Nashville Kats game notes
THE QUICK FACTS:
Game: Nashville Kats (6-3) at Las Vegas Gladiators (5-5)
Date: Sunday, April 9, 2006
Kickoff: 2:00 p.m. (CT)
Site: Thomas & Mack Center (16,606)
Officials: R- Tom McCabe, U- Wes Fritz, HL- Neil Brunner, LJ- R.G. Detillier, BJ-Tony Lombardo
Television: FSN South 3 p.m. (Tape-Delayed)
Radio: Kats Radio Network (LIVE). Flagship - 104.5 The Zone. Mike Keith (Play-by-Play), Larry Stone (Analyst).
Series Record: Las Vegas leads 1-0
Last Meeting: Las Vegas won 40-32
Series Streaks: Las Vegas won the last meeting.
Last Week: Nashville 47, Colorado 77
Las Vegas 63, Los Angeles 49
Coaches: Pat Sperduto, NAS (5th season; 44-31-1 overall). Ron James, LVG (2nd season; 13-13 overall)
OVERVIEW: The Kats look to get back on the winning track and find a way to break the road game blues as they travel to Sin City to face the Las Vegas Gladiators this Sunday. While 5-0 at home, Nashville is only 1-4 away from the Music City, including an ugly 77-47 defeat at Colorado last week in a game that dropped the Kats out of a tie with the Crush for first place in the Central Division. Nashville needs a win this week to stay within a game of Colorado and maintain its hold on the top wild card spot in the American Conference playoff race. A victory would put the Kats two games ahead of the next team in the wild card race. Las Vegas, meanwhile, is in the midst of a two-game winning streak and has moved into a first-place tie with Arizona in the wide-open Western Division. With the Gladiators just one game behind Nashville, this game could be a big deciding factor in playoff seeding.
2006 Nashville Kats (6-4)
Game Opponent Result Time/Score
Jan. 28 @ New York Won 57-28
Feb. 3 COLUMBUS Won 53-27
Feb. 12 @Chicago Lost 56-55 (OT)
Feb. 18 COLORADO Won 58-36
Feb. 25 GRAND RAPIDS Won 47-31
Mar. 4 @ Arizona Lost 52-49
Mar. 10 @ Utah Lost 63-34
Mar. 17 CHICAGO Won 48-47
Mar. 25 SAN JOSE Won 51-48
Apr. 1 @ Colorado Lost 77-47
Apr. 8 @ Las Vegas 9:30 p.m.
Apr. 14 PHILADELPHIA 7:00 p.m.
Apr. 21 KANSAS CITY 7:00 p.m.
Apr. 29 @ Grand Rapids 7:00 p.m.
May 6 @ Los Angeles 9:30 p.m.
May 13 TAMPA BAY 7:00 p.m.
2006 Las Vegas (5-5)
Game Opponent Result Time/Score
Jan. 27 @ Austin Loss 46-64
Feb. 6 SAN JOSE Won 51-48
Feb. 12 @ Colorado Loss 55-65
Feb. 17 GEORGIA Loss 54-34
Feb. 25 @ Dallas Loss 48-55
Mar. 5 PHILADELPHIA Won 67-49
Mar. 10 GRAND RAPIDS Won 41-66
Mar. 17 ARIZONA Loss 47-33
Mar. 24 @ Utah Won 49-47
Apr. 2 LOS ANGELES Won 63-49
Apr. 8 NASHVILLE 9:30 p.m.
Apr. 14 @ San Jose 9:30 p.m.
Apr. 23 @ Chicago 3:00 p.m.
Apr. 29 UTAH 9:30 p.m.
May 6 @ Arizona 9:00 p.m.
May 13 Los Angeles 9:30 p.m.
CURRENT PLAYOFF STANDINGS:
American Conf. National Conf.
x-Colorado 7-3 x-Dallas 8-2
x-Arizona 5-5 x-Austin 7-3
Nashville 6-4 Georgia 6-4
Las Vegas 5-5 Orlando 6-4
Chicago 4-6 Tampa Bay 6-4
San Jose 4-6 New York 6-4
Grand Rapids 3-7 Columbus 5-5
Utah 3-7 Philadelphia 5-5
Los Angeles 3-7 Kansas City 1-9
THE SERIES: The Kats and Gladiators faced off for the first time last year in the regular season with Las Vegas topping Nashville 40-32 (2/26/05). The loss was in the middle of the biggest slump in franchise history for the Kats, a six-game skid from week two to week eight of the 2005 season.
