March 6, 2013

Time off a plus for Rampage

One game into the season, the Georgia Rampage already need to step back and see what went wrong.

Luckily for them, they’ll have an extra week to do so.

The Rampage lost 74-25 Monday to the Lakeland (Fla.) Raiders at the trade center in the season opener for both Ultimate Indoor Football League teams. Due to a schedule change, Dalton’s new football team is off next week and does not play again until March 17 in a road game against the Corpus Christi (Texas) Fury.

After committing seven turnovers and not forcing a turnover on downs against the Raiders, Rampage coach Mark Bramlett is thankful for the extra time and practices before the next game.

“It’s tremendous,” he said after Monday’s loss. “We have a couple guys who are banged up. It gives us a chance to find some answers to some questions that we’re actively seeking the answers for.”

One question is how to fix the offensive line. While quarterback Joel Statham wasn’t sacked, he was knocked down more than 10 times, had to hurry throws off his back foot and tossed four interceptions. Additionally, he and the Rampage’s center — Robert Stephens, who is a natural right tackle — had trouble with snaps as Statham fumbled three of them. During an exhibition game a week earlier, there were two fumbles on center-quarterback exchanges.

On Tuesday, Rampage co-owner Kacee Smith said the team needs to find a natural center and that there could be some roster changes in the next couple days.

Statham, a 2002 Murray County High School graduate, also thinks this is as good a time as any for a bye week. The team usually practices on weekends due to players having full-time jobs and other commitments.

“We can get things squared away, go back and be ready to play the next game,” he said on Monday.

The Rampage originally were scheduled to travel to play the Miami Sting next Monday. But last week, the UIFL announced the Sting was no longer in the league, citing failure to meet the league’s “territory agreements.” The Rampage now only have eight games remaining in their UIFL season, and they’d like the results to be far better than in the opener.

The team’s first two possessions ended in turnovers — the second an interception returned for a touchdown to make the game 20-0. The Rampage scored a touchdown on the next possession but failed to score on the following three. In the second half, just two of five possessions resulted in scores. For the game, it was just four of 10.

The Rampage were without wide receiver Dallas Walker, who played at Eastern Michigan University, a Division I program. He was inactive for Monday’s loss because he didn’t want to risk injury for an upcoming NFL tryout with the Chicago Bears. He’ll be available for the next game, Smith said.

Additionally, the Rampage had a change at offensive coordinator leading up to the loss. Chris McKinney — who had worked with the team during the preseason and during its exhibition game — accepted a job coaching wide receivers with an Arena Football League franchise, the Philadelphia Soul, Smith said. Sandy Stephens, the Rampage’s special teams coordinator, was the offensive coordinator Monday and will continue to fill that role.

Lakeland scored on seven of its nine possessions — the Raiders had the ball when each half ended, meaning the Rampage never stopped them on a fourth down and didn’t force any turnovers.

Bramlett said some players were frustrated with the penalties — or lack of — called by the officials. The Rampage had four penalties for 30 yards, while the Raiders had five for 44.

“They were worried about some stuff that wasn’t being called,” Bramlett said. “I told them not to worry about it. We can only fix what we do.”

The Rampage’s average starting-field position in the 50-yard long playing surface was their own 18. Only once did the team start on the Raiders’ half of the field. By comparison, the Raiders’ average starting-field position was the Rampage’s 24. Three of those times it was due to Rampage turnovers.

“We have to address concerns with our kicking game and other specials teams issues,” he said. “It seems like everything came unraveled.”

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