EFL Home 2006 Season
Wilmington Snooze-Terminal, August 10, 2006

Rip Snorter

Loss of Lewis Likely Obstacle to Cherries’ Success

As the 2006 EFL season kicks off tomorrow night at the Jersey shore with the Bolts tangling with the Gulls (TV-ASPN2), it’s high time I see if I can for the third year in a row make completely unreliable predictions of the fortunes of the Delaware Cherries and their 11 opponents. Well, my real intent is to make reliable predictions, but if they don’t pan out, I’ll have the previous sentence to quote out of context as a means to possibly reduce the embarassment.

This year I am giving information about player turnover for each team — the departed players that will be most missed and the most welcome acquired players. This information is as much for my benefit as yours — the idea being to force myself to give the predictions more, ahem, thought.

And so here goes …

Central Division

Philadelphia Lakers
Most Missed: RB Travis Henry, LB Edgerton Hartwell, CB Donnie Abraham
Most Welcome: S Will Demps, OT Kevin Sampson, CB Carlos Rogers
Outlook: 1st — Although the top three spots in the Central are essentially interchangeable, picking against the Lakers is usually unwise.

Cherries
Most Missed: LB Ray Lewis (injured), DE Bryce Fisher
Most Welcome: LB Bart Scott, RG Shawn Andrews, LB Trev Faulk
Outlook: 2nd — The offense will be more explosive, but the defense will really feel the absence of Ray Lewis.

Atlantic City Seagulls
Most Missed: FS Jerome Woods, LB Shawn Barber
Most Welcome: DE N.D. Kalu, WR Derrick Mason, CB Fred Smoot
Outlook: 3rd — Another big year for Tiki Barber is likely. If Kyle Boller makes connecting with Derrick Mason a habit, watch out.

New York Empires
Most Missed: CB Gary Baxter, WR Robert Ferguson, WR Ike Hilliard
Most Welcome: RB Stephen Davis, G Scott Wells, LB Angelo Crowell
Outlook: 4th — As many as seven wins if Stephen Davis is effective as he was in 2004 (a big “if”). Otherwise, the Emps will be hard-pressed to win five.

Northern Division

Providence Steam Roller
Most Missed: C Kevin Mawae, TE Terry Jones, DT Jason Fisk
Most Welcome: DT Jordan Carstens, DE Phillip Daniels, WR Mark Clayton
Outlook: 1st — They won the division by three games last season, and the other teams haven’t improved signficantly. Look for Priest Holmes to share more of the running load with Larry Johnson.

Connecticut Comets
Most Missed: LB Takeo Spikes (injured), CB Fred Smoot, DE Kenny Mixon
Most Welcome: LB LaVar Arrington, DE Justin Tuck, CB Patrick Surtain
Outlook: 2nd — Will Arrington be the player he was before his injury? If not, will their efforts to shore up their leaky defense go for naught?

Syracuse Crush
Most Missed: DT Corey Simon, LB Scott Fujita, WR Johnnie Morton
Most Welcome: LB Shawne Merriman, WR Koren Robinson, LB Brandon Chillar
Outlook: 3rd — They overachieved in 2004 and underachieved in 2005. Normalizing would put them in third. Merriman is a beast.

Albany Racers
Most Missed: OT Matt Light (injured), LB Roman Phifer, FS Troy Vincent
Most Welcome: OT Tom Ashworth, CB Ellis Hobbs, LB Kendrell Bell
Outlook: 4th — Corey Dillon is 31; there is no way the Racers should expect as much from him as they got last season — especially without Light to run behind.

Southern Division

Baltimore Bolts
Most Missed: WR Randy Moss, DT Cletidus Hunt
Most Welcome: LB Willie McGinest, DT Kendrick Clancy, CB Quentin Jammer
Outlook: 1st — Ben Roethlisberger and Steven Jackson will blossom for what will be a surprisingly productive offense. McGinest upgrades the pass rush.

Richmond Rebels
Most Missed: WR Muhsin Muhammed, FS Aeneas Williams, PR Jonathan Smith
Most Welcome: WR Steve Smith, DT Mike Patterson, RB Jerome Bettis
Outlook: 2nd — Last year’s run was fueled by an overstocked roster and avoidance of the injury bug. The former is history and injuries tend to even out over time.

Washington Capitols
Most Missed: G David Dixon, LB Willie McGinest, RB Duce Staley
Most Welcome: CB Ty Law, LB Antonio Pierce, RB Curtis Martin
Outlook: 3rd — Despite poorly conceived deals with Baltimore, the defense will be competitive due to the return of Ty Law. However, the running game may struggle without Staley and with an aging Martin.

Pittsburgh Ironmen
Most Missed: S Rodney Harrison (injured), C Matt Birk (injured), CB Jerametrius Butler
Most Welcome: TE Jim Kleinsasser, RB DeShaun Foster, QB Eli Manning
Outlook: 4th — The addition of Foster means a better balanced offense. The losses of Birk and Harrison will hinder their improvement, and the Southern looks to be by far the toughest division.

Richmond is my pick for the wildcard — which means the Cherries will again miss the playoffs. Watch these Delaware players to get a better gauge on the team’s prospects:

If the Cherries get better than expected production from those players, the Central would likely be within their grasp. Brett Favre and the Lakers are certainly not invulnerable.