PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Considering the turnover rate in the Arena Football League, the opening week of the season is impossible to gauge. Typically, teams feature massive changes both offensively and defensively as players travel team-to-team without contract restrictions.
That unknown is amplified when the opening game happens to be on the road on the opposite end of the United States. That’s the situation the Utah Blaze face on Saturday at Pittsburgh. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Consol Energy Center.
“We’ve got a lot of challenges this year and we’re playing Pittsburgh right out of the gate,” Blaze coach Ron James said. “Without having a preseason game, that always makes you a little bit nervous to play on the road against an unknown team.”
Former LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson will make his AFL debut for the Power behind center. However, offense wasn’t the focus in the offseason for Pittsburgh, which finished 5-13 in 2012 during a tumultuous season of labor disputes.
The Power signed first-team All-Arena linebacker Alvin Ray Jackson, who recorded a league-high 14 interceptions with New Orleans in 2012 and Sergio Gilliam, who snatched 15 picks the previous two seasons with Kansas City. The two complement Chris LeFlore, the team-leader with nine interceptions, in what now appears to be one of the top pass defenses in the AFL.
For an offense that ranked in the top three in virtually every statistical category excluding ground production, the Blaze feel numbers will increase points to a potentially special season.
AFL MVP quarterback Tommy Grady returns along with his favorite target, Aaron Lesue. Brandon Thompkins and L.J. Castile enter the equation as viable threats on the outskirts. The trio of receivers combined for 335 recpetions, 3,913 yards and 109 touchdowns in 2012. Rookies Mario Urrutia and Chase Deadder will also see significant action at wideout.
Blaze on the Air
Utah Blaze at Pittsburgh Power
Saturday, 4 p.m.
Pittsburgh, Consol Energy Center
Online video: blaze.arenafootball.com/allaccess
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company