Soul

Secondary still a work in progress for Soul

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Secondary still a work in progress for Soul

Make more plays.

That's the consensus among members of the Soul's secondary. That's what they need to do. That's what their focusing on -- making more plays.

Any defensive back would love to record 12 interceptions in one season. But 12 total interceptions as a team, which is what the Soul has this season, well, that's a problem.

The Soul are 6-5 after 11 games, but if you talk to the members of the secondary unit, they'll tell you they could have made more plays to put the team in a better position to have a better record.

Veteran defensive back LaRico Stevenson was the first point out the positives within the secondary. He said the unit has the athleticism to compete and be among the best in the AFL. He understands there is talent, but he also knows improvement is needed.

"We're still learning," Stevenson, who leads the team with four interceptions, said.

He wouldn't point to chemistry as the problem. Rayshaun Kizer went a different route, too.

The Soul are eighth in the AFL in turnovers with 20 total. That's the good news. The bad news is they have the fifth-worst pass defense, allowing opponents to average 263.7 passing yards.

Kizer, who is second on the team with three interceptions blamed his "lack of concentration" for not making plays when he needed to. As unit though...

"We are not making the plays like we did last season," Kizer said. "I know, I can speak for myself, I've dropped a couple of picks, you know; when the opportunity presents itself you got to make it because normally, the next play, they're going to end up scoring."

Rookie defensive back James Romain mentioned confidence as the reason the Soul have not been able to create more turnovers in the air.

"We're just not catching them," said Romain. "Once we start catching them and getting that confidence ... picks will start rolling in and quarterbacks will be real sad."

Soul head coach Clint Dolezel knows his secondary can do better. In fact, he saw just what they can do two weeks ago against the AFL's best team, the Arizona Rattlers.

The Soul forced Nick Davila, easily the best quarterback in the league this season, to throw a season-high three interceptions. In that game, you could see that confidence was there. The concentration, too.

"We meshed front to back," Dolezel said. "We put pressure. We had the right coverage at the right time. We got pressure when we didn't have great coverage. When we did have great coverage, we had pressure, too."

Last week against New Orleans was a different story. Not only did the Soul not record an interception, though the opportunities were there, they allowed the VooDoo, a team with the third-worst passing offense, to put up 301 yards in the air. For the season, New Orleans only averages 237.4 passing yards.

Kizer didn't sugarcoat his thoughts on the fact the Soul only recorded 12 interceptions this season.

"I think it's kind of bad," he said."... As a team, right now, we have 12 after 11 games! I mean, one pick a game. We got to get that up, especially going into the second half of the season and the playoffs. We have to get our turnovers up in the secondary."

Thing is, though the secondary haven't capitalized on forcing turnovers, they haven't really hurt the team all that much, either.

The Soul are seventh in the league in scoring defense, allowing opponents to score 52.8 points. For all the plays the secondary didn't make after 11 games, the unit also made stops when they had to. Teams who try and convert fourth downs on the Soul are only successful 33.3 percent of the time.

"That's the good news,"Dolezel said "We haven't been making those plays, but we're still right in ball games. When we start making those plays, then maybe we'll start putting some points on the board and beating teams by more than just a couple scores."

Kizer was told that due to the Soul's low number in the interceptions category, teams may want to attack them in the air from start to finish. Forget those short dump passes. They'll go deep early and often.

"I like it," Kizer said. "The more the ball is in the air, the more chances we get to make plays. It benefits us. If they want to attack us in the air, tell them to bring it on."

Kizer asked, so the Soul just might receive. And the secondary unit may keep receiving those aerial attacks until they make plays consistently to stop it.

"Right now it's just it's just trusting in each other to make the play," Romain said. "Once that clicks, we're going to be good."

Soul topple Storm to win 2nd straight ArenaBowl

Soul topple Storm to win 2nd straight ArenaBowl

The Soul are the best team in the Arena Football League, again. They just had to deal with some first-half nerves, some sloppiness, and the small matter of a torn ACL to prove it.
 
