TAMPA - Tim Marcum knows a championship roster when he sees one. The seven Arena Football League championship rings he owns says that much.
So does Tampa Bay's longtime coach think the 2008 Tampa Bay Storm are a championship club? Well, Marcum isn't ready to declare that much quite yet, but he does believe the ingredients are in place for the Storm to be successful this season as they go for the franchise's sixth AFL championship.
"I will say we have a very good team, and that if we can get some breaks, a lot of things are going to go our way," Marcum said.
There is reason for optimism surrounding this year's club as it gears up for Saturday's season opener at Kansas City. Eighteen of the 21 players on the active roster finished the 2007 season with the Storm, a team that was among the league's hottest down the stretch. The Storm won eight of their final nine regular-season games in 2007 to secure a postseason berth, and that returning continuity on the roster is expected to pay big dividends.
"In 2007 we came in and it was a completely different team. I think there were only four people returning from the previous year. So guys were learning to jell and getting to know each other and it took about half a season before guys really got comfortable with each other and playing with everybody," said defensive lineman Tom Briggs, who was a new face to the team last season. "This year is completely different.
"Anytime you return that nucleus of people, it's good. We're just hitting the ground running this year."
Among those returning are the centerpieces of the offense - leading receivers Terrill Shaw and Lawrence Samuels and quarterback Brett Dietz, who, after being claimed off Kansas City's practice squad midway through last season, stepped into a starting role almost immediately and spearheaded a massive turnaround while going on to earn league co-rookie of the year honors.
The Storm's offense has been hamstrung during training camp with Shaw and free-agent acquisition receiver Sedrick Robinson, also one of the league's top return men, missing a significant amount of time with injuries. Neither player participated in the team's intrasquad scrimmage or preseason scrimmage against Orlando.
However, both players returned to practice the day after the 42-35 scrimmage loss to the Predators on Feb. 21, and Dietz has begun to get more comfortable each day he has been able to work extensively with all his primary weapons.
"I definitely like our offense and how it's looking. I definitely felt good over the last few days," Dietz said early this week. "I'm going to be a lot more comfortable than in the scrimmages, so everything's going to be, hopefully, a little bit smoother. I feel real comfortable with those guys in there."
The defense also returns several key pieces, including linebacker Torrance Marshall, defensive back Jeroid Johnson and all three starting linemen - Briggs, Tim McGill and Mark Word.
The key for the Storm will be getting off on the right foot, something the team wasn't able to do in 2007. While Tampa Bay eventually turned things around and was able to reach the postseason after a disastrous 1-6 start, relying on a turnaround of that magnitude again isn't something the Storm can count on.
Also, Tampa Bay faces a tough task in the beginning of the season. The Storm will be taken out of their comfort zone, with four of their first five games on the road.
Those challenges, however, are ones the Storm believe they can overcome.
"It's going to be a challenge," Marcum said. "We just have to take care of our business."