Wednesday marked the first day of game preparation for coach Rocky Long and the Aztecs as they get ready to take on NAU. Scout team work has begun and the players now know who they need to be aware of. The remaining ten days of camp will be key for the Aztecs, who are still performing inconsistently in practice.
With the same coordinators from last year, Northern Arizona's schemes and sets should remain fairly similar. With last season's game tape serving as a study guide, Long's staff has quite a bit of material to pull from.
Senior quarterback Kyren Poe is back behind center for the Lumberjacks, and will be looking to make a statement. Poe only threw for 1,600 yards with six touchdowns last season, and he was picked off ten times. NAU doesn't look particularly strong at the quarterback position, but anyone who watched SDSU's season opener last year knows that the Aztecs won't be judging this team based on paper.
Slim depth at linebacker led Long to make a small change in his defensive alignment. Long will pull an outside linebacker in his 3-3-5 scheme to the line of scrimmage, and play two middle linebackers. Senior Cody Galea and redshirt freshman Fred Melifonwu will be the two linebackers that will play at the line the majority of the time. Long also said that he would not change his scheme back to the traditional 3-3-5 when seniors Josh Gavert and Derek Largent return from injury- The pair of linebackers should be back to full speed by this weekend.
"It makes it a little harder to disguise, but not impossible," Long said. "It just makes it a little harder to keep the other team off balance."
At this point through camp, you've read a lot about the concerns of the injury depleted linebacker group, as well as the inconsistent secondary, but as we get closer to the real thing a new weak spot may be emerging in the wide receiver unit.
In the season opening press conference, Long said that the Aztecs were "pretty good at wide receiver." Last week Long said that the inexperience of the group is of small concern, but the group would be better than last year by mid-season. Following Tuesday's practice, long said that his wide receiver unit is a "mirror image" of the group at safety.
"They're really really young," Long said. " Our receivers now can run faster, jump higher, and can catch better, but they make assignment errors all the time."
Obviously, it's a lot harder to spot an assignment error by a receiver than it is to spot blown coverage by a player in the secondary. Less is made of wideout's mistake too because it usually doesn't result in six points for the other team. Kaehler should be better in the pocket this season, but if his targets aren't in the right place it'll be a lot harder for him to make plays. With limited live reps in practice, the Aztecs' young receiver group will have quite a bit on their plate in the early goings of the season as they continue to learn the playbook and get accustomed to game speed.
Press conference video courtesy of GoAztecs.com.
** Redshirt freshman linebacker David McCutchan quit the team on Tuesday. McCutchan had just returned from a concussion and the decision had nothing to do with the injury according to Rocky Long.
** Junior middle linebacker Jake Fely is still expected to miss the first half of the season while he recovers from off-season neck surgery. He is expected to return around the 5th or 6th week.