The Cleveland Gladiators’ season was a weird one. The Glads played in the National Conference this season and will likely do it again next season. That does not seem like a huge deal considering their owner, Dan Gilbert, is one of the richest people around (worth over $5 billion).
Cleveland definitely put that money to good use, traveling to eight straight road games, which includes their two playoff games. Cleveland’s season ended as many figured it would once the Arena Football League chose to stay with the conference playoff format, a bad loss to the Arizona Rattlers in the National Conference Championship game.
A major positive was the play of defensive back Joe Powell. Powell got a couple looks from NFL teams. His 52 yard pick-six to finish off a game in the closing moments of a Week 2 win over the Tampa Bay Storm started to draw some looks and he cashed with a strong effort all season including a visit with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in the middle of the season. Powell finished the season with the Glads and in the end he cashed in, earning a deal with the NFL’s New York Giants.
Another defensive back, Marvin Ross took home the GEICO Rookie of the Year award. Ross broke up 24 passes and led the Gladiators with six interceptions while taking three back for scores, that ranked first in a four-way tie for first in the AFL. Powell also took three to the house.
As is the norm in football, especially in arena ball, offense really matters. For a team that saw four different quarterbacks and the best one of the bunch started the season as Cleveland’s Jack Linebacker, of all places. Most teams would be thankful with eight wins and their second conference title game appearance in three seasons. (2014 in the American Conference) Cleveland, however, closed out the year with very bad losses to the Rattlers in two of their last three games, adding to the wound that the Cleveland Gladiators have from never beating the five time champions.
On a positive note, Arvell Nelson righted the ship after the team started 1-4. Nelson led all AFL quarterbacks in rushing yards and finished with the second most rushing scores regardless of position with 11. Nelson’s 211 yards on the ground also ranked third, regardless of position.
Nelson also had his moments throwing the ball. He had a run from Weeks 9-12 where he threw at least seven touchdowns in all four games. Nelson threw just one pick in that span.
Wide Receiver Collin Taylor led the team from the start of the season with his leadership and his stats, going over 1,400 yards and adding to his franchise record of games with at least one receiving score that reached 33 before being put to an end in the conference title game.
Cleveland will be able to spend early fall cheering Taylor on as a member of the Beijing Lions in the brand new Chinese Arena Football League. If Cleveland wants Taylor for next spring, he will likely return.
Adrian Trevino was the best kicker among players with at least 100 extra point attempts, he made 91.6% of his PAT’s.
If the Glads can bring most of their core back, they will have a solid defense despite losing Powell and good special teams players.
The biggest place for improvement seems to be to get Nelson to learn from his experience and relax in the pocket.
Knowing that the defense has to respect his speed should allow Nelson to relax and focus on his passing accuracy. And with Nelson being a Cleveland native it seems like he could be playing quarterback in the “Q” for seasons to come.