2009 AF2 Midwest Division Preview
From the AF2 Website - AF2.com—The Official Web site of the Arena Football League 2
Green Bay Blizzard (2008: 11-5, 1-1 playoffs)
Home Field: The Resch Center (7,695)
Head Coach: Bob Landsee, fourth year with Blizzard; 33-21 record (including playoffs)
Rookies Invited to Camp: 23
Key Players Lost: DL Joe Sykes, DL Odell Willis, WR Scott Burnoski, FB/LB Tyre Young, DB Rusty Midlam, DB Nate Green, FB/LB Gus Tyson
Key New Faces: FB/LB Orlando Medlock, DB Tracy Belton, FB/LB David Ihedigbo, WR Brian Hernandez
Key Returners: QB Gino Guidugli, OL Raymond McNeil, FB/LB Jarrel Walker
Burning Questions: Who will make up for the loss of Sykes and Willis in what was one of the most dangerous defensive lines in the af2 last year? How good can Gino Guidugli be with a full season of play under center? Can Bob Landsee guide this young Green Bay bunch to a third straight division title in his last three years as coach?
Last Game: Lost to Manchester, 54-55, in 2008 ArenaCup playoffs (American Conference semifinal – August 9)
Comments: The Blizzard enter 2009 looking to extend their streak of consecutive playoff appearances to five. In recent years, defense has been Green Bay’s calling card. This season, however, the Blizzard look to be more formidable on offense. The key ingredients back in the mix on offense are QB Gino Guidugli and First Team All-af2 C Raymond McNeil. Last year the Blizzard experimented with six different signal callers before Guidugli returned to end the QB carousel late in the season. This year it’s his job and he has the experience and skill to produce big-time results. In three games played last season, including two playoff starts, Guidugli threw 14 TD passes against just one interception. In 2007, the Cincinnati alum threw 40 TD passes in 10 game appearances. Another player to watch for Green Bay on offense is newcomer Orlando Medlock, a fullback who finished third in the af2 in rushing yards a year ago (307 yards, 12 rush TDs) with the Lubbock Renegades. Another new face who may turn into a favorite target for Guidugli is WR Brian Hernandez. Hernandez caught eight touchdowns in just four games last season with Boise. On the defensive side of things, league veterans DB Tracy Belton and LB David Ihedigbo will likely lead a restructured defense. Belton led Arkansas in 2008 and ranked among the league leaders with 34 passes defended and six interceptions to go along with 56 total tackles. Ihedigbo led Amarillo in 2007 with 60 total tackles along with 4.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and three blocked kicks. The main question mark for Green Bay lies on the defensive line where a group of rookies will be relied on to make up for the loss of All-af2 performers Joe Sykes (2008 Lineman of the Year, 2008 Defensive Player of the Year) and Odell Willis. If the Blizzard are able to create a solid pass rush, expect this team to be at or near the top of the standings.
Iowa Barnstormers (2008: 6-10)
Home Field: Wells Fargo Arena (8,403)
Head Coach: John Gregory, second year with Iowa, fifth season overall; 35-29 (including playoffs)
Rookies Invited to Camp: 12
Key Players Lost: DB Daniel McLemore, WR/KR Robert Kilow, FB/LB Terrance Freeney, LB Jack Walker, Jr.
Key New Faces: DB DeAndre Jackson, WR/LB Ken Williams, OL Steve Cully
Key Returners: QB Joe Brannen, WR Tim Dodge, K Jeff Glas, DB Tanner Varner, DB Jason Simpson, WR Errick McCown, FB/LB J.J. Payne, OL/DL Mike Mathes
Burning Questions: Who will win the quarterback battle between returnee Joe Brannen and Brian Villanueva? Has John Gregory assembled enough talent to bring a winner back to Des Moines?
Last Game: Lost to Tulsa, 41-64, in a regular season finale (July 26).
