Playoff Primer – Orlando Predators

The Predators have the honor of playing in and hosting the first playoff game of the new AFL. On Friday, July 5, they will host the Nashville Kats in the first round. This return to the playoffs is big for the Predators franchise and fan base, giving them the chance to make up for some disappointing finishes in previous years.

Playoff Experience

In recent history, the Preds have made the playoffs in two of their previous five seasons in another league. However, they have not made a championship game in that time, losing in the semifinals in both 2021 and 2023.

A number of the current Predators were on the squad for those previous runs: CJ Williams, Freddie Booth-Lloyd, Josh Jenkins, Jared Dangerfield, and more.

So, the playoff experience is there, and you can only assume it will aid in the journey. With this season’s addition of Drew Powell, they get the experience of an IFL Champion. It is a different league with a different play style, but he has the know-how for leading a team in a deep postseason run.

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Defensive Keys to Success

The Orlando Predators are a very defensively-minded team. Coach EJ Burt was the Preds’ defensive coordinator for years before taking over as head coach.

In a recent interview following the game against the Regulators, Coach Burt expressed his desire for a complete defense. He is a perfectionist, and even though they only let up 18 points against the Regulators, he knows they can be better.

He explained, “There is no cure for a good pass rush.”

The first place the Predators will need to be strong is in the pass rush. So, what does a complete game look like for the defensive line?

Obviously, they need to continue to pressure quarterbacks like they have all season. However, they need to take it a step further and come down with the quarterback.

Although fierce, the Preds have not been able to get the opposing quarterback on the ground. The names on the line are just too good not to be on the leaderboards for sacks.

Freddie Booth-Lloyd and Micah Robinson lead the team with three a piece, and the rest of the line shares a couple more. If the Preds sprinkle in a sack and some tackles for loss, they will alleviate pressure from their offense and ruin the day for any less-than-mobile quarterbacks.

The Predators are also getting back a crucial piece of their defensive backfield: Josh Jenkins. Jenkins went out with an injury earlier in the season, and it was unclear whether he could return at all.

Before going down, he was the top defensive back for the Preds and one of the best in the league. He is one of the few guys in the league that has been able to contain the Firebirds’ top receiver, Darius Prince. He will be a thorn in the side of any WR1 he could go up against.

Offensive Keys to Success

The Preds have had a firecracker offense all season. When they are on their game, there is not much anybody can do to stop them. Drew Powell can work well under pressure, and he is dynamic enough that he can extend plays with his legs.

However, there is no doubt that being able to relax in the pocket and deliver a strike to his receivers would make the game much easier. So, the offensive line’s ability to step up this late in the season is crucial.

With the list of teams they could face going forward, they all have an elite pass rush. That is one of the reasons they have all made it this far. The Preds have not allowed many sacks all season, partly due to the mobility of Drew Powell, but the cleaner the trenches are the stronger the offense.

CJ Williams is the headliner in terms of the receiving core. He has been possibly the biggest contributor to offensive drives other than the quarterback.

But it is not unusual for different guys to be the top target in any given game, depending on their defensive matchup. You can see this in guys like Caleb Walls and Kamrin Soloman. Orlando’s receiving core is probably the all-around strongest in the league.

If any given defense concentrates its coverage on any single receiver, especially Williams, there is going to be someone to come behind and pick up more targets.

The Cliff Notes for Victory

First, both sides of the trenches need to be elite. The defensive line has to bring down the ball in the backfield once or twice a game, and the offensive line will have to stay vigilant in staving off violent pass rushes.

Second, every wide receiver must prepare to be the hot target at any point. Caleb Walls, Jared Dangerfield, Kamrin Solomon, and Delvin Randall all have the possibility to break out.

Finally, the defensive backfield will improve with Josh Jenkins’s return. He is fantastic in man coverage and can handle the pressure of covering top receivers.

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