When a team's defense is last in the league, change is not necessarily a bad thing. At least that was the feeling with the Utah Blaze.
Coming into Friday night's game against the Columbus Destroyers, the team had given up 198 points in three games 66 points per game dead-last in the Arena Football League. With those numbers, the Blaze decided it was time to mix things up.
Earlier in the week, the Blaze traded for defensive back Damon Mason, the league's all-time tackles leader.
But they weren't finished. In a surprise move, just hours before game time, the team announced that defensive coordinator Hunkie Cooper was being reassigned to defensive backs coach, and that Ron James, who was in charge of the offensive and defensive lines, was taking over as the defensive coordinator.
"We wanted to take some of the load off Hunkie so he could focus on the secondary and let Ron focus on the fronts," said head coach Danny White. "Ron will be responsible for the entire defense. He's been a head coach. He's been a defensive coordinator, so he is more suited for that role. We just need more firepower on that side of the ball, so that's the reason for the move."
The moves appear to have helped. While the team lost a heart-breaker, 52-49 on a last-second field goal, the 52 points was just three points off the team's goal of holding Columbus under 50. And the defense couldn't have started out much better.
On the Destroyers' first offensive play, Kelvin Morris jumped in front of a Matt Nagy pass for an interception, only the team's second on the season. On Columbus' next offensive possession, Morris recovered a fumble. The defense also forced a turnover on downs later in the first half. Three stops in one half is quite an improvement.
"We are starting to jell," said Morris. "We are still young and trying to get to know each other. Once we get to know each other we are going to turn this thing around."
Morris, who finished with 6.5 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery and two pass breakups, and his defensive mates made big strides compared to the first three games. In fact, it was the other side of the ball that had the issues on this night.
"The defense played well tonight," said White. "The defense played well enough to win, a big improvement there."
With the defense beginning to come together, it may only be a matter of time before the Blaze put together a complete team effort and get on the right side of the win-loss column."We try not to get frustrated," concluded Morris. "We still have some things to improve on. We were maybe one or two plays away from getting it done."
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