The Jacksonville Sharks return to their home turf this weekend, hosting the Philadelphia Soul tomorrow at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena. Saturday’s game is set to kick off at 7:00 p.m.
Jacksonville (6-6) heads into this week’s action squarely in the middle of the American Conference playoff picture. As of Friday morning, the Sharks are in a tie for second place in the South Division with the 6-6 Tampa Bay Storm, just a half-game behind the first-place Georgia Force. Jacksonville and Tampa Bay share that 6-6 record with the Cleveland Gladiators, as the three squads are tied for the conference’s two wild-card playoff spots.
The Sharks have a tall task in front of them this week, as the Soul sit atop the conference and, along with the Arizona Rattlers, share the league’s best overall record (10-3). In addition, Philadelphia is an impressive 6-1 on the road this season. The two teams met back in Week 10 in a game that remained close through halftime. But in the end, the Soul pulled away in the fourth quarter to secure a 56-38 victory over the Sharks.
Collectively, the Shark defense has played at a high level in recent weeks. The team has allowed 60 or more points in just one of its last eight games and ranks fourth in the league in overall scoring defense (51.2 points per game). In addition, Jacksonville’s secondary has stepped up of late, as LaRoche Jackson has recorded an interception in each of the last two games. Against Georgia just last week, Jackson picked off R.J. Archer in the end zone and put together a highlight-reel 52-yard return for a touchdown.
That secondary is set to get another boost this weekend as Micheaux Robinson has returned to Jacksonville after spending two weeks with the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes during that league’s training camp. Notably, Robinson was acquired by the Sharks from Philadelphia the day before those two teams played back in May. In two games with the Sharks this season – against Iowa in Week 11 and Orlando in Week 12 - Robinson racked up 11.5 total tackles, two interceptions and eight pass breakups and helped his team’s defense allow a total of just 56 points in those contests.
A tradeoff from Robinson’s return is a bit less depth along the offensive line, as guard Michael Ola was placed on the other league exempt list after signing with those same Alouettes. With that said, potential ironman Jason Holman will be able to make up for that loss, as he is capable of filling in at any of the three o-line positions as needed.
The Shark offensive line is set to once again protect Bernard Morris, who is set to make his sixth start of the season. Morris actually made his first start of the season against the Soul in the teams’ first meeting and was victimized for four interceptions by the Philadelphia defense. Since then, Morris has played much more efficient football, accumulating 21 touchdown passes against just three picks over his last four games, though two of those interceptions came in the late stages of last week’s loss to the Force.
Morris has also continued to be perhaps the most dynamic running threat in the AFL. Last week, the Shark quarterback set a new single-game franchise record with 68 rushing yards on just six carries. Entering this week of play, Morris leads the league in averaging 6.0 yards per rush and ranks second in the league with 25.5 rushing yards per game.