RB Taggart has big shoes to fill on Soul's offense
Soul dealt star back Derrick Ross in the offseason, but newcomer Tommy Taggart is eager to step in and fuel the offense.
IN THE REALM of arena football, what the Soul did this offseason was comparable to the Eagles' trading LeSean McCoy.
Following a mediocre season and first-round playoff loss, the Soul traded Derrick Ross, easily the best fullback in franchise history and largely considered to be the best the AFL has ever known. Traditional running backs are called fullbacks in the arena league.
In return, the Soul received a stud linebacker - sound familiar, Eagles fans? - in this case Beau Bell, who was first-team all-AFL for Los Angeles last year.
To replace Ross, general manager Tom Goodhines brought in Tommy Taggart, a 5-year AFL veteran who was teammates with DeMarco Murray and Sam Bradford at the University of Oklahoma. Taggart was the Sooners' scout team defensive MVP in 2006, when he had to sit out a year after transferring from Division II Midwestern State.
He became closer with Bradford, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2008 and is penciled in to be the Eagles' starting quarterback this fall.
"I can't say enough good things about Sam Bradford. On the field, he's the leader, the captain," Taggart said excitedly. "Off the field, he's a quiet guy . . . a 4.0 [GPA] as a student . . . great friend . . . just an amazing guy . . . an all-American type of guy. I really hope that he does well. I know he had a rough start in St. Louis getting hit [and hurt] all the time. That's tough for any quarterback. If you're getting sacked 50 times a year, that makes it tough for any quarterback."
Taggart's Eagles connections don't end there. His girlfriend's sister, Chelsea, is married to offensive tackle Lane Johnson, another Oklahoma product.
Taggart, 28, was a defensive lineman in college. While at Midwestern State, he played against Ross, who went to Tarleton State.
"It's an interesting dynamic having played against him in college when I was 18 years old and now coming here filling his shoes," Taggart said. "He was obviously very popular with the fans and very successful on the field. But I don't focus on replacing him, as much as just playing my game and doing what I can for this team."
Ross holds every significant AFL career rushing record, including yards (2,282) and touchdowns (142). Ross had 151 carries last year, Taggart had 67. Taggart has 160 career carries. Not a problem, said the coach.
"We're going to do the same things we've done, nothing different," Clint Dolezel said. "The run game slows up the pass rush. The great thing about Derrick was that he could take [a simple play] and turn it into a 40-yard touchdown. But I don't need a 40-yard touchdown. I need 2 or 3 yards. I need them thinking on defense about the run.
"We'll be just fine. We won't be too far behind our numbers from last year in rushing."
The only number that matters anyhow is victories. The Soul was 9-9 last year and did not win a playoff game, after having won conference titles in 2012 and 2013. There were wholesale changes, with 14 players on the 25-man roster set to make their Soul debut in the season opener at Orlando on Sunday (7 p.m., ESPN2).
The Soul has some lofty goals, despite all the turnover.
"I know it's hard from the outside looking in to see the pieces that we've lost - Derrick Ross, [defensive back] Ray Kizer and [wide receiver] Tiger Jones - and not wonder how we can replace core guys like that [who] have been here so long, but it happens. It happens at every level," Taggart said.
"Clint Dolezel approaches this game in a different way. It's very unique in what he does. I think it's very reasonable to think that we're going to make a run at this."
At a glance
2014 recap: Went 9-9 and lost to Cleveland in the first round of the playoffs on a field goal at the buzzer. The Soul lost in the AFL's championship game in 2012 and 2013.
2015 outlook: The Soul surely is talking a good game about getting back to the top of the American Conference ... Fourteen of the Soul's 25 players are new. The early chemistry between Marco Thomas, the AFL's top wide receiver last year for Iowa, and veteran quarterback Dan Raudabaugh bears watching.
Around the league: There are 12 teams this year. The franchises in San Antonio, Iowa and Pittsburgh are dark this season, but Las Vegas is active for the first time since 2007.
WR T. Jones
Sunday, March 29 at Orlando 7:00
Saturday, April 4 at Spokane 10:00
Sunday, April 12 JACKSONVILLE 4:00
Saturday, April 18 CLEVELAND 7:00
Saturday, April 25 at New Orleans 8:00
Saturday, May 2 PORTLAND 6:00
Friday, May 8 ORLANDO 7:30
Saturday, May 16 at Jacksonville 7:00
Friday, May 22 at Tampa Bay 7:30
Saturday, May 30 LAS VEGAS (at A.C.) 6:00
Saturday, June 6 NEW ORLEANS 6:00
Saturday, June 13 at Orlando 7:00
Saturday, June 20 at Los Angeles 10:00
Friday, June 26 TAMPA BAY 7:30
Week 15 Bye
Saturday, July 11 CLEVELAND 1:00
Saturday, July 18 at Jacksonville 7:00
Week 18 Bye
Sunday, August 2 NEW ORLEANS 4:00
Saturday, August 8 at Cleveland 7:00
Who: Soul at Orlando
When: 7 p.m., ESPN2
On the web: www.Soul.ArenaFootball.com/AllAccess
Notable: The Predators went 11-7 in 2014 and made it to the conference final, despite having three different ownership groups during the season and getting kicked out of their arena for defaulting on the lease. They are back at the Amway Center. The AFL needs a healthy franchise in Orlando.