For the last few weeks, the Utah Blaze defensive line had heard the same jab over and over:
“Where’s Sack City at?” opposing linemen would mock.
Sacks? There was only one during the team’s four games in May. It was a blemish for a unit that had started out with a AFL-high 20 sacks in only six games, and had dubbed itself “Sack City.”
During the dry spell, the Blaze’s words were turned against them.
“It was a little bit frustrating, and nothing was working,” defensive end Caesar Rayford says. “I looked in the mirror, and I was disappointed. But that’s what’s pushing us to be great: We aren’t satisfied.”
After last week’s 55-45 win over Kansas City, the defensive line is standing a little taller. Every member of the front four earned a takedown in the road victory, a sign they hope signals the return of Sack City.
They biggest part, the unit agrees, is the return of Keenan Mace at nose tackle. The explosive rookie is another pass rusher to the set, one who can collapse the center and force opposing quarterbacks to either side. Schematically, either Rayford or linebacker Mike Lewis should be waiting to swallow the passer up.
All together for the first time in weeks, the group has its swagger back.
“There’s never a conflict between us into who has the most,” Mace says. “We’re just trying to come up with the plays. We want to go at it hard every time.”
The defensive line has some of the most animated vocal leaders on the team, particularly Lewis and Rayford, who never shy away from speaking their minds. The lean times were tough for the proud all-Arena bookends, but coach Ron James said he appreciated their consistent effort throughout.
“Good D-linemen are quick-witted as well as quick on their feet,” James says. “They keep me on my toes. But they also work well together. They pick each other up.”
The home game represents an opportunity for the Blaze to get a leg up for one of the playoff slots. The Chicago Rush are neck-and-neck with the Blaze in the standings, and Spokane is not far behind.
Also burning in their memories is a game against Chicago last year, when Tommy Grady was taken out for the season.
“We did not forget that — again, we did not forget that,” Lewis says. “We’re going to go out there and give this city an identity. We’re going to play with passion.”
at Utah Blaze
P Saturday, 7 p.m.
At EnergySolutions Arena
TV • KMYU Radio • 1280 AM