2/26/05 Las Vegas 40, Nashville 32 (@ Nashville)
KATS INJURY REPORT
Player Injury Status
Chris Angel Knee Out
Jermaine Lewis Hamstring Questionable
Clint Stoerner Leg Questionable
Las Vegas 40, Nashville 32 (Feb. 26 @ Nashville)
QB Craig Wheilhan's 4-yard touchdown pass to OS Marcus Nash with under a minute to play sealed a 40-32 victory for the Las Vegas Gladiators (3-2) Saturday night in Nashville. Wheilhan finished 26-of-39 for 267 yards and five touchdowns - two to Nash - in the victory, Las Vegas' first over the Nashville Kats franchise. Tony Zimmerman was 25-of-38 for 272 yards and a touchdown starting for injured Kats QB Leon Murray. It was the fourth-straight loss for the Kats, the first four-game skid in franchise history. Nashville led 19-17 at halftime but was held scoreless in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Wheilhan helped pile up 23 first downs and 283 yards of offense for the Gladiators. Las Vegas WR/LB Coco Blalock caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Wheilhan with 7:49 left to play to put the Gladiators up 34-25 and put the Kats into hurry-up mode for the rest of the game. The Kats pushed down field in the closing minutes but a holding penalty - one of 25 in the game by both teams - ended the scoring chance at the 4-yard line.
Nashville 47, Colorado 77 (Apr. 1 @ Colorado)
The Nashville Kats' road woes continued at Denver on Saturday night, falling 77-47 to the Colorado Crush. Colorado's John Dutton completed 26-of-41 for 270 yards and a personal-best nine TD's in a game that was tied after one quarter but quickly got out of hand in the second period. Being outscored 21-0 in the second, the Crush easily handled the rest of the game. Murray struggled all night, completing 15-of-27 passes for 286 yards with five scores and four INT's. Two of his TD throws went to rookie Alonzo Nix, who finished with five receptions for 94 yards, while T.T. Toliver grabbed four passes for 129 yards and two TD's. The loss put the Kats one game behind the Crush in the Central Division and trails them for the top seed in the American Conference.
Las Vegas 63, Los Angeles 49 (Mar. 25 @ Colorado)
The Gladiators gained the early momentum when WR/DB Aleric Clark return the opening kickoff 57-yards for a TD en route to 63-49 Las Vegas victory. The Gladiators are riding high with wins in four of their past five games. Avenger rookie quarterback Sonnie Cumbie was hassled all game, four sacks and four recorded quarterback hurries prevented Cumbie and LA's offense from getting into a steady rhythm. Gladiator quarterback Jason Fife was efficient completing 21 of 26 passes for 261 yards, five touchdown strikes and two interceptions. Fife also rushed for 31 yards and two scores. Receivers Coco Blalock and Marcus Nash both hauled in seven receptions, for a combined 156 yards and a touchdown. The Gladiator's defense has held opponents under 50 points for five straight games.
