A quick peek at Viking spring football

Spring practices are now underway, as the Portland State football team will be looking to build upon a disappointing 2-9 record last season.

Spring practices are now underway, as the Portland State football team will be looking to build upon a disappointing 2-9 record last season. The win-loss column didn’t do justice to a team that looked much improved from its 2009–10 campaign. The Viks played seven games on the road this past season, including tough losses at PAC-10 squads Arizona State and Oregon.

The signs of improvement this season came after getting wins over UC-Davis on the road and taking down Idaho State in a Big Sky match-up early on. Three of Portland State’s conference games were lost in the closing minutes, with the Viks losing by five points or less in all three of the matches.

However, inexperience and youth were the team’s obvious flaws, as the defense struggled to get stops when they needed, especially in late game situations. Out of the 22 starters on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, Portland State will be seeing 18 players returning, with nine returning for each side. Three players for the special teams will be making their way back to the field as well. With all of the experience coming back to the team, head coach Nigel Burton is ready to move forward into what should be a much-improved season.

Portland State saw increased production on the offensive side of the ball this past season after the input of the pistol style offense. The Viks led the Big Sky conference in rushing, averaging an

impressive 203.3 yards on the ground. Junior. running back and All-Big Sky player Cory McCaffrey was the biggest reason for the team’s success running the ball, as McCaffrey went for 1,287 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.

McCaffrey will be returning for his senior season, as will many other key players in Portland State’s offense. The list of notable returners appearing for the Portland State offense this spring include quarterback Connor Kavanaugh, back-up running back Willie Griffin, quarterback Drew Hubel (returning from injury), as well as the entire offensive line.

Having a group of players on the field with experience under their belts and familiarity with one another will be a huge benefit for Portland State this upcoming season. While the nine returning starters on offense will be a big step forward for the team, there were a few setbacks, including the hole that is left by the departure of senior tight ends Julius Thomas and Rory Richards. Thomas played one year at tight end before receiving an invitation to participate in the NFL combine in Indianapolis last month. The departure of Thomas and Richards will leave a challenging void for the coaching staff to fill, but senior Kyle McMillin will be ready to step up into the position, as well as other potential prospects that will be jockeying for the tight end spot.

The offense took huge strides last season after the input of the pistol offense, but the main focus of the spring practices will be on the defense, which struggled with grasping the new 4-3 formation. Special teams, which were another weak point for the Viks, will also be heavily focused on before the upcoming season. PSU averaged 23.4 points per game and 369.5 yards of total offense per game, compared to 40.5 points per game and 464.1 yards per game for their opponents in 2010–11.

“The emphasis this spring is on the defense and on special teams, making sure we tackle better,” said Burton. “And we have to create more turnovers on the defensive side of the ball as well as limit our turnovers.”

The defense’s inability to close out tight games will have to be addressed, but returning nine starters is certainly a good foundation to build upon. Competition will also be heightened in spring practices with the additions of junior college transfers Aaron Kincy, Khalil Bass and David Lopez. Another highly anticipated transfer is Texas Tech defensive tackle and Portland native Myles Wade.

With the new season comes a clean slate for the Vikings and with many big names being added to the roster, there will be a heightened level of competition in spring training. All of this is leading up to the spring game on May 7, where coaches will really get a good idea of the talent on the roster and what their possible  starting rotation will look like for the fall. ?