Are you ready for some football?

February 26, 2012, 2:23 am
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The NFL season may be over (at least in terms of games -- the off-season is a season unto itself) but pro football is not gone completely. In just two short weeks the San Jose SaberCats will kick off their 16th season in the Arena Football League. Only long-time head coach Darren Arbet isn't exactly looking at it that way.The 2012 campaign will mark just the team's second season since its 2008 Arena Bowl loss to Philadelphia. As SaberCats fans are well aware the AFL closed its doors shortly after ArenaBowl XXII and was revived in 2010 after some major restructuring. The 'Cats didn't return until last season and quickly learned it was indeed a whole new league.San Jose's 7-11 record marked its worst since Darren Arbet's first season with the 'Cats in 1999.Anyone who watched last year's team knows lady luck was not on their side as the injuries were ridiculous. San Jose suited up 57 different players over the course of 18 games. Fifty-seven! AFL teams only have 24-man rosters.But Arbet told me this week he refuses to blame the injuries for the SaberCats' struggles."Obviously I didn't do enough homework on the players and understand the league," he said. "Now I have a better feel by being thrown into that fire last year and we feel pretty good about it."Knowing the players and the league was hardly the only obstacle Arbet encountered in 2011. So too was the reality that the new version of the AFL was a stark contrast from the original in terms of structure. Gone were the multi-year contracts and six-figure salaries for the league's stars. In its place was a revised modest pay-per-game wage table and mostly one-year deals.It's a new reality that forces most of the players in the league to hold down second jobs as they still pursue their football dreams. That takes some getting used to.Arbet told me he's well aware of the needs of his players to support their families and attempts to accommodate them as much as possible. But he still wants to win.Nothing illustrated that point more than his cross-country trip over the offseason, in which he traveled from Oklahoma to Florida and beyond to personally recruit some of the league's biggest stars to relocate to San Jose. It was a stark contrast from the previous year when he hired an assistant to do his "recruiting." And it paid big dividends.The 'Cats waiver wire signings read like a who's who in the AFL. The new additions include:2-time All-Arena WR Huey Whitaker
2011 All-Arena DB Andre Jones
2011 All-Arena DL Tim McGill
2-time All-IronMan selection WRDB Jason Geathers
2011 AFL O-lineman of the year Rich Ranglin
2010 All-Arena DB Vince HillThat's one heck of a crop. Now it's Arbet's job to make them mesh.A week into camp he likes what he sees."They're working together, they're working hard," he said. "They're doing what it takes to win football games."So yes, optimism is back as the SaberCats gear up for 2012, but if you are planning on cheering them on this year, be sure to buy a program. With just nine returning players off last year's team in training camp there's little doubt you'll need it. ------------------On the Air with the 'CatsCSN Bay Area will again be the TV home of the SaberCats as we are set to broadcast 14 of their 18 games. If you can't catch the telecast you can catch them on the radio on KNBR-1050. Yours truly will be handling the radio play-by-play for a number of their games this season, including the season opener March 10th against Arizona.

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