Sauk "Extremely happy" With Team's Early Efforts
Training camp. Those halcyon days when all the pass routes are fearless and crisp, and the running backs burst through every hole for a twenty yard gain. Defensive linemen get to the quarterback with fearsome regularity, and passers stand tall in the pocket reading coverages and picking out receivers flawlessly with no notice of the rush whatsoever.
This is the easy part for the Portland Thunder. The conditioning and installation phase of camp when everyone is enthusiastic and hopes are high. Strategy for the season seems well laid out and t-shirts and shorts are the uniform of the optimist. Sunday's and Monday's practices went well according to Head Coach Matt Sauk, who went so far as to state he was “extremely happy and had no complaints.”
Sauk was quick to point out a few things needed cleaning up, but the effort, hustle, and attitude were everything he could have asked for.
The almost immediate connections from a passing standpoint seemed to develop between quarterbacks Nathan Enderle and Houston Lillard and receivers Andrae Thurman and Douglas McNeil. Thurman, a member of last year’s ArenaBowl runners-up Philadelphia Soul, was traded this off season to the Thunder and was an immediate and palpable upgrade to the experience level in the receiving corps. Coach Sauk said the former NFL wideout brought a, ”valuable veteran presence.” Thurman’s routes were clean and precise, and he is a bigger physical presence than it would seem on paper. Douglas McNeil came as advertised at 6'3" 200 lbs. He's also just plain fast. Both receivers' hands were exemplary, and in fact, the receiving group as a whole was pretty impressive.
On defense, the presence of Antron Dillon is simply impossible to ignore. At 6’5”, 270 lbs, Dillon brings another veteran presence to the Thunder having played last year for the ArenaBowl champion Arizona Rattlers. He finished third on the team in sacks and sixth in tackles.
Also of note was the play of former Purdue defensive back Dwight McLean, going high over his head to bring down a diving interception of an Enderle pass. McLean shined on a number of breakups, using both his size and speed to stay in position.
All in all, things seem to be going as planned. However, Iron Mike said it best when he said, “Everyone has a plan until they get hit…”
Tuesday brought about Media Day and the Thunder's first day in pads, and with it came the inevitable. Minor dustups between the offensive and defensive line occurred on a number of occasions. This is a normal, almost anticipated occurrence in camp that, within the culture of a football team rarely, if ever, causes any long term animosity. The next time, and until the opener March 17th, it will be two other guys… It's ok.
This is training camp. This is the hard part. This is the fun part. And it's just beginning. Now we are playing football.