QB Jason Fife is in his rookie season with the Gladiators. This year he has a 64.7 completion percentage hitting 121 of 187 throws with 26 TD's and eight INT's. His favorite target, WR/DB Marcus Nash, had his only game against Nashville last year:
Nash vs. Kats
Date Result Rec Yds Td
2/26/05 LVG 40,NAS 32 8 77 2
Totals 8 77 2
Kats QB's hold only one game a piece against the Las Vegas franchise, with Leon Murray having the best production with Georgia in 2004. Stoerner faced the Gladiators last year with Dallas. Here are their numbers:
Murray vs. Gladiators
Date Result Com-Att Yds Td Int
3/7/04 GEO 55,LVG 40 21-31 228 5 0
Totals 21-31 228 5 0
Stoerner vs. Gladiators
Date Result Com-Att Yds Td Int
5/7/05 LVG 58, DAL 38 19-37 181 4 4
Totals 19-37 181 4 4
Nashville's receivers have had limited experience against the Gladiators in recent years. Here's their numbers versus Las Vegas:
Fleming Vs. Gladiators
Date Result Rec Yds Td
4/20/03 ORL 56, LVG 31 4 45 1
3/27/04 ORL 60, LVG 43 6 112 2
Totals 6 157 2
Hammond Vs. Gladiators
Date Result Rec Yds Td
3/29/03 LVG 46, GEO 41 5 41 1
2/26/05 LVG 40, NAS 32 8 112 0
Totals 8 153 1
Bonner vs. Gladiators
Date Result Rec Yds TD
3/16/03 CHI 68, LVG 48 1 3 0
Totals 1 3 0
Hillery vs. Gladiators
Date Result Rec Yds TD
3/29/03 LVG 40, GEO 41 4 35 0
Totals 4 35 0
Nashville - Pat Sperduto, 5th season
44-31-1 (.586) overall
Pat Sperduto is in his fifth season as head coach of the Nashville Kats. After struggling to a 1-7 start in 2005, the Kats first year back in Nashville after moving to Atlanta in 2001, Sperduto pushed the Kats to win five of their last eight games to finish 6-9-1. He was at the helm of the original Kats team from 1999-2001. Prior to last year, he spent the last four seasons as an assistant on the staff of the Tennessee Titans. He joined the NFL club after spending five seasons with the old Nashville Kats. He compiled a 32-18 record as head coach the last three seasons and led his team to back-to-back appearances in the ArenaBowl in 2000 and 2001. Sperduto replaced Eddie Khayat as head coach in 1999 and posted the best record of seven AFL coaches who took over new teams in 2000. Sperduto spent his first two years as defensive coordinator for the Kats and was elevated to assistant head coach in 1998. He is a three-time ArenaBowl World Champion, winning twice as a player for the Tampa Bay Storm (1991 and '93) and once as an assistant coach with the Storm (1994). Sperduto began his professional career as a player with the Canadian Football League's British Columbia Lions before joining the Tampa Bay Storm in the AFL from 1991-93.
Las Vegas - Ron James, 2nd Season
13-13 (.500) overall
Ron James is entering his second season as Head Coach of the Las Vegas Gladiators. In his first year as head coach the Gladiator teams ranked #1 in total offense and #1 in total defense Arena Football League and finished with an 8-8 record. Prior to becoming the head coach, James served as assistant head coach/line coach and special team's coordinator for the Gladiator organization from 2001-2004. Coach James has nine years of AFL experience having served as the line coach and player personnel director with the Houston Thunderbears from 2000-2001 and as an assistant with the Albany Firebirds in 1990 and 1991. In addition to coaching in the AFL, James has coached a combined total of 14 years on the collegiate level. In 1998 and 1999 Coach James served as the Admissions Support officer and assistant football coach at the United States Military Academy at West Point. From 1993 thru 1998 James coached at Kentucky Wesleyan College. While at KWC James served as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach in 1993. The following season James was promoted the assistant head coach/defensive coordinator and coached the secondary. He remained in that position until 1998. Among the other college stops were stints as the defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Hartwick College from 1992-1993. Prior to that, James was the defensive coordinator and linebacker coach at St. Lawrence University from 1989-1992. Additionally James coached at Siena College from 1986-1989 as the linebacker coach and also served as JV Head Coach in 1989.
2006 TEAM STATISTICAL RANKINGS
Category Kats Gladiators
Scoring Offense 49.9 (11th) 51.2 (8th)
Scoring Defense 46.4 (6th) 51.9 (10th)
Total Offense 257.5 (15th) 279.0 (10th)
Total Defense 255.1 (1st) 301.9 (17th)
Pass Offense 231.3 (16th) 242.3 (15th)
Pass Defense 239.1 (2nd) 285.6 (18th)
Rushing Offense 26.2 (5TH) 37.4 (1ST)
Rushing Defense 16.0 (4th) 16.3 (5th)
Interceptions 12 (t-4th) 10 (5th)
Turnover Margin +2 (t-6th) -9 (17th)
Kickoff Return Avg. 17.5 (9th) 19.1 (5th)
Sacks By 19 (1st) 10 (6th)
Sacks Against 12 (9th) 9 (t-5th)
IMPORTANT GAME - Sunday's game between Nashville and Las Vegas is a key one. Nashville, at 6-4, is one game behind Colorado in the race for the Central Division lead and is currently leading the competition for the top wild card spot (#3 seed) in the American Conference playoffs. Las Vegas, at 5-5, is right behind Nashville. If the Kats win this week, they will not only stay within striking distance of the division lead but will give themselves a two-game cushion between the next closest team in the wild card hunt with just five games to go.
