Vikings play annual spring game tomorrow

This Saturday will be a fresh start for many of the returning Portland State football players. After last fall’s disappointing season, players have started to become comfortable in their roles and are clicking much more than was apparent last season.

This Saturday will be a fresh start for many of the returning Portland State football players. After last fall’s disappointing season, players have started to become comfortable in their roles and are clicking much more than was apparent last season. The team is really starting to take shape so far in spring practices, and spirits have been high leading up to the annual spring game.

With 21 returning starters from last year’s squad, head coach Nigel Burton has been able to get players to buy into formations and become confident in what they are doing. It seems simple enough, but the familiarity players have with one another as well as knowing offensive and defensive schemes is what slowed the team down in 2010.

This spring, Burton has established a very balanced squad offensively and defensively, something lacking from last season. The defense struggled mightily last year, dealing with a young roster that was lacking experience but was also adjusting to the 4-3 defense that Burton implemented. The expectations are high on both sides of the ball this year, and Burton knows what he is looking for come Saturday.

“I wouldn’t expect one side to dominate the other,” Burton said with confidence. “But I am definitely looking for a nice ending to what I feel like has been a great spring, much better than last year.”

With a greatly improved sense of confidence, there’s an all-in attitude among the team. A deeper roster has increased the competition at every position, and a handful of players have been moved around so that others may step into spots where coaches feel they can best contribute.

On offense, tight end is a major hole that will need to be filled. Both of last year’s starters have moved on, with Rory Richards graduating and standout Julius Thomas being picked up by the Denver Broncos in the NFL draft. Currently, there are many strong candidates to take over the spot and other veterans on the roster feel confident in the team’s ability to replace the production.

“The tight end group is looking great,” senior offensive lineman Dustin Waldron said. “Those guys were the questionable position, and now they are looking solid. Kalua Noa and Kyle Mcmillin are all working really hard and pushing for it. Confidence is high, and guys are starting to get comfortable and make plays.”

Still, offensive production is a positive for a team that had no problems racking up the yards in their 2010 campaign. With a running game that led the Big Sky and a solid passing game, the Viks are simply looking to build upon the foundation they created. The big question marks really exist with the defense, and this spring much of the focus has been on improving that side of the ball.

Defensively, the major weaknesses came from the line-backing core and a very inexperienced defensive line. This year there are nine returning starters, as well as a great number of transfers coming in to help beef up the roster. So far in spring training, the defense has looked great, as they have come up with big stops thanks to returning players like strong safety DeShawn Shead, linebacker Ryan Rau and sophomore defensive tackle Julious Moore.

Depth will be key this season, and with the addition of junior college transfer Aaron Kincy and the return of David Ross and Mike Williams, the cornerback spot has been opened up, allowing three-year starter Shead to move over to the strong-safety position. The linebackers have gone through a very similar situation, with an increase in size, talent and confidence helping their cause.

“As a defense we feel very confident,” Moore said. “Our backers have shown up this spring, and this year we should be top ranked defense-wise. And after the scrimmage everyone should know that the defense is going to bring it.”

Both the offense and defense have felt a strong sense of improvement in spring practices, and with confidence high it should help make for an entertaining spring game battle. This year Burton has decided to diverge away from the typical spring game format. Instead of running two defenses and offenses, he will run the game like a drill, pitting one offense versus the defense throughout a 75-play game.

The drill-like spring game will allow for the most competitive players to stay on the field, as there will be points awarded for both sides depending on results. For the defense, the points will come off turnovers and stops against the offense, including three and outs as well as sacks. Offense will be looking to attain first downs as well as the typical touchdown or field goal. The ball will be placed on the 30-yard line and the defense will see constant pressure on every play.

Excitement is running through the players and coaches, as the football team looks to end spring training on a good note before their summer begins. The offense remains potent and new life has been pumped into the defense, which will be looking to open some eyes and do more than simply “prove” themselves this weekend. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Lincoln High School. ?