By Matt Popchock
If you’ve ever wondered how an Arena Football League team practices, you should check out the clever setup at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex on the South Side, the same facility used in the fall by the Steelers and Pitt.
The players are enveloped by three inflatable walls that simulate the dimensions of a standard AFL field. However, it seems like no barriers can contain Bernard Morris lately.
Morris raised his record as the Power’s starting signal-caller to 5-1, collecting the team’s fourth straight win in last Saturday’s 35-32 triumph over the Cleveland Gladiators at CONSOL Energy Center. He completed 17 of 23 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns to propel the Power to first place in the American Conference’s East Division.
We caught up with him to get his thoughts on this significant victory, and to discuss how the Power can extend their winning streak when they visit the Tampa Bay Storm Saturday night:
Q: How do you feel? Can we safely say the arm injury that held you back at the beginning of the year is completely behind you now?
A: I feel good right now. The arm strength is back. I’m just happy to be going out and competing right now. I’ve kind of gotten over the mental stage of worrying about [the injury], but now that that’s over, I can just go out and play ball.
Q: Individually would you say last Saturday might have been your best game of the year? You didn’t score 70 points like you did against Dallas, but the offense was balanced and efficient, and above all, you didn’t turn the ball over, and won a significant game for playoff positioning.
A: If you look at how big the game was–in our division, versus Cleveland, and for the number one spot [in the East Division]–I think it can be viewed as one of our best games, but 35 points is not going to beat a lot of teams in this league.
Q: What does the offense have to do, or continue to do, in order to get better and keep this streak going?
A: We just have to score points when we have the ball. We can’t rely on the defense to get stops all the time. They’re going to get them every now and then, but this league is about scoring points, and we have to do that to win ballgames.
Q: Has having Coach Siegfried around helped you transition into your new role with this new team? He’s a Jacksonville guy, you’re a Jacksonville guy…a nice little homecoming for you, I’d imagine.
A: This is my third year with him, so the terminology really hasn’t changed that much. During the week we’ll put in packages we feel good about, that we feel can beat the opposing team. Having him in my corner has been a plus, because he’s watched me mature in this game, he believes in me, and he’s just letting me lead the team right now.
Q: It seems like the team, as a whole, believes in itself, maybe more than ever, right now…
A: Once you start getting those wins under your belt, a lot of attitudes change. The first half of the season was kind of rocky…win one game, then lose another…we actually had a better road record than home record. If you want to be one of the top teams in the league, you have to take care of home field. As of now, we have two left [at home], two big games we have to win. Arizona’s going to be tough [in Week 18], but as long as we keep winning, I think everything else takes care of itself.
Q: Winning on the road is something the team has been able to do, and hopefully, with five of the last seven on the road, it’s a skill that continues serving you well. How are you able to play such good football on the road?
A: That’s a hard question to answer, because if you look at our record, for some reason, we just seem to be playing a lot better there. But we just have to go in and play our football. We can’t give in to the opponent’s level, and Tampa has some good players. I don’t think their record dictates the type of guys they have on their team. But it’s going to be a challenge, and it could be one of those defensive games. If we go out there and continue to score, I think we’ll be all right.
Q: Aside from the fact that the Tampa Bay franchise used to play in Pittsburgh, what can you tell us about them, having played against them twice in the old South Division when you were in Jacksonville last year?
A: Tampa’s one of those teams that, if they get up on you, it’s going to be tough. Their defensive line is going to come after you, and they may have one of the best defensive lines in the league aside from our own. But they’re just one of those scrappy teams. You can’t go in there and let up on them, because right now they’re 4-7 and they’re desperate for a win, but we’re not going to be the team that gives it to them.
Q: It seems like you were well protected against Cleveland…no sacks allowed, no pass hurries allowed. Does that give you guys a little more confidence going up against that group?
A: The O-line this year has been doing a good job, and they’re keeping me clean. A lot of the sacks that have occurred have been mostly me running the ball, trying to make a play. But other than that, I think it’s going to be a good matchup. We have some nice packages for those guys, and I can control them a little bit with the way I snap the ball.
Q: Recently (wide receiver Mike) Washington has been on a hot streak. Last week, though, it was Jason Willis’ turn to wear the cape, and he came up with a couple of big touchdowns. Who wears it this week?
A: You never know. I know those guys from Cleveland came in, and they weren’t going to allow Mike to do a whole lot of running down the middle of the field. But any given day…I could rush for a couple touchdowns, I could throw eight, Rue can get his touches…whoever’s the weakest link on the defensive side, we’re going to attack. I think we have enough guys to do it.
Q: It is fun to watch you run, we won’t lie. Does Coach Siegfried give you much liberty when it comes to calling your own number?
A: A lot of times he tells me to be smart about by decisions as far as running goes, versus throwing the ball away, because a lot of times scrambles can turn into lost yardage. What’s funny is that the receivers actually like when I run the football. But being a running quarterback in this league is a plus…if you get past [the linebackers], there’s nothing but DB’s, and nine times out of ten, that’ll buy you 20 yards down field. The running just adds another weapon to our offense.
Q: Indeed, and judging by the Cleveland game, though the AFL is supposed to be all about quarterbacks, the teams that can run, whether it’s you, or (fullback) Josh (Rue), or whomever, seem to be the teams that come out on top.
A: The running game is kind of an unknown stat people look at. Fifty yards rushing in our league is actually pretty good. If we can get those extra yards, and keep the clock running when we need it, we’ll be all right.
Q: What’s the biggest key to beating the Storm on Saturday night?
A: The biggest key is protecting the football, not turning it over. We need to just try harder to score on every drive.
Keep it logged onto 937thefan.com this weekend for more on the Power’s Saturday night showdown with the Tampa Bay Storm!