Sharks take hot start to Cleveland
The Jacksonville Sharks return to the playing field on Saturday night, as the team will put its perfect start to the 2013 season on the line in a Week 3 meeting with the Cleveland Gladiators. Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m., and the game will air online via the “AFL Live” video player.
Jacksonville (2-0) enters this week with a chance to extend what has become the fastest start in franchise history, as in each of the Sharks’ previous seasons the team began the year 1-1. In addition, the Sharks own a spotless record in the all-time series against Cleveland, As Jacksonville emerged victorious in each of the teams’ four previous match-ups. Jacksonville swept a pair of games against Cleveland during the 2012 season and also defeated the Gladiators once in each of 2010 and 2011.
Though the Shark offense has produced an average of 62.5 points per game – third-best in the league through two weeks – the lasting story from Jacksonville’s Week 2 win in Pittsburgh is the play of the defense. Specifically, the Shark defensive line enters this week fresh of setting a new franchise record with seven sacks in the team’s 61-35 victory over the Power.
Seventh-year veteran Jerry Turner is off to arguably the hottest start of any player at his position, logging four sacks over the Sharks’ first two games. Turner tied a single-game team record with three sacks against the Power, adding a fumble recovery in a performance that earned him a nod as the Riddell Defensive Player of the Week for Week 2.
Turner and his fellow defensive lineman will chance Cleveland quarterback Brian Zbydniewski, who begins the season as the Gladiators’ starting quarterback after spending 2012 as with the New Orleans VooDoo. Through two games, Zbydniewski has completed exactly two thirds of his passes but has totaled just eight touchdown passes against two interceptions.
When the Gladiator signal-caller drops back to pass the Jacksonville secondary will have to pay close attention to Dominick Goodman. Returning to Cleveland after a Second Team All-Arena selection in 2012, Goodman racked up 28 catches for 297 yards and five touchdowns in his two games against Jacksonville last season.
Goodman and the Cleveland receiving corps will have their work cut out for them, however, against a Jacksonville secondary that pulled down three interceptions last week – two by Micheaux Robinson and one by Terrance Smith. Patrolling the middle of the field, Robinson has begun 2013 with 10 tackles, two interceptions and a league-leading total of five pass breakups through two weeks.
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Bernard Morris will face a Cleveland defense that has allowed at least 60 points in each of its first two games. Morris enters this week having accounted for 14 total touchdowns – 11 passing, 3 rushing – without committing a turnover to this point in the season. Always known for his ability to create plays outside the pocket, Morris also boasts a pass efficiency rating of 134.6, good for second best among AFL quarterbacks.
One key to Morris’ performance has been the play of the Sharks’ offensive line. Through two games, Cornelius Lewis, Brant Clouser and Isaac Morales have played every snap on offense, and the three have combined with fullbacks Rendrick Taylor and Dusty Bear to allow just one sack so far.
The consistent play of the offensive line has given Morris plenty of time to look for wide receiver Jeff Hughley, who leads the league with 21 receptions through two games. A threat on special teams as well, Hughley has posted an average of 210.5 all-purpose yards per game.
Hughley and the rest of his Shark teammates are looking to emerge from Cleveland with a third consecutive road win to open the season, a start that would give the Sharks plenty of momentum before a key divisional showdown in next Friday’s home opener against New Orleans.
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