ROAD WOES - Nashville has traditionally been a solid road team, but 2006 has seen the Kats struggle away from home. Going into the season, the Kats were 27-15-1, all-time, as the visitors, but are only 1-4 this year. In their five home games, Nashville has outscored its opponents 257-190, while being outscored 275-242 in their five road contests.
HOME SWEET HOME - Although they have struggled on the road, the Kats are a perfect 5-0 at home so far in 2006, making them the only team to have a perfect home record to this point. This also marks the first time that the franchise has ever won its first five home games.
SLOPPY KATS - Nashville has been plagued with turnovers, penalties and missed kicks in recent weeks. In the last six games, Nashville has turned the ball over 23 times and has been penalized 59 times for 324 yards. The Kats have also missed nine extra point attempts during that span, and have not made a field goal since week six at Arizona. Through week four, Nashville was averaging less than one turnover per game and just 5.8 penalties for 34.7 yards per contest. Since that time, the Kats are averaging 3.8 turnovers per game and 9.8 penalties for 54 yards per contest. Nashville has made only one of its last nine field goal attempts.
BRINGING THE HEAT - The Kats have arguably the most fierce pass rush in the league, and they lead the AFL with 19 sacks on the season, through week ten. Nashville, which finished tied for the league lead in sacks last season with 24, is on a pace to record 30 sacks by the end of the season. The league record is 38, set by Pittsburgh in 1988. Seven players have had sacks so far this season - Frank Carter (4.5), Joe Minucci (4.5), Anthony Herron (4), James Baron (2), Aaron McConnell (2), Darryl Hammond (1) and Jermaine Lewis (1). Carter's four in a game at New York was the most in team history and ties him for third in AFL history. He, Minucci and Herron make up three of the 11 AFL players who have recorded four or more sacks this year. No other team has more than one player among that list. Those three, plus Baron and McConnell make up five of the 45 AFL players who have posted two or more sacks so far this year. Nashville nearly tied the AFL record for sacks in a game in its week one win at New York. The seven QB takedowns that the Kats registered against the Dragons were the most in team history and just one shy of the league record of eight. Last year, the Kats had six players who had at least three sacks on the year, while no other team had more than three players reach that mark. Of those six players, the Kats return four (James Baron, Rupert Grant, Aaron McConnell, Joe Minucci), plus they have added FB/LB Frank Carter, who tied for second in the league with nine sacks a year ago.
STOERNER MAY RETURN - After three weeks on injured reserve, Kats starting quarterback Clint Stoerner may return to the field this week at Las Vegas. The second-year player, who was the runner-up for the AFL's Rookie of the Year in 2005, suffered a leg injury in the team's week seven loss at Utah. Before leaving that game, he had completed 122-of-205 passes (59.5%) for 1,548 yards, 28 TD's and 8 INT's in his seven starts. Backup quarterback Leon Murray has filled in for Stoerner as the starter in the last three games, leading the Kats to a 2-1 record in that span. Murray struggled in a loss at Colorado last week, completing 15-of-27 for 286 yards and five TD's, but he was intercepted four times. For the year, he has connected on 65-of-113 throws for 824 yards, 15 TD's and 10 INT's. Nashville's passing game as a whole has struggled in the past six weeks. After only throwing one INT in the first four games, the Kats now lead the league with 18 interceptions on the year.
A GOOD START - The Kats have found themselves with great field position to start most of their drives this season. Nashville is third in the AFL in starting position following kickoffs, starting at an average of their own 14.9 yard line. This is due, in large part, to the excellent play of WR/DB Jarrick Hillery, who ranks sixth in the league in kickoff returns with an average of 20.8 yards per return. He scored his second TD on a kick return this season last week with a 57-yard kickoff return against the Crush.
