Portland Thunder Opening Day Preview
When the Portland Thunder official kickoff at the Moda Center tonight at 7 PM, it will be Portland’s first Arena Football game in the new millennium.
Anticipation has been high, with local familiar faces returning to play, including former Oregon Duck Darron Thomas. While the Thunder have the luxury of opening their AFL season at home (unlike fellow new AFL franchise, the Los Angeles KISS), they face a veteran team that has seen much success.
In the high-powered offenses of the AFL, the San Jose Sabercats bring one of the league’s stoutest defenses from last season. The numbers are impressive: 2nd in 2013 in overall defense and 3rd in points allowed per game, averaging 48.7 points. Much of this high performing defense returns this season, making for a threatening defense for the Thunder’s two rookie quarterbacks in Thomas and former Idaho Vandal Nathan Enderle. Particularly troublesome for quarterbacks is the deep and talented secondary for the Sabercats.
Leading this secondary is Clevan Thomas, who led the league in interceptions in 2013 with 15 picks. However, the team has not slouched in the offseason, adding more depth and experience to the secondary. In the offseason, the Sabercats added David Hyland, who has 17 interceptions over the previous three seasons and Simeon Castille, who had nine picks in two seasons. Bolstering a ball-hawking secondary is a defensive line centered on Terrance Carter, who has bagged 23.5 sacks in four years. Certainly, this defense could prove tough on the Portland quarterbacks.
Speaking of Portland QBs, much was made of the quarterback battle for the Thunder between Thomas and Enderle. Who came out on top? While Darron Thomas is listed as the starting QB for the team, head coach Matthew Sauk insists that he plans to give both players game action, to give them both some in game experience. Certainly some of this could be to see who responds best to the team’s first real in-game action. It may very well be that the quarterback controversy is not over, rather, it may just be ramping up.
Thankfully for the new quarterbacks, the Thunder have some experienced players at wide receiver. A major preseason acquisition for the Thunder was Samora Goodson (a former Sabercat) who has years of experience. Joining Goodson are veterans Duane Brooks and Jeffrey Solomon, offering reliable targets with experience. Looking to make a splash in the AFL is rookie and Portland State alum Justin Monahan. As a leading receiver as PSU, Monahan looks to bring in some numbers in his rookie season.
Throughout training camp, the Thunder’s defense has looked stronger than the offense and it may rest on the defense to keep the Thunder competitive while the offense works out first game kinks. Eric Crocker was the team’s first overall pick in the expansion draft and leads the team’s most veteran unit in the secondary. Joining Crocker are Dwight McLean and Patrick Stoudamire, each with three years of AFL experience.
Lining up against the Thunder defense is an offense that is certainly no slouch. Helmed by veteran quarterback Russ Michna, the Sabercat offense ranked 4th in the league in points per game in 2013. Assisting the reliable veteran are big play wide outs Huey Whittaker (who may also be seen on defense as a jack linebacker) and Reggie Gray. Gray alone hauled in 140 passes in 2013.
All told, the Thunder have their work cut out for them if they want to start their franchise history off with a win. With training camp behind them, it is time for fans to discover the true nature of the team. However, the Thunder fully expect to storm (pun intended) the AFL this year but the Sabercats will prove a tough test in the opening game.
By Garrett Imeson | Oregon Sports News