Things have not gone according to plan for the Utah Blaze.
That dynamic and dangerous playoff team they were a year ago is gone. Reigning Arena Football League MVP Tommy Grady is now the backup.
Second-year quarterback Jason Boltus is in, and the constant of the franchise, receiver Aaron Lesue, has left the team to pursue his dream of Olympic rugby.
The Blaze are 5-7, a far cry from being a minute away from the league championship game last summer, and head into Friday’s road matchup with division foe Spokane (9-4) looking for any way to build some momentum.
“It hasn’t gone to script for sure,” said Blaze coach Ron James. “When you look at the season and expectations we had … nothing has been a given for us. We’ve run our systems and games the way we did the last two seasons, and everything seems to be upside down.”
Enter Boltus, Utah’s backup who led the Blaze to a 62-55 win over visiting Jacksonville last Saturday night at EnergySolutions Arena. He’s certainly doesn’t have Grady’s 6-foot-7 frame, and he made some key mistakes in the win over the Sharks, but James saw something out of his previous No. 2 QB that wasn’t there during Utah’s three-game skid.
“The age-old question is: When do you go to the second in line? He gave us a shot in the arm,” James said. “He made several rookie mistakes, but he’s the type of player that goes right back to the drawing board.”
Boltus threw for 240 yards and seven touchdowns in the win and will be the man to turn the previously turnover-prone Blaze offense into an efficient group if Utah wants to keep its playoff hopes alive.
The Blaze rallied by the Shock on May 4 in a 52-48 win in Salt Lake City, but James knows the reshaped and refigured team must produce results — and quickly — if the playoffs remain a possibility.
“When you’re in the midst of a chaotic situation,” James said, “you hone in on the basics and make sure everyone is in on the game plan and is involved.”
Blaze at Shock
P At Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena
Kickoff • Friday, 8 p.m. TV • KJZZ. Radio • 97.5 FM
Records • Blaze 5-7; Shock 9-4
Previous meeting • Utah 52, Spokane 48 (May 4)
About the Blaze • With 2012 MVP Tommy Grady now at backup QB, Jason Boltus has the keys to the offense and led the Blaze in a 62-55 win over Jacksonville with seven touchdowns.
About the Shock • Spokane QB Erik Meyer leads the AFL in every offensive passing category including total yards (3,545), touchdowns (85) and completions (309).