Secondary still a work in progress for Soul

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Secondary still a work in progress for Soul

Make more plays.

That's the consensus among members of the Soul's secondary. That's what they need to do. That's what their focusing on -- making more plays.

Any defensive back would love to record 12 interceptions in one season. But 12 total interceptions as a team, which is what the Soul has this season, well, that's a problem.

The Soul are 6-5 after 11 games, but if you talk to the members of the secondary unit, they'll tell you they could have made more plays to put the team in a better position to have a better record.

Veteran defensive back LaRico Stevenson was the first point out the positives within the secondary. He said the unit has the athleticism to compete and be among the best in the AFL. He understands there is talent, but he also knows improvement is needed.

"We're still learning," Stevenson, who leads the team with four interceptions, said.

He wouldn't point to chemistry as the problem. Rayshaun Kizer went a different route, too.

The Soul are eighth in the AFL in turnovers with 20 total. That's the good news. The bad news is they have the fifth-worst pass defense, allowing opponents to average 263.7 passing yards.

Kizer, who is second on the team with three interceptions blamed his "lack of concentration" for not making plays when he needed to. As unit though...

"We are not making the plays like we did last season," Kizer said. "I know, I can speak for myself, I've dropped a couple of picks, you know; when the opportunity presents itself you got to make it because normally, the next play, they're going to end up scoring."

Rookie defensive back James Romain mentioned confidence as the reason the Soul have not been able to create more turnovers in the air.

"We're just not catching them," said Romain. "Once we start catching them and getting that confidence ... picks will start rolling in and quarterbacks will be real sad."

Soul head coach Clint Dolezel knows his secondary can do better. In fact, he saw just what they can do two weeks ago against the AFL's best team, the Arizona Rattlers.

The Soul forced Nick Davila, easily the best quarterback in the league this season, to throw a season-high three interceptions. In that game, you could see that confidence was there. The concentration, too.

"We meshed front to back," Dolezel said. "We put pressure. We had the right coverage at the right time. We got pressure when we didn't have great coverage. When we did have great coverage, we had pressure, too."

Last week against New Orleans was a different story. Not only did the Soul not record an interception, though the opportunities were there, they allowed the VooDoo, a team with the third-worst passing offense, to put up 301 yards in the air. For the season, New Orleans only averages 237.4 passing yards.

Kizer didn't sugarcoat his thoughts on the fact the Soul only recorded 12 interceptions this season.

"I think it's kind of bad," he said."... As a team, right now, we have 12 after 11 games! I mean, one pick a game. We got to get that up, especially going into the second half of the season and the playoffs. We have to get our turnovers up in the secondary."

Thing is, though the secondary haven't capitalized on forcing turnovers, they haven't really hurt the team all that much, either.

The Soul are seventh in the league in scoring defense, allowing opponents to score 52.8 points. For all the plays the secondary didn't make after 11 games, the unit also made stops when they had to. Teams who try and convert fourth downs on the Soul are only successful 33.3 percent of the time.

"That's the good news,"Dolezel said "We haven't been making those plays, but we're still right in ball games. When we start making those plays, then maybe we'll start putting some points on the board and beating teams by more than just a couple scores."

Kizer was told that due to the Soul's low number in the interceptions category, teams may want to attack them in the air from start to finish. Forget those short dump passes. They'll go deep early and often.

"I like it," Kizer said. "The more the ball is in the air, the more chances we get to make plays. It benefits us. If they want to attack us in the air, tell them to bring it on."

Kizer asked, so the Soul just might receive. And the secondary unit may keep receiving those aerial attacks until they make plays consistently to stop it.

"Right now it's just it's just trusting in each other to make the play," Romain said. "Once that clicks, we're going to be good."

Jake Metz, Soul credit strong 4th-quarter defensive effort for championship win

Jake Metz, Soul credit strong 4th-quarter defensive effort for championship win

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Despite the Soul leading by three touchdowns early in ArenaBowl XXIX, there was little cheering from the their bench.

Given the volatility that is Arena League football and the frequency from which teams can strike, the approach remained resolute and determined. Defensive tackle Jake Metz kept the mindset of a scoreless game and could not stop hearing words coming from Ron Jaworski, a highly vocal partner in the Soul’s ownership.

“He kept yelling that offense gets headlines but defense wins championships,” said Metz, who currently lives in Schwenksville, Montgomery County, and went to Shippensburg University. “That resounded with me, and brought the championship.”

Metz and his defensive teammates then went out and shut down a highly hazardous and explosive Arizona Rattlers offensive unit en route to a 56-42 win (see story). Led by quarter Nick Davila, the only three-time MVP in Arena Football League history, the Rattlers could manage only seven points in a critical fourth quarter.

At the same time, Metz recovered a fumble by Davila with the Soul holding a slim six-point margin with just under six minutes to play. That turnover was the key point in the Soul’s eventual win, and cemented the role of the defense as a shut-down unit.

On the subsequent possession, Soul quarterback Dan Raudabaugh connected with Shaun Kauleinamoku on a 30-yard scoring strike. That created a 14-point comfort zone and the final margin of victory.

“These players deserve this championship,” Soul head coach Clint Dolezel said. “This is a first class organization and ownership gives the players a first-class experience. That way, we can attract great players, and with great players comes success.”

