FLOWERY BRANCH - Not a conversation goes by where Georgia Force head coach Doug Plank doesn't talk about his receivers and defensive backs.
From the start of the season, the units were in turmoil.
Week 1 saw the loss of the game's leading tackler in defensive back David Crocker and the release of No. 3 receiver Brent Holmes. Through the first five weeks, the Force had as many different starting receiver combinations, with two of the starters no longer on the roster. On defense, the Force have only started the same defensive backfield on consecutive weeks three times and have had 10 different players fill in the four slots.
"Let's face it, our receiver corps had a massive transformation. It changed over," Plank said. "The secondary, it changed over. What a weekly experience that has been."
Through its search the Force found two rookies. One, the rock of the defensive backfield. The other, the catalyst for the receiving corps.
Defensive back and Jack linebacker Cam Newton is the only member of the Force's coverage unit to start every game. He went from the new guy, just learning the Arena Football League, to the team's experienced veteran as he watched the names and numbers swirl in and out around him.
Wide receiver Tiger Jones made his way to Flowery Branch in late March. Signed just before the Utah game, he has refused to let the coaches take him off the field. And once Troy Bergeron returned from a mid-season thigh injury, the receivers' upheaval quickly calmed.
"Those are positions where communication is so important," Plank said. "You can't really afford to stick a one-week guy in and say, "OK, go play great.'"
Newton's great play alleviated some of those issues on defense. So far this season, the Furman grad, who came to the Force after the NFL's Carolina Panthers released him, has the team's third-best 47 tackles, including 51â "2 for losses, four interceptions, a fumble recovery and a sack.
"We hold ourselves accountable as men for our responsibility," Newton said. "If they expect me to be in a position, I try to pride myself on being there. And the same thing for them."
Serendipity brought Jones to the Force. He sent an e-mail to special teams coach Dialleo Burks after the New Orleans VooDoo released him from the practice squad.
"It was a shot in the dark, really," he said.
But as the search for a receiver continued, Georgia brought him in for a workout, signed him on a Tuesday and he made his first start that Saturday. In his short week of practice, Jones spent extra time with quarterback Chris Greisen, learning routes and plays. It may be hard to play well after one short week, but Jones did.
In his first game, the rookie out of Louisville caught a team-high nine balls for 131 yards and five touchdowns. In his 11 games with the Force, Jones has 90 catches for 1,116 yards and a team-high 47 touchdowns, including 16 catches for 161 yards and three touchdowns in two wins over the New Orleans team that released him.
"It was a surprise that I came in and played as quickly as I did," Jones said. "I watched guys like Troy (Bergeron) and tape from his game and Carl (Morris). You just have to work with each other and it's been a key to our success this year."
Like Jones, who made a point to credit the consistency of the team's offensive line for his success, Newton also said the team's veterans helped him learn and grow into his role.
"I definitely felt that I could come in and get some knowledge of the game and be an effective player," Newton said. "It was all about learning the game. I came in at camp and just soaked it all in from other players and learning and watching and paying attention and it just fell into place for me."
Off the consistency of Newton and the discovery of Jones, the Force went from a team in turmoil to Southern Division Champions. The two rookies are not the only reason the team has won its last seven games, but for a team in search of stability, solidifying every position matters. Jones gave that to the receivers and Newton is slowly finding it with his backfield mates.
"With the group getting tighter, as far as DBs, we all play off each other. It is better chemistry," Newton said. "It just feels good to look at the same guys for the past couple weeks."
SideBar: Georgia at San Jose
· When: Saturday, 10:30 p.m.
· Where: San Jose, Calif
· Radio: 790-AM