In front of 13,648 rowdy fans at Wells Fargo Center, the Soul hoisted the Foster Trophy, with a 44-40 win over the Tampa Bay Storm. That outcome didn’t look very likely midway through the second quarter.
 
Dan Raudabaugh, the team’s star quarterback, only completed two of his first ten passes. He fired a pick-six straight to Storm linebacker Alvin Jackson, putting the Soul behind, 20-7. Oh, and he sustained a serious knee injury, which majority owner Ron Jaworski said post-game was a torn ACL.
 
Backup quarterback Luke Collis came in for a play, but Raudabaugh was determined to stay on the field.
 
“That’s my job,” Raudabaugh said. “I’ve missed very little play in my whole career, and I take a lot of pride in preparing like a champion and being reliable and accountable each week. I knew that we weren’t playing well, but we never lost hope or anything.”
 
Raudabaugh may have stayed positive, but after dropping what should have been an easy touchdown and the Soul’s second score of the game in the first quarter, wide receiver Darius Reynolds admitted that he wasn’t feeling too great about himself or the team’s prospects.
 
“A little doubt crept in, to be honest, but our fans stayed live and kept us motivated … I did get kind of down on myself, but I had a lot of inspiration from my teammates. I can make the worst play, I can fumble or anything, and they’ll still lift me up. Our team is very strong. We believe in each other and we let everyone know, no matter what happens, even if you mess up, we still have your back.”
 
After Jackson’s interception return, the Soul narrowly avoided another turnover when wide receiver Shaun Kauleinamoku, who finished with a team-high eight catches for 81 yards and one touchdown, fumbled after a third-down catch as he searched for extra yards. Fortunately, Reynolds recovered the fumble, and the Soul held on to possession. Fullback Mykel Benson finished the nine-play, 44-yard drive by punching in a one-yard touchdown, and the Soul entered halftime trailing by a 20-14 margin.
 
“As bad as it was, we were still down a possession and getting the ball to start the second half, so we never really thought the game was out of control,” Raudabaugh said. “Especially with the defense we have, we’re never out of it.”
 
The Soul’s offense began to jell in the third quarter. On the team’s first drive of the second half, Reynolds sprinted past the Storm secondary on third down, hauling in a 40-yard touchdown pass.
 
Though Tampa Bay answered with a score, the 6-1, 265 lb. Benson plowed in for another one-yard touchdown, and the Soul led 28-27 heading into the fourth quarter.
 
Cornerback James Romain, who picked off Tampa Bay quarterback and league MVP Randy Hippeard in the first quarter, sealed a decisive defensive stop early in the fourth quarter. On fourth down and 13, Romain tackled Storm receiver Joe Hills a yard short of the first-down marker.
 
The offense cashed in on the stop, thanks to another crucial fourth down conversion. Coach Clint Dolezel, having just called three rushes for Benson near the goal line, made a bold call. Instead of giving it again to Benson, Raudabaugh faked the hand off, rolled out, and fired the ball to rookie receiver Darius Prince in the back of the end zone.
 
“They all key on me when we’re down near the goal-line, so I understand if we go to someone else,” Benson said. “I’m not a selfish guy, I want to win and it doesn’t matter who scores, as long as we get that W.”
 
Prince was named MVP for his performance, which included five catches and two touchdowns. He was pleasantly surprised.
 
“I didn’t believe it at first,” he said. “It was really a team effort tonight. We started out slow, but we came on in the second half and picked it up.”
 
A sack in the end zone by defensive lineman and Temple alumnus Sean Daniels expanded the Soul lead. Daniels brought down Hippeard in the end zone for a safety to give the Soul a 37-27 edge and importantly, a two-possession lead.
 
