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Sauk "Extremely happy" With Team's Early Efforts

D.K. White
Thursday February 27, 2014


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.


 
Dave White is a freelance writer covering the Portland Thunder of the Arena Football League. He played Quarterback most of his 25 years in the game in various semipro leagues and hung up the cleats in 2012 at age 45. He "moonlights" as a Surgical Technologist in a large Oregon hospital and has preformed hundreds of procedures on athletes ranging from Pop Warner to the NBA. Dave spent 11 years in LA in the rock and roll business and in recent years has decided to take writing, a life long hobby, to the next level. While currently producing two works of fiction he will produce the column you will see here and is looking forward to it greatly. Dave is a die hard Central High School, Western Oregon Wolves, Beavers, Ducks and proud new Portland Thunder fan. He lives in Monmouth Oregon with his fiancée and their combined five kids...yep five.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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