Thunder Rolls in First Live Action
The Portland Thunder held thier first live scrimmage in team history on Saturday, May 1st at their Tualatin practice facility in front of crowd of media and hundreds of season-ticket holders. The Rose City's newest professional sports franchise did not fail to put on a show in this intra-squad scrimmage.
Coach Matt Sauk said that he was very pleased overall and thought it was a good sign that it seemed the offense would have a good series only to be countered almost immediately by the defense claiming one.
Both quarterbacks Darron Thomas and Nathan Enderle looked strong under center with the timing of the snap and exchange being the only fundamental skill still needing polish. Almost immediately, the defensive backs pushed receivers to get open on many occasions. The receivers responded with Andrae Thurman, Duane Brooks and Douglas McNeil all scoring touchdowns on multiple series. At one point, McNeil caught the ball about five yards short of the end zone, lowered his head and hammered over the top of the defensive back stating loudly as he rose, "That's a real 205 right there."
That brings up a great point. After Maurice Purify's physical domination of last years ArenaBowl, teams around the league must be doing two things. 1: Looking for their own 6'4", 230 lb Purify type wideout. 2: Searching out defensive backs physical enough to stop Purify / Prechae Rodriguez type recievers.
This seems to be exactly what the Thunder have done, bringing in three speedsters none of whom are any less than 5'11" and 185 lbs, and six more topping out at around 6'3" and 200 to 205 lbs. How this balance between physicality and speed is maintained by the coaching staff remains to be seen.
Defensively, linemen Donte Paige Moss and Antron Dillon continued to impress from the edge while Jake McDonough is a solid -- and even overpowering at times -- presence in the middle. The linebackers KC Obi and Ayo Idowu look fairly certain to make the team with Idowu having a particularly impressive scrimmage. In the defensive backfield, Eric Crocker seems to be an odds-on favorite to make the team, as well as Western Oregon University's Bryce Peila, who may have been the day's biggest standout. Peila was seemingly everywhere on the field, making tackles and intercepting two balls, one of which was returned for a touchdown. After Peila's second pick, members of the team on the sidelines were heard discussing his collegiate game film and were very impressed.
The first round of cuts came on Sunday with six playesr being put on reassignment, and on Monday morning Portland was down to 28 players. The Thunder will take 20 on the active roster and four reserves throughout the regular season, and it has yet to be decided exactly what makeup of varying positions will be.
The final hour of the Thunder's first live scrimmage, and one of the more enjoyable aspects of the day, really had nothing to do with football and everything to do with public relations. Season-ticket holders who had bought and paid for their seats came out onto the field with all the players and coaches, talk to them, sign autographs, and take pictures. A DJ playing music from a sound system in one end zone and a party-like atmosphere quickly developed. It was interesting to see these players interact at the grassroots level with their fan base, and it felt easy, friendly, and unforced. It will be some time before the fans in attendance will forget the images of Idowu taking over the DJ booth and spinning his own personal version of Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It," inspiring a 300 lb lineman who shall remain nameless to begin... I shall call it "dancing"... causing a serious public hazard.
On a final and more personal note, it was really kind of nice to look to the far edge of the playing field and see extremely large group of as many as 75 fans gathered around one player. This particular player meant a lot to Oregon football in general and Ducks fans in particular, but when he made his decision to leave the University of Oregon hoping to play in the NFL, it seemed as though a segment of those adoring fans had forgotten all he had done, taking the Ducks to a pair of the school's finest seasons. I have watched for weeks now as this particular player handles his fame with a friendly smile and sincere interaction with fans, making sure that everyone feels connected with him. I feel fairly confident speaking for thousands upon thousands of football fans when I say welcome back Darron Thomas.