June 1, 2011 - Arena Football League (AFL) - Jacksonville Sharks
The Jacksonville Sharks rank at the top of many statistical categories, but the group that makes the least noise on the field, may be responsible for the greatest impact for the Sharks. The Sharks offensive line, has only allowed 4 sacks throughout the first ten games of the 2011 season. Protecting the Quarterback is considered the most important mission for any football team, but when that Quarterback is the legendary Aaron Garcia, that mission becomes amplified to a whole new level. The trio responsible for this task is made up of two returning Sharks, Isaac Morales and Randy Degg, and the rookie Guard, Vladimir Richard. The team ranked second in sacks allowed, Dallas (8 sacks), has allowed twice as many as the Sharks offensive line. Along with protecting the quarterback, the Sharks O-line has dramatically developed their blocking, which has allowed for the launch of the Sharks rushing game after a mediocre season in 2010.
The first piece of the offensive line trio is the Center, Returning Shark Randy Degg. Degg is one of two Jacksonville Sharks players that has suited up and played in every game in the Sharks franchise, and he has remained the only Center and Long-Snapper in franchise history. Degg spent time in both the af2 and the IFL before signing with the Sharks in 2009. At 6'3 and 310 pounds, Degg has proven to be a sturdy centerpiece to the leagues most dominant offensive line. "Randy is a solid player with great technique. He's a little shorter but that's good for a center. We have a lot of trust in him, because Aaron is standing right behind him, but he doesn't let any pressure get to him at all," said fellow Offensive Lineman Isaac Morales.
To the left of Degg is the Guard, Vladimir Richard. Richard, the 6'4 310 lb lineman, began the 2011 AFL season with a brief stint with the Spokane Shock before joining the Sharks for their third game of the season. Richard graduated from the University of Tennessee where, as a Volunteer, he developed his skills and athleticism as both and offensive and defensive lineman. In 2010, Richard signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent. "Vlad is really strong. He's also really athletic. He was an old defensive lineman, so it helps with his understanding of how both sides of the ball are going to work," said Morales about Richard.
On the right side of the line, is the University of Wyoming Cowboy, Isaac Morales. Morales started in twelve of the sixteen regular season games for the Sharks during the inaugural season. Morales is an experienced offensive lineman, who brings a lot of spirit to the line. "I have been O-Line all of my life, so I have a lot passion invested I what I do out there. I also consider myself pretty athletic," Morales said about himself. The 6'6 325 lb Guard's athleticism has been visible during multiple occasions, as Morales has three receptions in his professional career, and two of those were turned into touchdowns.
The final piece of the AFL's most dominant offensive line is the Line Coach, Jerry Crafts. Crafts was an offensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills from 1992 to 1994, before playing for the Amsterdam Admirals of the World League of Football. He later joined the Philadelphia Eagles as an offensive lineman from 1997 to 1998. Crafts' expert advice and first hand experience is clearly visible when the Sharks offensive line takes the field. "He brings a lot of good technique and attitude to everything we do. He knows a whole lot about the O-line, and his experience helps us in everything we do, from drills and exercises, to how we play in games," Morales said about his coach.
Although each member of the Jacksonville offensive line brings something unique to the group, the chemistry they have developed is what has made them into the most dominant O-line in the league. "We have good chemistry as an O-line. We call out each play on the lie, and each player has their own designated responsibility. As far as people calling us the best, it feels good, but we know we have to keep winning. It's a great compliment but we're not going to let it get to our heads." Morales said about the Offensive line. The positive attitude and individual characteristics of each player on the offensive line has developed into major success for each of the three players, and they have shown no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The next game for the Sharks will be Saturday, June 4th, when the Sharks travel to New Orleans for the second piece to their three game road trip.