put up huge numbers everywhere he's been. He is a very big addition to our team. He's going to be a nice asset when it comes to rushing the passer and getting pressure on the quarterback."
One fan favorite who will not be returning is kicker Luke Phillips. "He did a great job for us the past couple of years," Allner said. "He'll definitely be missed. He's a good guy. He was always a good teammate."
Defensive end Terrance Carter returns and looks to push the pocket from the edge. Carter never shies from the physicality that the trenches bring. Yes, defense counts in arena football.
Arena football is a niche sport. You either love it or you have never attended a live game. Of course, there are several who fall into the football purist category and simply refuse to give the entertaining sport a chance.
However, the owners believe in their formula for success. Player's salaries exceed af2 standards, while not quite reaching previous AFL levels.
Another facet that could propel this version of the AFL to the next level is the partnership formed with the NFL Network.
The all-football all-the-time channel will showcase one arena game per week for football enthusiast.
"The exposure will be a great thing not only for our team but for the league in general," Allner said.
The network is recognized for its football coverage. The NFL Network can be a powerful tool in the development of the league and the players. The first televised game is Friday, April 2, the night before the Talons home opener.
"I'm looking forward to see how it pans out for the league," Allner said. "I think it's going to be a great thing."
Speaking of positives, the BOK Center should no longer overshadow the product on the field. The arena continues to be a strong selling point for potential free agents.
Conventional wisdom is the arena overwhelmed the home team to a degree last season. The truth of the matter is it might serve as an intimidator for opposing players.
"It was a great thing for us," he said. "I enjoyed the season last year and look forward to the second season in the building."
The Talons host the Tampa Bay Storm to open the season on Saturday, April 3 at 7pm. The Storm's roster is littered with Big 12 talent. Visit bokcenter.com or tulsatalons.com for schedule and ticket information.
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A29627