The Baltimore Mariners only wanted to improve from going 4-10 after their inaugural season. Last season, the Mariners not only improve their record from 4-10 to 9-5, but they advance to the playoffs. Because of their success in the 2009 season and fell short of making the AIFA (American Indoor Football Association) championship game, the expectations are higher for the Mariners. Winning the East Conference is nice and sweet, but according the Mariners, anything other than winning AIFA Championship IV, is unacceptable.
“Anything less than an AIFA Championship is not good,” said Mariners’ quarterback Earnest “E.J.” Nemeth after the Blue-White scrimmage for Media Day on Sunday at College Park. “Getting to the playoffs is not our goal, winning the division is not a goal, the goal is to win the championship. Anything less than that would be an unsatisfactory for the season, as far as we’re concern.”
As a leader on the offense, Nemeth isn’t speaking in arrogance about winning the championship, but he feels that the Mariners has something to prove and with the core players from last season re-signed for this season, to accomplish that ultimate goal is possible. “It’s huge (having the players return) because there was no feeling out period at the beginning of camp,” said Nemeth. “The team’s chemistry was the key last season and at the end of the season when we lost to Reading (Express), we looked around in that locker room and everybody said, “I’m back, I’m coming back, I’m coming back next season.” Because of what we were able to accomplish last year and the way we went out wasn’t what we wanted. I feel that we have something to prove this season.” Nemeth finished last season with 94.8 quarterback rating as he threw for 2,115 yards, 36 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Nemeth led the Mariners to 5th best in the league in scoring offense. “As far as us getting to the title game, I don’t see us not winning,” said Mariners’ running back Isaiah Grier who is never at a loss for words. “I already feel it’s ours. Obviously, we have to go out and work for it and prove it, but as far as I’m concern, it’s ours.” Nemeth is excited about what he see with the adjustments the organization made and having players he’s familiar with around him again, makes his job easier. “Having Scorpio (Brown), Stokes (Jamaal) and Aaron (Yarbough) back for the wide receivers, we know each other and added a couple of D-backs with new receivers this year, we’re good,” said Nemeth. “My line is back, for the most part, Gussie (offensive lineman Gus Kosmakos) at center, J.T. (offensive lineman Jeff Tyler – Towson) moving over to left guard with a couple to go to the right. I like what I see. We got “Zeke” (Grier) back at running back. I think we’re very good on offense and defense. I got the easy job. I have to get the ball to the playmakers and let them make plays.”
In indoor football, the playing field is shorter – not including the endzone, it’s 50 yards. To win in this league, a team must have an accurate quarterback with a quick release because of the quick pressure from the outside. Speedy, dependable receivers that are discipline in route running and defensive backs that can play on their toes, can cover and are sure tacklers because one wrong move or lack of concentration, they can kiss the receiver goodbye.
The Mariners led the league last season in, perhaps, the most important stat of indoor football, interceptions with 42. The core secondary returned, including the AIFA’s leader for interceptions Mariners’ defensive back Armar Watson with 17, with some additions like All-Pro defensive back Jermaine Thaxton, who was with the Harrisburg Stampede last season. The Mariners finished last year second in pass defense efficiency at 92.9 percent and tied first in turnover margin at 1.86 turnovers per game (52 turnovers total), compliments of the secondary.
On the other hand, the defensive front wasn’t consistent in applying pressure. In 2009, the Mariners finished 11th in total defense (8th in rushing and 10th passing). With only, now, 13 teams in the AIFA (the D.C. Armor franchise folded), these stats put the Mariners near the bottom in this category. The Mariners’ organization spent the off-season loading up on defensive players. “Obviously in certain situations, we got to have pressure from the DB’s on the receivers and pressure from the front four to force turnovers or turnovers on downs in key situations,” Mariners’ head coach Chris Simpson. “We have a very quick, fast, physical defense.” With the team’s new acquisitions and the veteran secondary, the Mariners are looking to be explosive off the snap. “These guys, Armar and Richard (Johnson, defensive back) are great in getting coverage sacks for us,” said linebacker Fearon Wright. “They are good at locking their men down and that’s going to give us that extra second up front to pound that quarterback. We got the speed coming off the ends with myself and Melik (Brown, defensive lineman) coming in with “Big D” (defensive lineman Daniel Orlebar) in the middle now. Because of the DB’s, we are going to do a lot different things up front where we can mix it up and get after the quarterback.”
The biggest myth of indoor football is that teams can’t run the ball because of the lack of room and the speed of defenses. The Mariners scored 33 touchdowns on the ground (second in the league) in 2009 and led the AIFA in rushing (718 yards) with the league leader in Grier, who finished with 514 rushing yards, averaged 4 yards per carry and finished second in rushing touchdowns (20). “They said we couldn’t run last year, we proved them wrong and I think we have a 1,000 yard rusher and still put up 60 points a game,” said Mariners’ general manager Greg Justice. “It’s nice to have a guy like Zeke that can do that and Brian Bradford (linebacker) stepped up as a two-way player. That’s another guy we can go to and have a wishbone formation. So we are happy about that.”
Grier seconded that emotion. “Our goal is to be the best across the board in every position…We are not accepting less as a team,” said Grier.
“I don’t really care what the other teams have, talent wise, player wise and things like that…I only care about the Baltimore Mariners, the kind of players we have, what kind of plays we can install and our ability to run them and be discipline in running those,” said Simpson intensely when asked about his focus as he prepared himself and his players coming into this season.
It’s time for the Mariners to win, now. They have veterans players who are coming to the tail end of their careers and a few have not experienced major success like Wright (Former Minnesota Viking) who never played in a playoff game for he missed the postseason matchup last season against the Express because he sprained his MCL in the team’s last regular season game. 18 men out of the 20 that were on the roster in 2009 re-signed this off season, still have the taste and hunger from last season in their mouths. So the motivation is simple and it starts on Saturday on the road against the Stampede, win the AIFA title. “My motivation I very simple, I want to win the championship,” said Simpson. “Anything less than that is going to be disappointing to me because our expectations are there and the talent is there. It’s a matter of taking one game at a time, one practice at a time and make sure that we are in that position at that time of the year.”