OFF-SEASON NEEDS FOR EACH TEAM
(LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA- Wednesday, September 9, 2015)
One of the most exciting seasons in LFL history officially came to an end August 23rd, when the Seattle Mist topped the Chicago Bliss, 27-21, in the sixth Legends Cup Championship. On the heels of the special 2015 season, is one of the most anticipated and promising off-seasons that the league has ever entered. In just under a month, new franchises will begin their development and teams will start preparing for the seventh US LFL season.
This off-season leading into the 2016 season will begin a new era as the sport is poised to reach a much larger audience with the reality show Pretty. Strong. Despite the anticipation of the show, teams have already started to turn the page on a season, that for some was remarkable and for others a season to look past. Join in as LFL360 takes you around the league to address each team’s current situation and discuss some of the biggest questions surrounding teams this off-season.
Las Vegas Sin
Despite their winless season (0-4-2) the Sin were still strong competition in the Western Conference this year. One of the youngest teams in the league featured a player among the leagues most exciting playmakers. Every time rookie running-back Dominique Maloy touched the ball there was a good chance she would score. Her electric play and outstanding numbers earned her the Rookie-of-the-Year award. Maloy has to ability to become the best running-back in league history, and some have compared her running style to that of the NFL’s Barry Sanders during the 1990’s. The concern that surrounds her will be injuries, as she is smaller than the typical running-back.
Another rookie who stood out for Las Vegas this season was tight-end Charlotte Abrahamsen. With a torn ACL in the Sin’s first game of the season, Abrahamsen’s season was cut short. But not before she displayed her ability with recording 5 receptions for 42 yards and a 7-yard rush against LA in week 6. A healthy return in 2016 would give the Sin a ‘Gronk-like’ offensive weapon to work with.
The receiving corps is strong in Las Vegas with Cynthia Schmidt who possesses the best catch radius in the LFL and the speedy Brittany Henderson. The future for the offense is bright which leaves the focus heading into the off-season on their defense.
Las Vegas will need to find two strong players for the offensive line to play beside center Pia Perry. An Abrahamsen return would fill one side, but the Sin lacked the at the end position needing a player who is an above average blocker and can also be used as a target for the quarterback, much like Nneka Nwani of Chicago or Danika Brace of Seattle . On the defensive side of the ball, the line is also an area of need. There is depth at d-line with Pia Perry, Brittany Demery, and rookie Adrenne Kopko, but the Sin are missing one dominant pass rusher and anchor for the defensive front. Also defensively the secondary needs to be addressed and the Sin will need to solidify better players in the secondary alongside the veterans Kelly Campbell and Tamar Fennell.
The biggest question that surrounds Vegas is whether or not quarterback Sindy Cummings will take the next step toward becoming a franchise quarterback for the Sin. Cummings has the physical tools and arm-strength to become one of the top quarterbacks in the league, but her unfocused approach to conditioning and not recognizing her potential as a dual-threat quarterback has hindered the Sin’s offensive success. Another question that fans will want to know is regarding the status of corner-back Kelly Campbell, whose return is questionable going into her sixth season. Campbell’s leadership and ability at the position would be difficult for head coach Willie Garrett to replace.
Omaha finished the 2015 season with a lousy 0-6 record in the Eastern Conference, posting the worst season of any LFL franchise in history, scoring a record low 13 points while giving up a record high 327 points, through their six games. There are many areas of the team that need to be addressed during the off-season, but coaching is the primary concern. The Heart need a coach that will instill a winning attitude, while instructing the fundamentals, as well as developing a system that will improve the player’s intellectual understanding of offensive and defensive schemes.
A bright spot for the Heart will be the return of running-back Sarah-Jane Thompson, who has the athletic ability and size to be an effective ball-carrier on any offense. Along with Thompson, the return of center Sarah Robinson and defensive-back Amanda Hogan would help the new coaching staff build around their leadership and experience.
Once the new coaching staff is selected the most important job they will have is recruiting and beginning off-season training sessions. Omaha needs to find talented athletes who can play the game of football at a high level. The biggest job for the new staff will be finding a franchise quarterback or two. The Heart used seven different players at the position in 2015, with four different quarterbacks starting in their six games. Having two quarterbacks who are game ready will bode well for any team, just like in the case with LA this season whose quarterback depth was a factor in their playoff berth.
