Sean Lewis’ SDSU to debut Saturday at Aztec Fast Showcase

Sean Lewis addressing the team during practice. (Don De Mars/EVT)

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Sean Lewis’ energy in practice is unparalleled. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Saturday at 1 pm, SDSU, under head coach Sean Lewis, will make its debut in the Aztec Fast Showcase. The event is free, but tickets must be claimed in advance. Parking is $10.

Gates open at noon. One thousand replica jerseys will be given away on the South Concourse on a first-come, first-served basis. Most of the trappings of Aztec Village will also be available on Saturday.

Autograph seekers will have chances to get memorabilia signed by honorary captains Cameron and Zachary Thomas before the practice in front of the team store. After the showcase, select members of the 2024 squad will also be available for fans to meet.

“I’m looking forward to Saturday and the showcase,” Lewis said at Tuesday’s press conference. “But a lot of good work to get done these next three days and finish this thing off strong and get great attention to detail as we come down the stretch to polish it up and give our fans and our community a good show on Saturday.”

SDSU’s offensive line competes in practice. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Aztec Fast Format

Breaking with the tradition of separating the roster into two teams by holding a draft, Lewis described the showcase as an open practice. From a fan experience perspective, the event won’t have the feel of a game, but it should help Lewis develop his players better. With a new staff, there is wisdom in ensuring all 15 of the NCAA allotted practices are fully utilized.

Another advantage of this approach is it should allow spectators to have a clearer picture of where players stand in the staff’s eyes. Lewis said there will not be a post-spring depth chart, so the units the athletes compete with on Saturday will be the only glimpse of the two-deep.

Forgoing a scrimmage also makes sense because SDSU is thin at the offensive line. During practice, the team could not field three complete groups. Red and Black Games in the past lacked entertainment value because the defensive lines had field days against mixed-up offensive line groups. An open practice should help Lewis make a better first impression.

“We’ll do some different sections of a 7-on-7 throw game, whether it’s in the open field or in the red zone, and then we’ll put the ball down for the second half of the scrimmage and play out some regular down distance situations,” Lewis explained on what to expect at the showcase. “We’ll get some work in the alumni zone in between the 40s, and then we’ll finish the day up in the high red zone area and play a little game that we call red zone lockout. That’s been a fun, competitive deal. And at the end of that, there will be a little something for the winners and the guys who come up short.”

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Connection with the Program

The near-universal approval of Lewis’ hire has generated a lot of buzz on social media, but Saturday is the first real test to see if that excitement will translate to greater gameday attendance.

“This spring has been a lot about building the culture for this team, having a brand new staff, head coach, and a lot of new players on the team,” TE Jude Wolfe said on Tuesday. “So, we’re trying to find our identity, identify some leaders to build the culture, and really set this thing up to have a great fall.”

Lewis’ hire allowed SDSU to hit a reset button internally, but it potentially could mean a different culture between the team and the fans. Aztec games have long had a laid-back feel. Could the excitement of the up-tempo offense give Snapdragon a different atmosphere? An exciting sneak peek on Saturday could stir the word-of-mouth marketing need to fill the stadium in the fall.

The TOIL of Spring Camp will come to fruition on Saturday. (Don De Mars/EVT)

The Veil Partially Lifted

With the exception of the opening dress rehearsal, Lewis has only allowed the media to see the first 45 minutes of weekday practices. This decision likely served a couple of purposes.

First, it prevented any negative press about the progress of the team and the inevitable hiccups from installing new systems in all three phases. Second, it kept the staff’s designs as secret as possible, making it more challenging for SDSU’s first few opponents to game plan.

“Every single spot is unique,” Lewis said. “Every situation that you go into has different strengths and weaknesses to it. Every year, one is uniquely different as you’re implementing your systems and your schemes as you go through it. And the real life, the relationships and the people on the staff are different in each spot. So that’s what makes it so fun. Year in and year out. You get to reinvent yourself as coaches to better lead and better serve, and it’s been fun building these relationships, developing trust within the building, and doing the work collectively together.”

Lewis explained that about 80% of the offense has been installed. Over the final three practices before Saturday, the team will fine-tune what they have already learned. The line the staff will need to toe is deciding how much to show prying eyes while making the introduction to San Diego enticing enough to drive up ticket sales.

“No,” Lewis flatly replied when asked if the playbook will be opened up on Saturday. “It’s going to be toned down, and it’s going to be vanilla. Obviously, there’s great attraction to it, but there’s still very much a paranoid ball coach in me. So, it’ll be a vanilla script, but it’ll still be a fun and exciting day.”

SDSU’s offense will be on display on Saturday. (Don De Mars/EVT)

Quarterback Play

Lewis said the starting quarterback will not be named, but if the brief glimpses into Spring Camp are any indication, AJ Duffy and Danny O’Neil are the only two signal callers in serious contention to earn a starting job. In the open portions of practices, Duffy led the first team, and O’Neil led the second. Kyle Crum ran the third team, with Javance Tupou’ata-Johnson occasionally replacing him. During walk-throughs, the top units were given double the reps compared to the third team.

For all the talk of an equal opportunity, the ground Crum and Tupou’ata-Johnson need to make up while getting only a sliver of the reps might be too much to overcome. Watching how many chances each signal caller receives at the showcase will indicate SDSU’s QB pecking order.

“All four of those kids, it’s amazing how tight those guys are,” Lewis explained. “And through the leadership of Coach Johnson, it’s great to sit in the room with those guys. They all have each other’s backs and go about the work the right way, which is pretty unique for that position. Because at the end of the day, one guy is going to get the ball but they’re all supporting one another. We’re all helping each other, and it’s been really cool to see.”

In many ways, the skill of the QBs is accentuated by Saturday’s festivities. Without the full repertoire of plays and with the defense very familiar with the offensive scheme, the success of offense depends on the precision of the passers. If the fans leave satisfied that the attack has turned a corner, the signal callers’ execution of the toned-down designs will be the reason.

Lewis said Aztec Nation has claimed over 5,500 tickets for the showcase so far. With thousands of people in attendance in Snapdragon Stadium, Saturday will be the most game-like practice to date. Lewis emphasized that the event will not have any more significance than the rest of spring, but performing in the biggest setting has to count for something.

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