The San Jose SaberCats look a little different this year.

Sure, there are personnel changes, but fans likely will notice a change in uniforms first.

The SaberCats, who open the season Monday night in Portland against the Thunder, will appear a little slimmer with an extra gold stripe on the jerseys thrown in for good measure.

San Jose coach Darren Arbet cites the need for the team to work as one to help return the SaberCats to Arena Football League prominence.

"We have to get better as a football team," Arbet said. "We have a lot of talented players, but we have to jell. That's why we're out here working hard. We have holes to fill, and we feel we have people who will step up."

The SaberCats have lost their last three playoff games, the past two to the Arizona Rattlers, and last appeared in a championship game six years ago.

The Rattlers are once again the prohibitive favorites to win another ArenaBowl title.

San Jose has seen its share of playoff appearances, missing the postseason just three times since the AFL was formed in 1995. What Arbet is looking to accomplish is a deeper run in the playoffs.

"We do it a certain way, and that hasn't changed," said Arbet, who is 138-66 since assuming coaching duties in 1999. "We expect to win every game, and we respect our opponent."

Two returning players key to the SaberCats' success are defensive back Clevan Thomas and quarterback Russ Michna, who signed with San Jose a month into last season.


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Thomas returned a year ago to the SaberCats after a four-year absence from the AFL. He tied for the league lead in interceptions last year and moved into second place on the AFL's all-time list with 65.

"He's the best ever to play that position," Arbet said. "To sit out like he did and then become the Defensive Player of the Year is a tribute to him and his hard work. He's great for the young guys, and he works harder than anyone."

Michna made his San Jose debut last April 24 and provided stability at quarterback. He's in his seventh year with the AFL and has played at every level, including a stint on the practice squad of the St. Louis Rams.

"He's a great quarterback who never gets rattled," Arbet said. "He's always under control, he's experienced, and he loves playing football."

The SaberCats are scheduled to appear on national television four times, three on CBS Sports Network, including Monday's game, and once on ESPNews. All games will be broadcast by 1050-AM KNBR.

Their schedule has been altered with the Chicago and Utah franchises folding. There will be three meetings each with Arizona, Portland, Spokane and the LA KISS, owned by Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS fame.