There will be speculation until the decision is made on whether wide-receiver and defensive-back Heather Hudson will return to the Heart or if she will be a part of a possible east-coast expansion team. She is the kind of play-maker that is valuable stock for any offense and defense in the LFL. Another topic of discussion in Omaha is whether some of the talent that bolstered the Heart’s defense, and in 2014 lead the league in the defensive category that season, will make a return to the sport.
Head coach Chris Michaleson put together a dream team in Seattle this season and his Mist (6-1-1) delivered the loyal fans of the Emerald City their first Legends Cup. League MVP Danika Brace was the anchor of the Mist’s defense and her big plays on offense this season came at crucial times in important games. Brace was dominant on both sides of the ball all year and she posted arguably the best season-long performance of any player in league history.
KK Matheny, perhaps the most cerebral quarterback in the league, excelled with Michalson’s offense in her first season with the Mist. Matheny finished the year with outstanding stats in her seven games against three great teams, as she completed 56-of-113 passes for 532 yards and throwing 18 touchdowns with only 2 interceptions. In her sixth season, Matheny has cemented herself as one of the all time greatest quarterbacks in LFL history with this season’s performance and her Legends Cup Championship.
Defensively the Mist need to find a corner-back to play opposite Kadi Findling. The safety position, specifically pass coverage, needs to be improved as the secondary nearly cost Seattle the Western Conference Championship, if it wasn’t for a few dropped passes on LA’s end. As LFL teams are realizing, it is important to have a game-ready quarterback ready to play if a starter goes down and for Seattle it appears Findling has that ability. Better familiarizing Findling with Michaleson’s offense and getting her more reps in practice is another need for Seattle this off-season.
A big question for Seattle is how many of their transplants will return for the 2016 season. The Legends Cup Champion Mist featured some players that traveled many miles to play for Seattle, notably quarterback KK Matheny and wide-receiver Bryn Renda who live in Florida and are a big part of Michaleson’s offense. Also the big question is whether or not the veterans Danika Brace, Jessica Hopkins, and Stevi Schnoor will return next season in search of a back-to-back Legends Cup Championship.
The Steam (3-3) finished the season in a fashion that most did not expect. Going into the Eastern Conference Championship, Atlanta was certainly the underdog against the undefeated and 2x defending Champion Bliss, but no one expected a 41-6 blowout loss for the Steam. The Steam’s success came this season against the worst team in LFL history as they scored 212 of their 255 points against the Omaha Heart in three games.
Expect Atlanta, who are now 0-4 all time against Chicago, to circle their first match-up against the Bliss on the calendar when the schedule is released for the 2016 season. Until the Steam can get past Chicago they will remain in the shadows of their Eastern Conference foe. If there is a head coach that is more focused after this season it will certainly be Dane Robinson, who reflected on the season and labeled it as a year of “underachievement.” He certainly has a chip on his shoulder as he expressed his thoughts on 2015 and the focus going into the off-season.
There are areas that will need to be addressed in Atlanta if the Steam want to get to the playoffs for the third consecutive season in 2016. With a young franchise quarterback making a return for her third season, expect the Steam to have a successful off-season and work to get to the next level, establishing themselves as an elite team in the LFL.
Atlanta needs a running-back that has the size of a Carmen Bourseau, ChrisDell Harris, or Stevi Schnoor. Nas Johnson and Jessie Locklear are talented running-backs but they lack the size to establish a successful ground game in the LFL, and they lack the speed and athleticism of a back like Dominique Maloy which is needed in undersized backs. On the same side of the ball, Atlanta needs to find a tall dynamic receiver with great hands that will give Hughes another target. Defensively, the Steam need to address the corner-back and defensive-end positions.
A big question for Atlanta is whether veteran-center and the winner of the ‘In-the-Trenches’ award, Dina Wojowski will return for another season. Also many are waiting for the decisions of Lauran Ziegler and Adrian Purnell on their return to Atlanta for the 2016 season. As noted, a backup quarterback is a topic of question for many teams and in regards to Atlanta, some speculate that Jayne Caldwell will return in 2016 and back-up Hughes.
