Coming off a 6-12 disaster in 2011, they retooled both offense and defense. They brought in a new coaching staff, too. They are 7-2 at the halfway point of this season and are in prime position to get back to the playoffs for the first time since winning the championship in 2008.
Wide receiver Donovan Morgan is the only 2011 holdover left on offense.
"I knew it was going to be different in that first game," said Morgan, who remains the team's most popular player despite missing the last six games with a broken wrist. "We came out with a conviction and a fire that we knew we had to have. Once that became [contagious], the sky's the limit. We have guys at every position that are great at their position. In training camp, you really don't know. But that first game, you see the kind of character guys you have on your team."
Linebacker Brandon Perkins, another returnee, echoed Morgan.
"There's a lot more focus this year," he said. "Everybody has the same goal, and that's to get to New Orleans."
The Big Easy is the site of this year's championship and where the Soul won that 2008 title. The only players who remain from that team are injured wide receiver Larry Brackins and kicker Connor Hughes. Even the ownership is different. Most notably, the Soul have traded in Jon Bon Jovi's guitar for a basket of Pete Ciarrocchi's crab fries.
"We've got to look at it as a new beginning," head coach Doug Plank said. "We're going to have to be successful in this half of the season in order to get to where we want to go, which is to win our division, get in the playoffs, go to the Arena Bowl and win the Arena Bowl. If we can improve incrementally week by week, I think we can get to where we want to go."
Quarterback Dan Raudabuagh would be the team's first-half MVP. He was brought in from Dallas and has a mastery of Clint Dolezel's offensive system. Raudabaugh has spearheaded the most potent offense in the league. The Soul have had games of 92, 84 and 83 points, and team president Ron Jaworski is salivating at the thought of 100 . . . The offensive line, led by starting center Brennen Carvalho, has allowed just three sacks in 293 pass attempts. "Those guys are steady, unassuming professionals," Jaworski said. "As good as Dan has been, the offensive line is probably on par."
The defensive pass rush hasn't been consistent enough, which is why general manager Tom Goodhines went out and acquired Justin Warren and T.J. Langley within the last week. "You just can't stay put because we're 7-2," Jaworski said. "I want to be the world champions. Any change that we make is toward that goal."
Five of the Soul's final nine games are on the road. Friday's visit to Spokane starts a string of four road games in 5 weeks. The Soul are 3-2 at home, but 4-0 on the road. They will get a chance to avenge their two losses, which came against division opponents. "I'm looking forward to the Cleveland [and Milwaukee games]," Jaworski said. "I don't want to look past Spokane, but I'm looking for a little retribution for those two losses." The Soul visit Cleveland on May 27 and Milwaukee on June 8.
The last word
"We've gotten better week to week, but I don't think we've hit our stride yet," said Dolezel, the offensive coordinator. "To be 7-2 at the halfway point is something we can be proud of. If we duplicate that, we're sitting at 14-4. Many years of playing this game, it's all about getting to the playoffs and what you do there."
Contact Ed Barkowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org