Apri 16, 2015 9:00 AM
Courtesy of The San Jose SaberCats Media Relations
San Jose, California – The San Jose SaberCats and Jacksonville Sharks are two teams separated by over 2,700 miles of road and while they will meet on Friday, they are both heading in opposite directions.
The SaberCats (3-0) have cruised to victory in their first three games of the 2015 season, winning by an average margin of 17.7 points per game. On the contrary, the Sharks (0-3) have yet to win a game this season, losing all three of their games this season by a combined 13 points, including the first two games by one point each.
After a slew of acquisitions to bolster its offensive attack this off-season, Jacksonville was an early pre-season favorite in the American Conference. Despite their record, the Sharks are a formidable opponent for any team and have a chance to prove it on Friday night. The Sharks made a splash in free agency with the acquisition of the 2012 AFL MVP, quarterback Tommy Grady. As the signal caller for the Pittsburgh Power last season, Grady set a franchise record with 4,717 passing yards and 115 touchdowns.
Through three games in 2015, Grady has thrown for 845 yards and is ranked second in the league with 19 passing touchdowns.
As expected, Grady’s favorite target this season has been Anthony “Tiger” Jones. After spending the past three seasons with the Philadelphia Soul and earning First Team All-Arena Honors in 2013, Jones is leading the AFL in receiving. Jones brought his league leading receiving touchdown total to 10 on the season, after hauling in five touchdowns against his old team last week. The duo of Grady and Jones will be the biggest test thus far for the SaberCats stout defense.
Derrick Ross, the all-time AFL rushing leader, has gotten off to a hot start as well. He is the only player to have eclipsed the 100 yard rushing mark (113) and is tied for second in the AFL with four rushing touchdowns. Like Jones, Ross spent the last three seasons with the Soul and was acquired in a trade with the Las Vegas Outlaws during training camp last month.
San Jose also boasts a former league MVP (2013) in quarterback Erik Meyer. Through three games, Meyer has completed an efficient 59.8-percent of his passes for 695 yards and 13 touchdowns. With the SaberCats lockdown defense providing ample field position, Meyer’s numbers do not tell the whole story.
Coming into the season, the SaberCats already possessed one of the league’s top receiver corps and added to it last week with the acquisition of D.J. Stephens. In his first game with San Jose against the Tampa Bay Storm, Stephens totaled six receptions for 80 yards and two touchdowns. Along with Reggie Gray, Darius Reynolds and Adron Tennell, the offensive attack for San Jose has yet to peak.
Despite averaging 52.0 points per game and ranking second in total offense, Jacksonville’s offensive attack has yet to overcome their deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball. However, Joe Sykes, former AFL Defensive Player of the Year, has been a bright spot for the Sharks’ defense. Sykes, a member of the SaberCats last season, has totaled 9.5 tackles with four tackles for a loss, two sacks and a forced fumble. While the San Jose offensive line has protected Meyer well this season, only surrendering four sacks, Sykes ability to rush the passer will be duly noted.
One cannot mention the SaberCats without reference to their defensive prowess. San Jose has four players with two or more sacks this season, including defensive end Luis Vasquez, who has a team-high 3.5 sacks on the season. In the secondary, the addition of Virgil Gray and Eric Crocker, as well as the return of David Hyland and Ken Fontenette, has resulted in much of the success on defense. A proven playmaker over the years, Gray has registered a team-high three interceptions and 10 pass breakups, while Fontenette leads the team with 17.5 total tackles. Enough cannot be said about the efforts of Hyland, who has recovered three fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown in his first full season as the teams jack linebacker.
This will be the third meeting between the two franchises, with San Jose winning both matchups. The SaberCats defense leads the league, surrendering an average of 32.0 points per game. Look for a showdown of the Sharks prolific offense against the vaunted SaberCats defense in this week’s matchup. With their second game at home, Jacksonville will look to right the ship and get in the win column against a formidable foe. Meanwhile, San Jose has a chance to go on the road and prove that their early season success is no fluke.
ABOUT THE SAN JOSE SABERCATS
The ArenaBowl XVI, XVIII and XXI champion San Jose SaberCats finished their 19th season in the AFL with a Pacific Division Title after making their return in 2011. Fans and sponsors can go to sanjosesabercats.com or call 408-673-3400 to sign up to receive the latest news and updates about the SaberCats, as well as to purchase 2015 season tickets. Make sure to follow the SaberCats on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest news on the team.