T.T. MEANS TD - OS T.T. Toliver continues to find the end zone at an amazing clip so far in 2006. Fourteen of his last 26 catches have gone for touchdowns, and he is tied for sixth in the AFL with 23 total touchdowns this season. He has scored on 36.4 percent of his receptions this year, placing him fourth in the league in that category. Toliver has scored 20 TD's on receptions, two on rushes and another on a net recovery. He also threw a TD pass to Cory Fleming in a week nine win over San Jose. His 907 receiving yards ranks him sixth in the league through week ten, and his 16.5 yards-per-catch average is the best of any receiver in the AFL with at least 40 receptions this season. He continues to show the "true meaning" of his initials by scoring two or more touchdowns in nearly every game he plays with the Kats. He has at least two TD's in 14 of the 17 contests he has played in with the Kats since being acquired in a midseason trade with Tampa Bay last season, and he has found the end zone in all 17 of those games. Toliver, who was named to the league's All-Ironman squad as a WR/DB in 2004, had 55 receptions for 768 yards and 17 TD's with Tampa Bay and Nashville last season. He also had 14 rushes for 57 yards and three TD's, and he ran in a pair of key two-point conversions as well. The Bethune-Cookman product was a member of Tampa Bay's 2003 ArenaBowl championship squad, and he has spent time on NFL practice squads with the San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and St. Louis Rams. Toliver has moved to offensive specialist this season after being a two-way player for his first four seasons.
Average Yards Per Catch (Min. 40 rec.)
T.T. Toliver, NAS 16.5
Ben Nelson, SJS 14.6
Siaha Burley, UTA 14.4
Tony Locke, LAA 14.4
Pct. Of Rec. for TD (Min. 40 rec.)
Chris Jackson, GEO 39.3
Damian Harrell, COL 37.2
Terrill Shaw, DAL 36.9
T.T. Toliver, NAS 36.4
FIFTY IS THE KEY - The Kats are 4-1 when scoring more than 50 points in 2006, with the lone loss coming on a 56-55 overtime defeat at Chicago in week three. In the last two years, the Kats are 7-1 when crossing the 50-point plateau. The Kats are also a perfect 6-0 this season when holding their opponent under 50, and are 0-4 when allowing them to score more than that number.
GETTING DEFENSIVE - The Kats' defense has been one of the league's best through the first ten games of the season. Despite a rough outing at Colorado last week, Nashville leads the AFL in total defense (255.1), sacks (19), yards per play defense (5.1) and passing yards per play defense (5.7). They are second in the league in pass defense (239.1) The Kats' scoring defense, however, has gone from leading the AFL for each of the season's first six weeks, to sixth in the league currently (46.4 points per game).
FULL MONTY - DS Monty Montgomery has established himself as one of the leading candidates for AFL Defensive Player of the Year. The third-year player, who signed with Nashville as a free agent in the offseason, has been a force in the secondary all season, totaling seven interceptions (3rd in the AFL) and 56 tackles (t-10th in the AFL). He has also batted away 12 passes (8th in the AFL). Montgomery, who has posted those numbers despite missing two games with a finger injury, has also forced two fumbles and recovered another.
NO TIME AT ALL - The Kats have controlled the ball less than any team in the league, with the exception of Georgia, through the first ten games of the season. Nashville is averaging only 27:17 of possession time per game so far in 2006. In last week's loss at Colorado, the Kats held the ball for only 24:15, compared to the Crush's 35:45.
OFFENSIVE STRUGGLES - After starting the season on a tear, the Kats' offense has struggled recently. Through the first four weeks of the season, Nashville averaged 55.75 points and 278.5 total yards per game. In the last six games, the Kats are averaging just 46 points and 242.8 yards of total offense per contest. In addition, after only turning the ball over three times in the first four games, Nashville has turned it over 23 times in the last six weeks. The Kats are also averaging 54 penalty yards per game in the last five weeks after only averaging 37.5 yards on penalties in the first four games. Nashville ranks only 15th out of 18 teams in total offense (257.5) and 16th in passing offense (231.3).
SECOND-AND-LONG - The Kats have been the best defensive team in the AFL to this point on first down, holding opponents to 4.63 yards per play on first down. The league average is 6.46 yards.
LATE DOWN FRUSTRATIONS - Despite routinely holding opposing offenses on early downs, the Kats' defense has struggled with third- and fourth-down situations. Nashville ranks 16th out of 18 teams by allowing opponents to convert 55.6 percent of their third downs, and they are dead last in the AFL in holding opponents on fourth down, giving up a first down 64,7 percent of the time.
SGT. CARTER - FB/LB Frank Carter, who was a first-team All-Arena selection in 2005 with the Las Vegas Gladiators, has been a huge addition for the Kats this season. Carter is tied for fourth in the AFL with 4.5 sacks and he is third in the league with 6 tackles for loss. The fourth-year player set a team record with sacks in a game with four in the week one win at New York.