Los Angeles Temptation
The Temptation (3-3-1) finished the 2015 season nearly winning the Western Conference Championship against a red-hot Seattle Mist team that went on to win the Legends Cup against Chicago. As hard as it is for the LA players and coaching staff to put that game behind them and not dwell on a few costly plays, their focus needs to shift toward the future, which appears bright for 2016.
The Temptation have two of the LFL’s top quarterbacks in Ashley Salerno and Michelle Angel. No other team in the LFL has that kind of quarterback depth, but expect other teams to come into the 2016 season with two game-ready signal callers, just like LA did this season.
The Temptation expect most of their established veterans to return, along with a rookie class that will help LA’s continued success. Rookie defensive-ends Kimm Chase and Naja Christmas have the physique and size for the position and both have great football instincts. With playoff experience and a full season under their belts expect them to become a bigger threat for opposing offenses next season.
LA’s biggest need this off-season is finding a true “play-maker” with either a running-back or receiver. The Temptation did not have a wide-receiver this season that was a big threat for any defense from week to week, as dropped passes were a big part of their inconsistency. Carmen Bourseau is a solid franchise running-back that will still be a big part of the LA offense, but she needs to be complimented with a dominant receiver or another running-back that is dynamic much like ChrisDell Harris of Chicago or Dominique Maloy of Las Vegas. Defensively, LA needs to improve their secondary by recruiting a defensive back who is excellent with pass coverage. Chelsey Haardt, Ogom Chijindu and Danielle Harvey are all veteran defensive backs who are solid against the run, but their coverage skills need to improve.
A big question for LA and specifically the defensive side of the ball, is whether or not hall-of-fame linebacker Monique Gaxiola will be back for another season. Gaxiola’s leadership and presence would be tough to replace if she does not return in 2016 for her 7th season in the US. The other question that remains from season to season for LA is when Ashley Salerno will be hanging up her cleats for good. Her return this season was in question so many will wonder about her decision until training camp begins. However much like Gaxiola, football is in Salerno’s DNA so one could bet that the two will be back and searching for their fourth Legends Cup Championship next season. Like Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers in the NFL, there will be a time when Salerno passes the torch to Michelle Angel, but the question remains as to when that time will come.
The Chicago Bliss (6-1) were just short of finishing the 2015 season undefeated and winning their third straight Legends Cup. Their loss to Seattle in the Legends Cup Championship will certainly be a motivation for a Bliss team that will still be the top ranked team and favorite in the east heading into 2016. The Bliss have the leagues best all around defense along with the leagues best running-back and it is expected that most of the roster will return for 2016.
Quarterback Heather Furr had another impressive season completing 55.8% of her passes and throwing for 614 yards with 14 touchdowns and no interceptions. Furr has been criticized for her mechanics and inability to establish an effective deep passing game. A team that features receivers Alli Alberts and late-season rookie Jamie Fornal, who both have two of the best sets of hands in the league and tremendous route-running ability, is a big reason why Furr needs to improve her passing. ChrisDell ‘Ferrari’ Harris had another incredible season with a combined 533 yards rushing/receiving in six games, scoring 11 touchdowns. She is the most-feared running-back in the league and still has some years left in the tank.
This off-season will be an exciting time for the Bliss as they were chosen for the first reality show that the league has been a part of. Their show Pretty. Strong. premiers October 6th and it will be a time for them to reflect on the season and get another perspective of their current situation. It will also be important for the Bliss players to remain focused as they will be exposed to unfamiliar fame and media throughout the off-season.
With a roster that is solid at every nearly every position, depth is one area that the Bliss should improve at. Another running-back to compliment Harris would be a plus especially in the case of an injury at the position if Nwani or Harris were to go down. Addressing the depth in the defensive secondary would also improve the defense that had a tough time defending the bigger more physical receivers of Seattle in the Legends Cup.
Head coach Keith Hac also needs to determine if he will make a change at the quarterback position and find a prototypical passer that would make the Bliss offense more effective in the passing game alongside the running game lead by Harris. If a new direction at quarterback is in fact what Chicago decides to go with, another question would be whether Furr will return in 2016 and play strictly defense at the safety position and also back-up the new quarterback if that were the case.