Arena football is a pass-happy game. Running the football just isn't usually an effective way of moving the football down the field in the AFL. The running back is really more of a fourth lineman protecting the quarterback than he is a ball-carrier.
Last year, for instance, the leading rusher for the Utah Blaze was fullback Chris Robinson with 58 yards.
That's not 58 yards in one game. That's 58 yards for the entire 16-game season.
Still, the Utah Blaze have been spending a great deal of time during training camp working on running the football.
"We've been working a lot on our run game," said Blaze line coach Ron James. "That sounds crazy because you are only going to run the ball about 10 percent of the time in this league. But that 10 percent is vital to success."
Running the ball is key in goal-line situations, and the Blaze weren't good in that area last season. Now, with bigger offensive linemen and a new fullback in AFL veteran Rodney Filer, the Blaze feel they can have some success when they need a tough yard or two.
"We wanted to get more speed in the backfield, so we picked up a fullback in Rodney Filer, who can run the ball and catch the ball," said James. "It gives us a more explosive player at the fullback spot."
Filer played in just four games last year with the Tampa Bay Storm, rushing for 100 yards nearly twice as many as Utah's leading rusher for the season and nine touchdowns.
Of course, passing the football will always be the main priority in the AFL, and the Blaze feel they'll be able to do that well again this year. Quarterback Joe Germaine is coming off a record-breaking season in which he threw for more than 5,000 yards.
Siaha Burley, the AFL's top receiver a year ago, left the Blaze to join the Arizona Rattlers, but Utah coach Danny White is confident a receiver-by-committee setup will work just as well.
"We shouldn't have a guy on our team lead the league in receptions," said White. "Instead of one guy scoring six touchdowns in a game, we should have three guys scoring two (each). We want to spread the ball around and use the talent of all the receivers we've got and that's Joe's job."
"I've been pleased with what I've seen from all the receivers," said Germaine. "Tom (Pace) has kind of taken that position (that Siaha and injured Orshawante Bryant left vacant) and done a nice job. Huey Whittaker has stepped in and done a good job, and the thing that I'm excited about is their size. They have big bodies, which is something that we really haven't had before."
With Aaron Boone, J.J. McKelvey, Whittaker, David Sutton and Antony Brown on the roster, the Blaze have five receivers who stand 6-foot-3 or taller. Sutton and Brown are both 6-foot-6.
Utah also has some big, tall guys blocking for Germaine, too. Devin Wyman, an All-Arena selection last year with the Dallas Desperadoes, is 6-6 and 354 pounds. Rob Gatrell, who will move over to the center spot, is 6-4, as are Tupe Peko, Myniya Smith and BYU alums Eddie Keele and Jake Kuresa.
"I wish I was a little taller," joked Germaine. "It's hard to see over my linemen. There are not too many guys in the league that will be as big as them, so it's good to have them on our side."
Backing up Germaine for the third straight year will be ex-Washington State star Jason Gesser.
"I'm really anxious to see Jason get a shot not that I want anything to happen to Joe," said White. "But Jason has really come along, and he's become a leader on the team and is a great guy in the locker room, and he knows his role."
Utah has had one of the top offenses in the AFL the past two seasons, and that figures to be the case again in 2008."We've got a top-flight quarterback, and we've upgraded the protection for him," said James. "A lot of our success will be predicated on how well the receivers jell."
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