Both teams are coming off of a Week Two bye, but because of labor issues that clouded the Predators' (0-1) season opener on March 9, this is, for all intents and purposes, Orlando's first game of the 2012 season. In that March 9 contest--won by the Pittsburgh Power, 40-26--not many members of the Predators' regular roster participated.
Quarterback Collin Drafts was one regular player who participated in that game, throwing for 188 yards and three touchdowns. He also threw an interception and was sacked four times. Drafts will likely start this game under center, too, as fellow quarterback Trevor Harris recently signed a contract to play in the Canadian Football League, and newly assigned QB Dan Whalen will have just a few days to prepare for the game against Chicago.
At Drafts' disposal will be an impressive array of wide receivers that includes T.T. Toliver, Dwayne Eley Jr., Taurian Washington, and Nate Forse. Toliver is a 10-year AFL veteran who has 8,906 receiving yards and 174 touchdown receptions to his name. He also has a history of torching the Rush, scoring three touchdowns in each of his previous two games against Chicago.
Eley caught 75 passes for 1,025 yards and 20 touchdowns in 12 games last season as a member of the Milwaukee Mustangs. On July 23, Eley caught five passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns against the Rush in Chicago.
Washington is a rookie out of Ohio State who had seven receptions for 68 yards and two scores in Week One against the Power. Forse has previous experience with the Mustangs organization in 2010 and the Arizona Rattlers in 2011.
The Orlando defense is led by Predators legend FB/LB Marlon Moye-Moore, who piled up 73 total tackles, seven interceptions, a pick-six, and two forced fumbles in 2011. Patrolling the defensive backfield are star DBs Travis Coleman and Eddie Moten.
Michna did not score the first points of the 2012 Rush season, however. That honor goes to JLB Kelvin Morris, who intercepted Storm quarterback Stephen Wasil on Tampa Bay's first possession and returned it 26 yards for a defensive touchdown. Morris intercepted Wasil again in the fourth quarter and again returned it 22 yards for his second pick-six of the game. Morris also recovered a fumble in the game.
Morris was able to make these great defensive plays in large part because of the constant pressure that the defensive linemen kept on Wasil all afternoon. Xavier Brown brought Wasil down twice for sacks, and Ervin Baldwin dropped him behind the line of scrimmage once.
Vic Hall and Kelvin Rodgers are the most recognizable names in Chicago's defensive backfield, but DB Brandon Freeman had a big game against Tampa, recording four tackles while forcing and recovering a fumble.
This year's edition of the Rush isn't all about defense, though. "Big Play" Reggie Gray is in top form, hauling in seven of Michna's passes in Week One for 80 yards and four touchdowns, including the historic eighth of the game. Marquis Hamilton made quite a name for himself in his new Rush duds, too, with 10 receptions for 116 yards and three scores. And while Orlando is trying to deal with those two guys, speedy Jared Perry is another weapon, as evidenced by his six receptions for 42 yards and a score in his AFL debut.
The Rush will be without starting center T.J. Watkins, who was placed on Injured Reserve earlier this week. Brad Paul is the most likely candidate to fill in for Watkins for at least the next four weeks.
Chicago leads the all-time series between these two teams, 6-5. The most memorable victory--at least for Rush fans--was Chicago's 69-61 win in ArenaBowl XX in 2006. Current Rush head coach Bob McMillen was named Ironman of the Game.
The teams last met in 2010, which resulted in a 55-42 decision in Chicago's favor. Orlando's last win over the Rush was in 2008 in Florida by a score of 57-56. The Preds' last victory at Allstate Arena was in 2005, when they won 48-35. Orlando head coach Bret Munsey has a 2-1 coaching record against Chicago from his days with the Philadelphia Soul. This will be McMillen's first time facing the Predators as a head coach.
The author is a Featured Contributor in Sports for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. He also holds media credentials with the Arena Football League and with the Chicago Rush. You can follow him on Twitter at @RedZoneWriting and on Facebook.