THE 800 CLUB - In Cory Fleming and Darryl Hammond, Nashville features two of the top receivers in AFL history, and they have given the Kats a historic first. Cory Fleming became just the third player in league history to catch 800 passes in his career at New York in week one, and now sits at 818. With his four receptions at Utah in week seven, Darryl Hammond became the fourth player to reach that milestone with 801. The Kats are the first team ever to have two 800-catch receivers on the same roster.
NIX-ING THE ROOKIE JITTERS - Rookie WR/LB Alonzo Nix looks to be a rising star in the Kats' receiving corps. Suiting up for the first time two weeks ago against San Jose, Nix caught two passes for 22 yards. But last week at Colorado, the UT Chattanooga alum came on strong, catching five passes for 94 yards and two TD's. He showed his tremendous speed on a 46-yard TD in which he outran the entire Colorado defense on the way to the end zone. Nix is in his first year in the AFL after an outstanding college career and a stint in training camp with the Tennessee Titans.
OLD SCHOOL - This Kats team has a familiar look to it, as five players on this year's roster were also with the team in its previous version (1997-2001). OL/DL James Baron, WR/LB Cory Fleming, FB/LB Rupert Grant, WR/LB Darryl Hammond and WR/DB Jarrick Hillery all played with the old Kats, and all were on Nashville's back-to-back ArenaBowl squads in 2000 and 2001.
NOT YOUR AVERAGE JOE - OL/DL Joe Minucci is proving his outstanding rookie season was no fluke. The second-year player from Delaware was named to the AFL's All-Rookie squad in 2005 after leading the Kats with five sacks. So far this season, he is tied with teammate Frank Carter for the team lead in sacks with 4.5, and he is tied for fourth among league leaders in that category. His four forced fumbles ties him for second in the AFL. He was recently named to the Arena Football Writers Association mid-season All-AFL team.
NEW BLOOD - The Kats played the first seven games of the 2006 season without a rookie on the active roster. Nashville finally bucked that trend when it activated rookie Tyrone Hopson for the win over Chicago in week eight. The Kats then suited up two rookies (Hopson and WR/LB Alonzo Nix) the week nine victory over San Jose. Last week at Colorado, Nashville's roster (with the addition of K Jason Ball) swelled to three rookies.
SUPER SOPHS - The Kats feature four of last year's AFL All-Rookie selections, easily the most of any other team. Nashville FB/LB Dan Alexander and linemen Aaron McConnell and Joe Minucci were honored for their outstanding rookie seasons in 2005, and the Kats got the All-Rookie quarterback (Clint Stoerner) in a trade with Dallas in the offseason.
TITANS CONNECTIONS - Six of the 22 players on Nashville's active roster have spent time with the Tennessee Titans organization. FB/LB Dan Alexander and saw extensive playing time with the NFL club, while DS Rober' Freeman, WR/LB Jermaine Lewis, OL/DL Aaron McConnell, OL/DL Joe Minucci and WR/LB Alonzo Nix were all in camp with the Titans at some point. Head coach Pat Sperduto also served on the Titans' staff the four seasons between his stints with the Kats.
AMONG THE GREATEST - The Kats had two players on the recently-announced AFL's 20 Greatest Players of All-Time list. Lineman James Baron, who is widely considered the most dominant lineman to ever play the game, was ranked sixth. That is higher than any other non-quarterback or receiver. WR/LB Cory Fleming was tied for 14th on the list. Darryl Hammond, who was on the voting committee, also received votes. Nashville and Arizona were the only two teams to have two active players on the list.