Hippeard managed his third and fourth touchdown passes of the night in the fourth quarter, though Tampa Bay was in desperation mode following the safety. An interception of a Hippeard Hail Mary by cornerback Dwayne Hollis with 2:40 left effectively sealed the championship.
 
Even with his injured leg, Raudabaugh talked with the media after the game, and he was effusive in his praise for everyone, besides himself of course.
 
“It was a great turnout tonight. Great job by the city and the organization hosting it. The crowd was live as ever,” Raudabaugh said.
 
“I think our team really showed a bunch of grit tonight, and I’m proud of them. It was a full team effort.”

Soul take home awards, hope to cap dominant season with ArenaBowl XXX title

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CSN

Soul take home awards, hope to cap dominant season with ArenaBowl XXX title

Based on every metric imaginable, the Soul have been the best team in the Arena Football League this season. They lead the league in scoring, have allowed the fewest points and are undefeated at home. They’ll try to put the finishing touches on a nearly-perfect season Saturday night (7 p.m./6ABC) at the Wells Fargo Center, where they’ll host the Tampa Bay Storm in the ArenaBowl XXX.

Before the showdown, the AFL held its annual awards ceremony Friday afternoon to recognize the best players and coaches in the league. Unsurprisingly, nine of the 18 selections to the 2017 All-Arena First Team were members of the Soul.

One of those players, linebacker Beau Bell, also won the Commissioner’s Award and the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Bell led the league with 13 sacks, despite missing two games.

AFL commissioner Scott Butera presented Bell with the Commissioner’s Award, which honors the player deemed the best representative of the league, both on and off the field.

“I didn’t expect to win this award so I don’t have a second speech planned, but this is a big honor,” Bell said. “It takes a lot of sacrifices to be an arena football player, but I hope I can show people it’s possible to do what you love.”

Bell thanked the commissioner, his teammates, head coach Clint Dolezel, and the front office, including majority owner and Eagles legend Ron Jaworski. Tampa Bay president Derrick Brooks, the former Buccaneers linebacker and Pro Football Hall of Famer, was in attendance as well.

Tampa Bay also won its fair share of awards. Storm coach Ron James was named Coach of the Year, while Tampa Bay quarterback Randy Hippeard won Offensive Player of the Year and MVP honors, edging out Dan Raudabaugh, the Soul QB. Though Raudabaugh’s 82 touchdown passes led the league, Hippeard posted impressive regular-season numbers, with 3,506 yards passing, 80 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions.

James, who guided the Storm to a 10-4 regular season after the franchise went 2-14 last year, had ample praise for Soul coach and AFL Hall of Famer Dolezel, who he coached on the Las Vegas Gladiators in 2005.

“You know on tape when you’re watching a Clint Dolezel team,” James said, “because they always play hard, and they play the right way.”

While Dolezel missed out on his third consecutive Coach of the Year honor, his assistant head coach, Phil Bogle, won Assistant Coach of the Year.

Bogle, Dolezel and the Soul will hope to beat Tampa Bay on Saturday for the fourth time this season. Raudabaugh doesn’t expect it to be easy.

“We know Tampa is going to bring their A-game,” he said. “I’m very excited to play in front of the home crowd; we know it will be really loud in here. Still, we know Tampa is a good team and is going to play their best.”

Raudabaugh, in his sixth season with the Soul, will be making his fourth ArenaBowl appearance, and looking to win back-to-back titles after last year’s 56-42 triumph over the Arizona Rattlers.

“After losing a couple ArenaBowls early in my career (to Arizona in 2012 and 2013), I feel a lot more confident now in crunch moments and big games,” Raudabaugh said. “I’m thankful the organization has continued to have faith in me.”

However, the Soul quarterback said he doesn’t derive much extra confidence from the team’s 3-0 record thus far against Tampa Bay, or from the Soul's 13-1 regular season.

“I’m sure both teams will make some adjustments, but really arena football is a pretty simple game,” Raudabaugh said. “It’s all about who executes best that night.”