Comments: Head Coach John Gregory and a lot of other familiar faces are back for the Barnstormers for their second year in Des Moines after restarting the franchise in 2008. Area fans should have cause for optimism with this group as impact athletes return on both sides of the ball. On the offensive side, it all starts at the quarterback position. The team has two in camp with experience and talent. First of note is last year’s returning starter Joe Brannen. Brannen, just a rookie in 2008, struggled a bit in the middle of the season but improved his decision making over his last four showings. During the club’s final four games, the 6-5, 215-pound Coe College alum threw 18 touchdown passes with just one interception and had four rushing scores. Overall, Brannen finished with 70 total touchdowns (56 passing, 14 rushing) and 21 interceptions in 16 appearances. The Barnstormers also have another solid signal caller in camp in three-year league veteran Brian Villaneuva. Villaneuva, who played in one game with Iowa in 2008, played for Gregory with the Arkansas Twisters in 2006 and 2007. In 2007, Villaneuva tossed 56 TD passes to help the Twisters to a 12-win season and second-place finish in the Central Division. Both quarterbacks are proven players capable of taking this team to a successful season. This year’s Iowa camp roster also boasts a group of skilled receivers, including returnees Errick McCown (91-1176-18 TDs) and Tim Dodge (87-947-16 TDs). New addition Ken Williams, an import from Bossier-Shreveport, could be another impact player as well. Williams had 32 catches for 371 yards and 13 TDs in 11 games in 2008 with the BattleWings. He also played admirably at jack linebacker, registering two interceptions and 38 total tackles. Speaking of defense, the Iowa defensive secondary is in good hands despite the loss of Daniel McLemore and his team-high 11 interceptions. That’s because the Barnstormers benefit from having veterans like Jason Simpson (91 tackles, 6 INTs) and Tanner Varner (91 tackles, 7 INTs) back in town. Other DBs expected to make a difference are Jordan Davis and DeAndre Jackson. Davis was a solid player for Quad City in 2008 while Jackson is a rookie from Iowa State who played in the CFL last season. Moving up front, the defensive line looks in good shape with Mike Mathes (7 sacks) and Charles Johnson (6 sacks) leading the way. FB/LB Terrence Freeney’s presence, however, will be missed. Freeney relocated to Quad City after leading Iowa in 2008 with 9.5 sacks. Iowa’s passionate fan base came out last year excited for the return of Arena Football. This year they will be coming out expecting wins. With a roster laden with veteran playmakers and a veteran coach, the Barnstormers should be able to accommodate their fans’ demands.
Milwaukee Iron (first year – expansion team)
Home Field: Bradley Center (7,017)
Head Coach: Gary Compton, first year with Milwaukee, fourth season overall; 17-29 record (including playoffs)
Rookies Invited to Camp: 10
Key Players Lost: N/A
Key New Faces: FB/LB Tyre Young, WR Scott Burnoski, WR Kellen Allen, DB Donnie Amadi, DL Quartez Vickerson, QB Tyler Donovan, QB Matt Schabert
Key Returners: N/A
Burning Questions: Who will win the Wisconsin QB battle between alums Tyler Donovan and Matt Schabert? Will Milwaukee fans embrace their new Arena Football team just as they did for the Mustangs of the AFL?
Last Game: N/A
Comments: After eight long years, Arena Football has returned to Milwaukee. Thanks to a group of young and excited local owners, the Iron were forged in October of 2008. The team is led by Gary Compton, a former AFL standout who had his best seasons in Milwaukee as a valuable player with the Mustangs. Compton knows how great the fans are in the area and is ready to give them something to cheer about. He has put his new team together with a large number of league veterans. These veterans aren’t retreads, however. They can play. On defense, linemen Quartez Vickerson and DeMarcus Johnson are among the names that Iron fans will get to know. Vickerson played for Green Bay in 2008 and recorded 7.5 sacks in just 14 games played. Johnson saw action with the Daytona Beach ThunderBirds last season. The defensive secondary boasts Donnie Amadi (Green Bay), Lavar Stepter (Quad City) and James McCoy (Florida). All three players started for their respective teams in 2008. The Iron look strong at linebacker as well with mack linebacker and Mahoning Valley transfer Kellen Driscoll (48.5 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks) and Malik Jackson, who started at jack linebacker for Quad City in 2008 and recorded 66 tackles and five fumble recoveries. On offense, Compton recruited a cast of capable playmakers, including Scott Burnoski (83-1103-24 TDs with Green Bay in 2008), Kellen Allen (65-836-22 TDs in 8 games with Tulsa in 2008) and Ricardo Lenhart (103-1177-17 TDs with Louisville in 2008). Tyre Young will likely carry the rock around the goal line. In just seven games with Green Bay last year, he led the team with 241 rushing yards (8 TDs). Milwaukee’s only question marks might be depth on the offensive line and experience at quarterback. The starting signal caller job is up for grabs and will likely come down to Wisconsin alums Matt Schabert and Tyler Donovan. Schabert has one af2 start to his credit with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season while Donovan is a league rookie. If one of the young Badgers can step up and perform well under center, the Iron could turn some heads in their first season.
Peoria Pirates (2008: 4-12)
Home Field: Peoria Civic Center (9,873)
Head Coach: Bruce Cowdrey, fifth year with Peoria, sixth season overall; 36-36 record (including playoffs).
Rookies Invited to Camp: 29
Key Player Lost: QB Justin Rascati, WR Phillip Brock, DB Kofi Amoah, DB Blake Farris
Key New Faces: DL Michael Lewis, WR Dante Ridgeway, QB Kent Smith, QB Luke Drone, OL/DL Marvin Campbell
Key Returners: OL/DL Chad Walker, WR/LB Jacob Schoonover
Burning Questions: Will Bruce Cowdrey’s rookie roster formula create a winning mixture in Peoria? What new talent will turn into this year’s Phillip Brock, an All-af2 player for the Pirates in 2008?
