EFL Home 2008 Season
Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, August 7, 2008

Rip Snorter

Expect Bolts and Comets to Join EFL Elite

With just a couple of days left before the Cherries open their 2008 season at home against the Charleston Cannons, ne Pittsburgh Ironmen, it’s high time for my annual EFL predictions.

Last season the league broke evenly into haves — Cherries, Crush, Caps, Emps, Bolts, and Comets — and have-nots. Frankly, I don’t see any reason to predict a change in this dichotomy. The have-nots appear to have for the most part merely shuffled their decks.

Among the haves, look for the Bolts and Comets to prevail in their divisions.

Now hand me those darts!

Central Division

Most Missed: WR Eric Parker, FB Daimon Shelton, DB Michael Lewis
Most Welcome: WR Chris Chambers, TE Kyle Brady, LB LaMarr Woodley
Outlook: 1st — A third straight division title is in the offing as almost all of the 2007 cast returns. They look to veterans Brady and Priest Holmes to provide locker room leadership that may have been the missing ingredient in the 2006 and 2007 playoffs.

New York Empires
Most Missed: DE Leonard Little (injured), LB Brandon Short, CB Samari Rolle (injured),
Most Welcome: QB Chad Pennington, DE Igor Olshansky, CB Richard Marshall
Outlook: 2nd — Despite two key injuries, the defense has enough solid performers, led by Troy Polamalu, to remain among the top defenses in the league. Figure they beat the Lakers and Hershey Bars twice each, giving them almost half the number of wins they are likely to need to make the playoffs.

Philadelphia Lakers
Most Missed: RB Jamal Lewis, WR Plaxico Burress, DB Adam Archuleta
Most Welcome: RB Brandon Jacobs, WR Dwayne Bowe, S LaRon Landry
Outlook: 3rd — After a year in Washington, Jacobs returns to finally get a shot as a featured back. They’ve likely bottomed out and are ready to climb, albeit slowly, back to respectability.

Hershey Bars
Most Missed: RB Tiki Barber, WR Santonio Holmes, OT Luke Petitgout
Most Welcome: RB Clinton Portis, G Rich Seubert, LB Chris Gocong
Outlook: 4th — If Portis is healthy, he makes an adequate replacement for Barber. That’s a big if. They really needed to upgrade at quarterback in the off-season and did not, a failing exacerbated by the departure of Holmes.

Northern Division

Connecticut Comets
Most Missed: KR-PR B.J. Sams, RB Cedric Houston, DT William Joseph
Most Welcome: DE Justin Tuck, WR-PR Antwaan Randle El, LB London Fletcher-Baker
Outlook: 1st — They were a minute away from the division title last season in week 13, so they don’t really have far to go. Brady leads an offense that was second in points scored and adds the dangerous Randle El. Lack of balance on offense is a concern; the rushing game may be lacking punch.

Syracuse Crush
Most Missed: QB Mark Brunell, RB Clinton Portis, G Randy Thomas (injured)
Most Welcome: DE Shaun Ellis, LB Kawika Mitchell, SS Bernard Pollard
Outlook: 2nd — Damon Huard takes over at quarterback. He had several starts last season and played well, but he’s not the seasoned veteran Brunell was. They likely will miss Brunell’s savvy and leadership.

Providence Steam Roller
Most Missed: G Will Shields, LB Jonathan Vilma, FS Ryan Clark (injured)
Most Welcome: HB Sammy Morris, G Ben Grubbs, CB Ken Lucas
Outlook: 3rd — There is still a lot of talent here. Last year they lacked cohesion. Marc Bulger, Larry Johnson, and Torry Holt aren’t getting any younger.

Albany Racers
Most Missed: RB Corey Dillon, TE Jermaine Wiggins, LB Raonall Smith
Most Welcome: RB Thomas Jones, WR Santonio Holmes, NT Casey Hampton
Outlook: 4th — At times last season Jason Campbell sparked an offense that had become moribund with Trent Green. Now Campbell gets his shot out of the gate. Expect him to undergo lots of on-the-job training as he adjusts to new weapons Jones and Holmes.