FLEMING GOES OVER 10,000 -WR/LB Cory Fleming reached one of the AFL's most coveted milestones - 10,000 career receiving yards - in the week nine win over San Jose. Fleming passed the mark with a seven-yard reception in the first half of the San Jose win. He became just the fourth player in league history to have reached that point before (Barry Wagner, Eddie Brown and Gary Compton are the others). One of the AFL's all-time greats, Fleming had his best game of the season last week, catching seven passes for 75 yards and two TD's. He also recovered three onside kicks, and returned one of those 14 yards for a TD. He returns to the Kats in 2006 after spending the last three years with the Orlando Predators. He has posted 39 games with 100 or more receiving yards and 23 games with 10 or more catches in his nine-year career. He now has 831 career receptions, ranking him third all-time in that category, and 10,025 receiving yards, ranking him fourth. Fleming has earned first unit All-AFL honors four times, including 1997, 1998, 2004 and 2005, and he was named AFL Ironman of the Year, signifying the Arena Football League's best two-way player in 2004. He was tabbed AFL Rookie of the Year in 1997. He ranks third on the all-time list for career touchdowns (240), and Fleming has averaged 89 receptions, 1,073 receiving yards and 25 receiving touchdowns in his previous nine seasons in the AFL, despite missing all but five games in 2001 and the final four games of the 2000 season with injuries. Last season, he was named to the first-team All-Arena squad, catching 96 passes for 1,089 yards and 33 touchdowns for the Orlando Predators, and helping to lead the team to the AFL semifinals.
BARON OF DEFENSE - OL/DL James Baron is widely known as one of the AFL's all-time greatest linemen. He has 41.5 career sacks, placing him third on the AFL's all-time list. He will move into second with two more full sacks. So far this season, he has two sacks and a tackle for loss, as well as three fumble recoveries, including one in last week's game at Colorado. Last year, Baron sat out the first two games of the season with an ankle injury, ending his streak of 131 consecutive games played. He returned, registering 11 tackles, four stops for loss, three sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a safety in his 14 games. Baron was recently named no. 6 on the list of the league's 20 greatest players, and he has been named the league's defensive player of the year once and lineman of the year twice. The former Virginia Tech standout earned all-Arena honors six times (1997-2002), including the first-team five times. He is a two-time member of the all-Ironman team (1999, 2001). His 26.5 career tackles for loss is the second-highest total in AFL history, and he was named to the AFL's 15th Anniversary all-time team at the 2001 ArenaBowl. Baron, who played three seasons with Chicago between stints in Nashville, was one of only two players to play in all 80 games with the previous Kats franchise, including 10 postseason contests (joining quarterback Andy Kelly). He is Nashville's franchise leader in sacks (28.5), and he also holds team records for sacks in one season (7.0).
SWEET 16 - Kats WR/LB Darryl Hammond is in the midst of his 16th year in the AFL (the longest tenure in Arena Football League history). He became the fourth player in league history to catch at least 800 passes at Utah in week seven. Hammond had a 44-yard fumble return in the win over Colorado in week four, continuing his string of game-changing defensive performances so far this season. His nine tackles at Chicago in week three led the team, and he also registered his first sack since 2002 in the game. He had a 49-yard interception return for a TD against Columbus three weeks ago, marking the seventh pick in which he has run back for a TD in his career. Hammond continued to defy Father Time in 2005, earning a selection to the league's All-Ironman team. He had 66 receptions for 632 yards, eight TD's and 42.5 tackles in 14 games played last season. In 2005, he became just the second player in league history to have 8,000 receiving yards and 30 interceptions in a career. San Jose WR/LB Barry Wagner is the only other player to have accomplished the feat. Hammond now has 8,563 receiving yards and 30 INT's. He is one of only three players in AFL history to surpass 600 stops (Wagner and Grand Rapids' Damon Mason are the other two). He is fourth in AFL history with 801 career receptions and ranks eighth on the league's all-time receiving-yards gained in a career with 8,563 yards. Hammond has returned seven interceptions for touchdowns in his career, tied for third-most in the AFL, and he ranks third in the league for career tackles with 653.
SCOUTING LAS VEGAS
After a slow start to the year, the Gladiators have won five of their last six and have emerged as one of the hottest teams in the league. With a 5-5 record, Las Vegas is in a tie with Arizona for the top spot in the Western Division. Their turnaround has been due in large part to the outstanding play of rookie quarterback Jason Fife, who took over as the starter a few weeks ago, and the league's best rushing offense, which averages 37.4 yards per game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
OS MARCUS NASH - A big, imposing receiver who currently ranks third in the AFL with 83 receptions for 930 yards and 23 TD's. He was the 2004 Offensive Player of the Year, and he is widely regarded as one of the most dangerous receivers in arena football.
QB JASON FIFE - Rookie from Oregon who has led the Gladiators to wins in four of their last five games. Is just as dangerous as a runner as he is as a passer, averaging 3.8 yards per carry and running for eight TD's so far this season. He has completed 64.7 percent of his throws, but has been picked off eight times.
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