Gladiators Rebuilding for 2012 Season
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on ArenaFan.com, Saturday, November 5, 2011
The Cleveland Gladiators won the Eastern Division title in 2011 and hosted a playoff game. But next year’s schedule is already out and it’s time to look ahead to 2012. While some players will be returning to the team, like quarterback John Dutton, others, unfortunately, will not. Therefore, the time is now to begin building a new team for next season.
To that end, Cleveland head coach Steve Thonn recently conducted the first of three planned open player tryouts of the off-season. It took place on Sunday, October 30 in the city that he led to the American Conference title game in 2008, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Another tryout is scheduled to take place in Birmingham, Alabama on Sunday, November 13 and the last one will be on Sunday, December 4 at the team’s practice facility in Warrensville Heights, Ohio. Along with the player tryouts and signings, there are also coaches meetings scheduled on the 15th and 16th of November. All this makes for a busy off-season for Thonn and his staff.
“We have 14 or 15 players signed for next season and we will have 35 players coming into training camp,’ said Thonn. “Our focus right now is on getting some more of our players from last year resigned and adding some guys with Arena experience to our roster.”
Tryouts like the one in Grand Rapids are also valuable in helping to find new players who can fill out the roster and contribute on the field.
There is always a significant amount of turnover from one season to another in the Arena Football League, and the successful teams are the ones who can put together a roster of AFL veterans while mixing in a few talented newcomers to the game. Coach Thonn is working hard to do just that, but he knows that the other three teams in his division are also doing the same thing.
“It’s going to be a lot tougher (to compete for a division title) this year,” Thonn said. “Philadelphia is already upgrading their roster like crazy. They’re definitely getting better. Pittsburgh is always going to be tough and getting a veteran quarterback recently like (Kyle) Rowley, who is very good, makes them a lot tougher. Milwaukee is always going to play tough no matter who they sign because they are well coached and they do a good job of preparing for each game.”
Also present at the Grand Rapids tryout was Whitney Bell, the Gladiators offensive/defensive line coach. Bell played for the Grand Rapids Rampage in 2008 for Thonn and became an assistant coach in Cleveland last season. The tryout in Grand Rapids came about because Bell lives in the Grand Rapids area during the off-season.
Last year’s starting quarterback in Cleveland, rookie Kurt Rocco, has already signed with the New Orleans VooDoo for next season. Rocco filled in for the injured Dutton for most of the season and led the team to the division title.
AFL training camps opens in February and Cleveland’s first game will be on Monday, March 12 at Georgia. It will be a rematch of the playoff game from last season that was won by the Force. Cleveland’s 2012 schedule includes five games that will be shown on the NFL Network.
For more information on these upcoming tryouts, visit www.clevelandgladiators.com/team/tryouts/.