THE SOUL in the offseason added more all-stars than a Miami Heat limousine.
Twelve of the 16 players in this week's expected starting lineup were with other teams last year. Five of those 12 were either first- or second-team All-Arena. And another guy, lineman Devin Clark, will make it six All-Stars when he comes off injured reserve in 3 weeks.
New coach Doug Plank led Georgia to the Arena Bowl in 2005. New offensive coordinator Clint Dolezel was one of the league's greatest quarterbacks and is one of its brightest minds.
With all of this talent, Plank wanted to make one thing very clear during yesterday's media day at the team's practice facility in Voorhees.
"We're not going to have the 'dream team' here," the coach said pointedly. "If you're not willing to work and come here every single day and be a great teammate, you're not going to be on this team. I don't care what your award was last year."
The most important addition, however, was not an All-Star in 2011. But quarterback Dan Raudabaugh had an excellent year in his first season as a starter. He threw 90 touchdown passes and led Dallas to an unexpected playoff berth. Just as importantly, Raudabaugh threw 17 interceptions last year. The three guys the Soul used had 32. Raudabaugh turns 25 in 2 weeks.
"Like the NFL, the Arena Football League is a very quarterback-driven league," said Soul president Ron Jaworski. "A year ago, we were very inconsistent at the quarterback position. With Dan Raudabaugh, we have a guy that understands this game and has the size, stature and mobility to play this game."
The Soul openS the season Sunday in New Orleans with the usual high expectations. But Jaworski did warn that there will be growing pains, another reference perhaps to the early-season struggles the 2011 Eagles sustained.
Wide receiver Donovan Morgan is one of the few returning starters. Even though he was a first-team all-star last year, he used enough Listerine to wash out the taste of 2011 to fill a bathtub.
"It was a very long offseason," said Morgan, who suffered a torn ACL in the finale that prevented him from going to an NFL camp. "Going 6-12 was very bitter and you're wishing the new season would start right away so you can show the fans you're not a 6-12 team. It was dreadful waiting for this time to come. Now that it's here, it's a blessing to be out here with these guys. I just can't wait to take the field with them."
Ron Jaworski knows Arena League players are underpaid. He's said many times that if he could usurp the league's uniform salary structure, he'd do it in a heartbeat.
The 2012 AFL season got off to an ugly start last week in Orlando. Hours before the opening game was to begin, Pittsburgh players threatened to walk off the field, possibly during the national anthem. When the Power's management got wind of the possible ploy, it fired the entire team. Replacement players were used. The uniforms each team wore were too similar. Chaos reigned as the NFL Network cameras rolled on.
The players say the strike talk was just a test to see who among them was leaking information to management. The owners say they had to make a drastic move in order to play a game. Nobody covered themselves in glory and the fans were forced to endure basically a high school JV game.
The starting quarterback for every AFL team makes $1,600 per game. Everybody else gets $400. These numbers are not negotiable. A stud wideout like Morgan gets the same as the worst d-back for Spokane. The union wants a new agreement and the Orlando protest was the most emphatic stand they could make.
"I totally understand," Jaworski said. "As a former [NFL] player, I went through three work stoppages [1973, 1982 and 1987], so I totally understand what the players are going through. But I also understand the other side now as an owner, and if we had the kind of money the NFL has, we'd be able to pay these guys a lot more than they are getting right now. We have to grow the league together. Ownership is not making money in the Arena Football League. But together, if we partner this - the players and the ownership - we can make the league very successful and they will make more money. They deserve more money."
The Soul will have nine games televised by Comcast's networks, starting with Sunday's opener on SportsNet. CSN has two games and TCN seven others. The Soul will be on the NFL Network twice . . . Sunday's game is at 4 o'clock. With any luck, it will not conflict with a potential Temple NCAA Tournament game.
Contact Ed Barkowitz at email@example.com