ArenaBowl nemesis routed, Kats still need lots of work

Monday, April 16, 2001 at 1:00am

They've beaten the defending Arena League champion and won their first home opener since 1998.

So, Nashville Kats, what do you do next?

In the wake of Friday night's 50-25 rout of the Orlando Predators at Gaylord Entertainment Center the Nashville Kats are going back to the drawing board as they prepare for Saturday night's first road game of the season at 6:30 against the Tampa Bay Storm.

"We've got to get better with our red zone offense," said Kats coach Pat Sperduto. "We have to get better running the football. We have to get better protecting our quarterback. We've got to get more pressure on the other quarterback. At times our pressure fell off and that's not good."

The ground game was uncharacteristically weak, with only 29 net yards, all by Rupert Grant. The passing attack also took another hit as L.C. Stevens, signed two weeks ago to fill in for receiver Cory Fleming, will be out at least four weeks after separating his shoulder. Stevens had three catches for 30 yards and one touchdown.

"We've got to get a few more yards on the ground," Sperduto said. "But we're playing like a team right now. We hope they can continue to blend early. We are going to get better each week."

Like most coaches Sperduto discounted the victory. With 13 more games on the schedule there is little time to enjoy success.

"I would rather be 1-0 than 0-1 and we did it against a championship team," said Sperduto. "The defense started the fight and the offense finished the fight.

"I can't point one guy out. Everybody worked hard from the coaches on down. We still have a lot of work to do. This is just one game. At least we know we won't go winless."

Fights were almost as common as touchdowns as the Kats and Predators, two teams with an extreme dislike for each other, started brawling during pregame warmups and continued through most of the game. Sperduto issued a cautionary warning to his players.

"That's something we have to be careful with," Sperduto said. "I don't want our guys getting baited into a fistfight or being put on the spot and being thrown out of the game."

Based on the play in preseason games it was expected the Kats defensive secondary would be challenged, but veteran Adrian Lundsford and newcomer John Williams combined for solid performances.

"We've got holes we need to fix," said Lunsford, an eight-year AFL veteran playing his first season for the Kats. "We have to understand our assignments a little bit more. We have to understand what the other team is trying to do to you and where your weaknesses are.

"This is the first time for all of us to play together. It will turn over. We will get better."

The Kats played much better against Orlando than they had in their two preseason losses. But there is a concern that the Kats failed to score in the red zone as often as they should have. After opening with a field goal and two touchdowns on their first three series, the Kats settled for field goal attempts on their next three tries, hitting two. Steve McLaughlin, who missed all six of his field goal attempts in preseason, hit three of his four tries.

"We have to get better with our red zone offense," Kelly said. "We have to find ways to get it in the end zone. Steve did a great job, but we need to get touchdowns instead of field goals. I'd rather have him kick extra points instead of field goals."

Kelly completed 16-of-28 attempts for 196 yards and threw no interceptions. Facing one of the best secondary units in the league, Kats offensive coordinator Marty Lowe formulated a simple plan. If Kelly was in doubt he was instructed to throw the football into the stands. Since fans are allowed to keep the footballs they catch, Kelly added to the collections of a number of fans.

"It may be a record for giving balls away," Kelly said with a laugh. "I don't mind throwing the ball away. Marty told us not to get frustrated. If you've got to throw it away, unless it's third down, you get to line up and play again.

"We came out saying we weren't going to turn the ball over. If we do that we have a chance to win. We took a few shots when we had opportunities and got a couple of touchdowns. But then we protected the ball, threw it away and went on to the next down sometimes."

Lineman James Baron, one of the most physical and outspoken Kats, said starting the season with a victory is something the team can build on.

"We have to work hard from week to week and hopefully we can do great things," Baron said.

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