For the Soul, it begins in the trenches

Posted: August 09, 2012

Dan Raudabaugh stood next to his linemen with a big smile. Fulfilling more stereotypes than they'd care to admit, the linemen were seated with a plate full of chicken, green beans, and rice in front of them.

Raudabaugh, the quarterback for the Arena Football League's Soul, stood and signed autographs just hours before the team boarded a plane to New Orleans as fans surrounded them at the Aloft Hotel next to the airport for a send-off Monday afternoon.

The fans were allowed to talk with any players they wanted, ask for autographs from whomever they wanted.

But in this league, which puts a premium and a spotlight on skill-position players, it was the wide receivers and the quarterback, Raudabaugh, who had lines of signature-seeking fans in front of them. Meanwhile, the linemen sat and ate catered food.

The men in the trenches for this Soul team lack the glamour and limelight of the wide receivers and, of course, Raudabaugh. But their role this season is a major part of why the Soul are in New Orleans for the franchise's second ArenaBowl appearance. The Soul face off with the Arizona Rattlers on Friday at 10:30 p.m. on the NFL Network.

"Without them," Raudabaugh said of his linemen, "we wouldn't be here."

The Soul offensive line has allowed six sacks in 20 games, fewer than any other team in the league. The Rattlers are second with 10 sacks allowed. It's no surprise that those teams are facing off in the championship.

The AFL celebrates the athletic acrobatics of its wide receivers and the quick releases of its quarterback. But in arena football, where momentum is key, a sack can be a crucial possession killer.

Meanwhile, the Soul defensive line has gotten to the opposing quarterback 39 times, six of those coming in the two playoff wins. But the sacks can be a deceiving number. More important in this league is hurrying the quarterback.

On the short field, defensive backs are naturally tighter in coverage than in outdoor football. That's why offenses use timing routes to spring open receivers. But if the defensive line gets to the quarterback before the routes fully develop, it can lead to rushed throws and easy interceptions.

"It all starts up front," Soul coach Doug Plank said. "If we get to the quarterback, we're going to get interceptions and takeaways. That's what we've been preaching all year."

Soul lineman Bryan Robinson finished the regular season ranked second in the AFL with 13 tackles for loss and fourth with 10 sacks and five forced fumbles.

Linebacker Joe Goosby was tied for second in the AFL with three interceptions returned for touchdowns, and Kent Richardson was tied for first in the league with 14 interceptions.

As Plank said, it starts in the trenches. If the linemen do their jobs, it ends with a skill-position player dancing. Naturally, that's where the limelight ends up, too. The linemen understand. And they're perfectly happy sitting down with a plate full of food.


Contact Chad Graff at cgraff@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @ChadGraff.

 

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