In capturing the league title Friday night, the victory was the second in franchise history. In 2008, the Soul and Phillies each won championships, and that was the last time a professional team captured a title in Philadelphia.

Metz remembers the Phillies' win over the Rays, and pointed out, “I went to those games as a kid.” That championship stuck with the 6-foot-6, 265 pounder, and helped to forge a championship mentality.

Early in the fourth quarter, Arizona caught the Soul at 42-42. From that point, Raudabaugh directed two scoring drives, and along with Metz’s important fumble recovery, carried the Soul to the title.

“It’s all about how you respond,” said Raudabaugh, who finished with 20 for 36 for 278 yards and six touchdowns. “Granted, they have a very explosive team, but we were never out it. They did come back, but we had an answer for them.”

The answer was a strong defense which Dolezel indicated was playing at their peak just prior to the title game.

Defensive back Tracy Belton, the AFL defensive player of the year and DB Dwayne Hollis, whose fumble recovery for a touchdown early in the game was another key defensive play, clearly showed how a defense can carry a team to a league title. That was the effort the Soul brought together in an environment as unpredictable as the Arena Football League.

Soul fight off Rattlers' comeback bid, win ArenaBowl XXIX

Soul fight off Rattlers' comeback bid, win ArenaBowl XXIX

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Prior to ArenaBowl XXIX, the consensus among players and coaches was the team which makes fewer mistakes had a reasonable chance to win.

When the Arizona Rattlers committed two critical turnovers in the initial minutes Friday night, the Soul jumped out to an early lead and then capitalized on big plays from the defense to earn a 56-42 win and their second ArenaBowl title in franchise history.

The championship is the first for a professional team in Philadelphia since the Soul and Phillies each took individual titles in 2008. Villanova captured the men’s NCAA basketball championship this past April.

Coming into the title game at Gila River Arena, Arizona averaged 83.0 points per game in postseason play, and the Soul defense, which averaged 45.5 points allowed in playoff competition, did not deviate from its norm.

“We trust in our defense,” said defensive back Dwayne Hollis, who scored on an early fumble recovery and had a key interception late. “The fumble was great work from the line. A few guys got in there and the ball came loose. I was able pick it up and I only saw the end zone.”

This one started in a way all too familiar to the Soul defense.

Following a 16-yard touchdown reception from Darius Reynolds, and an early 7-0 Soul lead, Hollis scored just over three minutes later. That’s when he picked up the fumble from Rattlers running back Mykel Benson and ran 48 yards for the score.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Rattlers’ Anthony Amos could not handle the rebound off the netting in the end zone and Tracy Belton, the AFL Defensive Player of the Year, scooped up the loose ball for a touchdown. That brought the Soul out to a 21-0 lead less than seven minutes into the game, and created a relatively secure comfort level.

“We go against those guys every day in practice, and know how good our defense really is,” said quarterback Dan Raudabaugh, who finished with a 20-for-36 night, 278 yards and six touchdowns. “This is such a great defense, and they proved it when it counted.”

Despite an early lead, the Rattlers managed to catch the Soul at 42-42 early in the fourth quarter. On the next possession, Raudabaugh engineered a six-play scoring drive that culminated in a 21-yard TD strike to Shaun Kauleinamoku. After the extra point was blocked, that created a six-point lead, and then the key defensive play of the game.

As Arizona quarterback Nick Davila attempted to pass from the Soul 15-yard line, his arm was hit and defensive tackle Jake Metz recovered. From there, Raudabaugh connected with Kauleinamoku on a 30-yard scoring strike, and this one was in the win column for the Soul.

“Our defense is persistent,” said Metz, a native of Souderton, Pennsylvania, who went to Shippensburg University. “This group never gives up, and we did our job.”

In postgame awards, Kauleinamoku was named the Playmaker of the Game, and Belton was honored as the Defensive Player of the Game.

For his key 30-yard TD reception late in the game, Kauleinamoku was given the Catch of the Game, and Hollis’ fumble recovery and touchdown early was noted as the Highlight of the Game.

Soul's Clint Dolezel shares Coach of the Year award with Rattlers' Kevin Guy

Soul's Clint Dolezel shares Coach of the Year award with Rattlers' Kevin Guy

For the third time in five seasons, the Soul and Arizona Rattlers will compete in the ArenaBowl. Prior to Friday night's 7 p.m. matchup, the leaders of both squads, Soul coach Clint Dolezel and Rattlers coach Kevin Guy, were each named Marcum Moss Coach of the Year.

Dolezel and Guy will share the award but not the ArenaBowl trophy, which the Soul haven't won since their lone triumph in 2008 over the San Jose Sabercats. Dolezel, who has been at the helm since August 2012, led the Soul to the ArenaBowl in 2012 and 2013 but lost to the Rattlers on both occasions.

This season, Dolezel, who spent over a decade as a quarterback in the AFL, coached the Soul to a 13-3 regular-season record. The team advanced to the ArenaBowl with a dramatic win in the American Conference championship game over the Jacksonville Sharks.

Dolezel also earned the Coach of the Year award last season for guiding the Soul to a 15-3 overall mark and a conference championship game appearance.

“Without a question, Clint is one of the best offensive minds in AFL history,” Soul majority owner Ron Jaworski said in a press release. “His success is attributed to a great deal of preparation and hard work. To make a playoff appearance every year as a head coach shows his dedication and willingness to win.”