The last time the Los Angeles Avengers and the Nashville Kats faced each other, starting quarterback Todd Marinovich didn't make it through the first half, thanks to a series of unsportsmanlike-conduct calls.
Marinovich has started the past two games for the Avengers and is coming off a 23-for-36 performance for 240 yards and five touchdowns, but he also threw three interceptions in a 55-47 victory over the Chicago Rush.
Marinovich has had his share of troubles both on and off the field during his checkered career, but Kats coach Pat Sperduto stresses that one thing always stands out - the quarterback's talent.
"There's no questioning that he does great things on the field," Sperduto said. "He makes his throws. You can't take away what he has done on the field."
Whether or not Marinovich will last long enough to be a factor against the Kats Saturday night is the big question. The Avengers (5-6) close out their regular season home schedule when the Kats (8-4) visit the Staples Center for a 9 p.m. game. The Kats are playing for one of the top-four playoff berths in the Arena Football League, which would give them a first-round bye. The Avengers are trying to hang on in an effort to snag one of the remaining playoff spots.
Marinovich, one of three left-handed quarterbacks on the Los Angeles roster, must come through with an outstanding game.
"It's not so much a matter of pushing his buttons," Sperduto said. "Our game plan is to always be around the quarterback. We're going to get our defensive guys around him like we would do any quarterback. We want to force him to make bad decisions, bad throws and inopportune adjustments."
Another player the Kats will have to watch is wide receiver-linebacker Chris Jackson, a former Tennessee Titans player. Jackson set a team record with 12 receptions in a 54-48 overtime victory over Arizona two weeks ago and had a game-high eight receptions against Chicago.
Defensive specialist Mark Ricks is the new league record holder with his seventh interception return for a touchdown in his career.
The Avengers have made some adjustments since losing 64-27 May 18 to the Kats. Robert Lyles has served as interim head coach the last eight games and is 5-3. The Avengers have won five of their six games since losing to Nashville, including victories over the San Jose SaberCats and Arizona Wranglers.
"The first time we played them I told everybody they were a good football team," Sperduto said. "Now they are playing like a good football team."
The Kats are still waiting for quarterback Andy Kelly to throw his first pass in practice this week, though Sperduto thought he might give a look today.
Kelly dislocated the index finger on his right hand in the third quarter of Saturday night's 73-47 victory at Oklahoma. His status will be evaluated at the end of the day.
"Andy hasn't practiced this week," Sperduto said. "Hopefully, Andy will be able to throw today. We'll see how he does.
"Right now, James is doing a great job. James had a very good practice Wednesday. He ran the team very well. That's one of the things I look for in a quarterback is someone who can run the team."
Wide receiver-defensive back Jarrick Hillery is expected to be ready, despite a nagging shoulder injury.
Lineman Pat Downey was sick during the Oklahoma game, but has been treated this week for a back problem. Outpatient surgery had been scheduled for Tuesday but was postponed so Downey could have some additional evaluations.
Sperduto is 90 percent certain that wide receiver-linebacker Darryl Hammond, the top receiver for the Kats with 58 catches for 666 yards and 10 touchdowns, is out for the Los Angeles game.
Offensive specialist Tyronne Jones is definitely out for this week after sustaining a groin injury in the second quarter of the Oklahoma game.
"We're going to take a chance with Tyronne and hope that he will be ready to play next week," Sperduto said. "We'll look at him next Tuesday and Thursday and make an evaluation. If he is not able to play we can put him on injured reserve and it won't affect the playoffs for him."
Jones is the Kats top touchdown receiver with 21 in 12 games. He has 55 catches for 832 yards. He has 24 touchdowns total, eighth best in the league.
Scott Thomas, who has been on injured reserve most of the season with a knee injury, is expected to fill Jones' spot.
"We'll put Scott in there and hope that he makes the plays," Sperduto said. "The thing with Scott is that he is learning every day and he is getting better. He is running better routes and making good adjustments catching the ball.
"He's a very physical player. Any shortcomings Scott might have are not because of a lack of effort."
Kats wide receiver-defensive back Cory Fleming will hold his third annual football camp July 21 at Veterans Memorial Park in LaVergne. The camp time is 9 a.m.-2 p.m. The fee is $20.
Nashville Kats cheerleaders will also be in attendance to help those interested in improving their cheerleading skills.
For more information call 254-KATS or 213-2978.
Kats at Los Angeles
Saturday, 9:00 p.m.
T.V. - FOXSN