Southern Division

Baltimore Bolts
Most Missed: WR Keyshawn Johnson, OT Orlando Pace (injured), DT Darwin Walker
Most Welcome: WR Randy Moss, DT Broderick Bunkley, CB Darrelle Revis
Outlook: 1st — Ranking second to Delaware in yards gained and yards given up, they were but a field goal short of being a playoff team. With Moss and a rejuvenated Roethlisberger they’ll be hard to stop. Revis is a potential star in the secondary.

Washington Capitols
Most Missed: QB Brad Johnson, RB Brandon Jacobs, OT Jon Jansen (injured)
Most Welcome: RB Adrian Peterson, WR Plaxico Burress, DT Kris Jenkins
Outlook: 2nd — The situation here is much like that in Syracuse — last season’s backup quarterback becomes the starter. I’m not sold on Tarvaris Jackson. He’ll have many chances to prove himself with Burress, Hines Ward, and Chris Cooley as targets.

Charleston Cannons
Most Missed: QB Chad Pennington, RB Ahman Green, LB Jeremiah Trotter,
Most Welcome: RB Marshawn Lynch, LB Jon Beason, DT Adam Carriker
Outlook: 3rd — Eli Manning got a lot better last season, but he has a ways to go. Maybe the change of scenery will help. Their defense should remain pretty solid even with the departure of Trotter.

Richmond Rebels
Most Missed: RB Verron Haynes, KR Willie Ponder, G Adam Timmerman,
Most Welcome: RB Ryan Grant, WR Mark Clayton, DE Mike Rucker
Outlook: 4th — It’s hard to imagine how they lost 11 games with their collection of talent. Maybe the John Dillard era has nearly run its course here — I sensed a lack of intensity many weeks. They are not to be underestimated, though — recall they put up 39 points on the Cherries.

I’ll take the Emps to repeat as the wildcard.

Look for the Cherries to roll out this lineup tomorrow night:

83Lee EvansWR
60Chris SamuelsLT
61Jason BrownLG
74Nick MangoldC
73Shawn AndrewsRG
69Jordan Gross *RT
38Heath MillerTE
89Chris Chambers *WR
17Philip RiversQB
21LaDainian TomlinsonRB
49Tony RichardsonFB
90Julius PeppersLE
97Kelly GreggNT
93Kenyon Coleman *RE
56LaMarr Woodley *LOLB
52Ray LewisLILB
57Bart Scott *RILB
55Terrell Suggs *ROLB
26Lito SheppardLCB
34Fakhir BrownRCB
40Donte WhitnerSS
20Brian DawkinsFS
4John KasayPK
7Ben GrahamP
82Dante HallKR-PR
16Yamon Figurs *KR-PR
* new starter or position change

Locally fans are asking how likely it is that the Cherries will dominate the regular season like they did last year. That certainly is possible. There are only four new starters. Jordan Gross at right tackle is a clear upgrade over last year’s starter, Anthony Clement. And so much is expected of rookie left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley that Carlos Polk, the team’s second leading tackler last season, was released (and subsequently picked up by Richmond).

Let’s face it, though. Delaware’s performance in 2007 should be considered an aberration. Outscoring your opponents by almost two-to-one is just not repeatable in this era of relatively evenly distributed talent. Keep in mind Cherries players lost a mere four games to injury. How often does that happen? The team is aging: On the 2008 Cherries roster I count eight players with 10 or more years of professional experience. That’s a lot. With aging typically comes increased susceptibility to injury.

Make no mistake. Delaware’s positives far outweigh their negatives. I just don’t see a 2007-style Cherries juggernaut rampaging through their schedule. 10 wins seems about right.

The 2008 EFL season opens tomorrow night at 7:30 with a great matchup — Bolts–Emps in New York. The game will be on ASPN2.