Last Game: Lost to Louisville Fire, 48-62, in their regular season finale.
Comments: The Peoria Pirates enter their second year back in the af2 after being brought back in 2008 after a three-year hiatus (2005-07). Leading the team again this year will be Bruce Cowdrey. Cowdrey assembled a young team full of Arena Football rookies last year and the results weren’t as favorable as he might’ve hoped. This year his roster looks quite different, yet quite the same. The only returnees back from last season’s 4-12 team are OL/DL Chad Walker and WR/LB Jacob Schoonover. Probably the biggest loss from last year’s Pirates squad is All-af2 WR Phillip Brock. Brock was one of the league’s leading scorers with 250 points. He led Peoria in nearly every major offensive category. This year the Pirates hope to find a new Brock-like gem in rookie playmakers such as Dante Ridgeway or Michael Phillips. Currently another big question mark is at quarterback. With last season’s starter Justin Rascati now departed to Kentucky, Cowdrey hopes to find a keeper in rookies Luke Drone from Illinois State or Kent Smith from Eastern Michigan. On defense, one newcomer who should make an immediate impact is lineman Michael Lewis. Lewis was a force for the Albany Conquest in 2008 with 56.5 total tackles, including team-high marks in tackles for loss (13.5) and sacks (9.0). Cowdrey is one of the best coaches in the game, and with his knowledge, the youthful Pirates hope to learn fast and win more in the year ahead.
Quad City Steamwheelers (2008: 8-8, 0-1 playoffs)
Home Field: iWireless Center (9,315)
Head Coach: Troy Biladeau, second year with Quad City; 8-9 record (including playoffs)
Rookies Invited to Camp: 11
Key Player Lost: DB Kevin Adams, DB Jordan Davis, WR/KR Kris Peters
Key New Faces: WR/LB Jack Walker, Jr., OL Nick Codutti, FB/LB Terrance Freeney
Key Returners: QB J.J. Raterink, WR Jesse Schmidt, FB/LB Jermaine Petty, LB Tyus Jackson
Burning Questions: Does Roy Biladeau have the talent and experience on his roster to compete with Green Bay for the division title? Can J.J. Raterink continue his improvement as an af2 signal caller? Will the young group in the secondary support Quad City’s veteran defensive line and linebacker corps?
Last Game: Lost at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 29-57, in first round of playoffs.
Comments: The Quad City Steamwheelers are coming off of a second straight playoff appearance and are hoping to make it three in row in 2009. Last season, in Head Coach Troy Biladeau’s first year at the helm of the Steamwheelers ship, the club finished 8-8 before bowing out in the first round of the postseason to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. This year the veteran campers in Quad City believe better things are ahead. Biladeau, a long-time defensive coordinator, has brought in an imposing cast of defensemen that include a large number of established veterans. First among them are former teammates Jermaine Petty and Shonn Bell. In 2007, the duo recorded 64.5 tackles, 14 sacks, and 22.5 tackles for loss. Couple Petty and Bell with 2008 All-af2 mack linebacker Tyus Jackson (11 sacks in 2008 with Quad City) and 2007 Ironman of the Year Jack Walker Jr. (7 INTs in 2008 with Iowa) and a formidable front has been created. Another name that can’t be left out is new addition Terrance Freeney. Freeney can play the mack or can line up on the edge. He can also run the ball as well. Last season he led Iowa with 9.5 sacks. In 2007 with Arkansas, he was named All-af2 after leading the Twisters with 296 yards rushing and nine rush TDs. The secondary is brand new, but Biladeau is high on the potential of rookie DB Fletcher Terrell and af2 veterans Greg Golden and Andre Goines. On offense, QB J.J. Raterink returns to lead the squad under center. Last year he had the best season of his af2 career, throwing for 4,442 yards and 97 TDs, both league highs. He earned Second Team All-af2 honors as well. His top target from a year ago is also back in the Quad Cities, First Team All-af2 receiver Jesse Schmidt (131-1799-41 TDs). Joining Schmidt in the receiving corps are Jarrett Brooks (18-193-5 TDs in 3 games with Quad City in 2008) and a trio of rookies. Biladeau also has depth at offensive line with incumbents Adam Tadisch and Frank McCray mixed with imported veterans Nic Condutti and Jason Jones. The squad also has four capable fullbacks in camp vying for what is likely two jobs at best. Russell Monk, last year’s starter, is among those vying for the role along with Petty, Freeney and Jason Null. If the Steamwheelers can stay relatively healthy, there’s no reason to believe they can’t challenge for the division championship.