SUU football will cap off spring practice with the annual Spring Football Game on April 13. The game offers fans their first looks at the 2019 Thunderbird football team.
Many questions surround the team after a disappointing 2018 season. The spring game will be the first chance to see how Head Coach Demario Warren is handling the transition to the future.
There are three key storylines that the spring game will shed some light on.
What Will the Defense Look Like?
SUU’s defensive ineptitude has been well chronicled on this website. Warren saw the need and brought on former NFL defensive backs coach Brandon Fisher as Defensive Coordinator.
It’s impossible to mention Brandon without mentioning his father, former Rams coach Jeff Fisher. Brandon is not Jeff, but he’s been around football his entire life. He knows the ins and outs of the game better than anyone and he’ll be looking to prove himself as a coach on his own.
Fans will get their first organized look at the defense on Saturday. How will Brandon Fisher try and plug the holes that presented themselves last season? What style and approach will the T-Birds take in slowing down opposing offenses?
The new defensive coordinator will be tasked with generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The spring game will reveal Brandon’s views on blitzing, coverage packages and pre-snap movement.
There is plenty of time for tweaking schemes before the season starts, but Saturday’s contest will give viewers a solid perspective on the foundation of Brandon’s schemes. The basics of the defense should be settled by this point.
How Will Chris Helbig Bounce Back from Injury?
In the four games before Helbig broke his collarbone, he looked like a cornerstone for the team. The redshirt junior was 94-145 for 1011 yards with five touchdowns in four games. Plus, two of the contests he played in were against Pac-12 teams.
Helbig’s recovery is a high priority for the team. After he went down the QB position was a revolving door. Aaron Zwahlen, Tyler Skidmore and Austin Ewing all spent time at the position to predictable results.
Offensive coordinator Justin Walterscheid needs a consistent quarterback to run his offense. If Helbig can’t stay healthy then the offense will fall into the simplified rut that plagued last season.
SUU lost locker room leaders Chinedu Ahanonu and Taylor Nelson to graduation. Helbig has a chance to take on a larger leadership role going into next year.
By all accounts, Helbig’s recovery is going smoothly. Saturday is Helbig’s chance to prove that he is ready to lead the team once again.
Who Will Step Up on the Offensive Line?
The offensive line was SUU’s best unit last season. Center Zach Larsen was named an All-American, Marquez Tucker looked like an NFL-caliber tackle and Austin Mikkelson put in another solid season to cap off his career.
Tucker and Mikkelson are gone from that impressive group and someone needs to replace them. Larsen will continue to anchor the line, but who will line up alongside him?
The spring game is a great chance for players like Braxton Jones, Tyler Bott, Artese Gregory and Wynton Lamar to make an impact. A strong performance on Saturday could give one of the new faces an inside track to a starting position.
Protecting Helbig will be essential next season. Another injury to Helbig could doom SUU to a repeat of 2018. Whoever is on the line with Larsen needs to be productive and consistent.
The Spring Football Game will be held Saturday, April 13 at Eccles Coliseum at 10 a.m.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo courtesy of SUU Athletics Strategic Communication