Preseason Postcard: Salt Lake Looks To Surge After Title Appearance

April 2, 2024
By Evan Lepler

The Salt Lake Shred certainly have regrets about how last year’s Championship Weekend experience concluded. In the aftermath of the Shred’s miraculous overtime victory over Minnesota in the semifinals, the Shred were blasted 8-2 in the opening quarter of the title tilt against New York, ultimately falling 19-12 in a performance that barely resembled the rest of Salt Lake’s scintillating 2023 season. 

“That was a punch in the mouth in the toughest way,” said Shred Head Coach Bryce Merrill last week. “[Our top players] feel like they failed the moment. That takes a long time [to recover from] [...] You just hope that when the moment gets big again, we’re a little bit stronger for it.”

In retrospect, team leaders feel they could have handled the entire lead-up to their first final four in a much wiser way. The focus now is doing everything they can to try to get another chance in 2024, when the UFA’s signature event will be held at Salt Lake’s own Zions Bank Stadium whether the Shred win the West again or not. 

The best news for the Shred is that most of their awesome roster is back with another year of seasoning and experience. All-UFA stars Jordan Kerr and Jacob Miller are poised to reprise their roles as O-line cornerstones, veteran national team presence Grant Lindsley returns for his second season with Salt Lake, and all three Yorgason brothers are back to torment opponents who can’t tell them apart or stop them on the field. The Shred are also very excited to re-sign Joe Merrill, who scored 52 goals in 13 games for Salt Lake in 2022 before joining DC in 2023. 

Of course, the highly anticipated first weekend of the season features the Shred welcoming Joe Merrill’s old mates to Utah for the start of the UFA Super Series, and bracing for the Breeze has obviously been a major part of Salt Lake’s preseason plan. Since Bryce Merrill was a Team USA Selection Assistant for the recent National Team tryouts, he witnessed firsthand how sharp and dialed in many of the Breeze’s premier stars looked in recent months, a fact he relayed to his Shred squad as a reminder that guys like Jonny Malks, Rowan McDonnell, and AJ Merriman, all of whom were selected to be on the latest USA National Team, should be in midseason form for the April 27 opener. 

“This is going to be such a fast, powerful team that we are facing,” said Bryce. “Our first five games are DC, then we have [at] LA and San Diego, and then we have an Oakland-Colorado away trip. It feels like our season is set before we even hit Memorial Day. If we’re not dialed in on those five games and go 1-4 or 2-3, which is incredibly plausible, then we’re in a really tough spot the rest of the summer. We have to start fast.”

While injuries will sting the team’s depth—Ben Hoffman and Devon Terry are two dynamic defenders who will unfortunately miss the 2024 season after having both suffered torn ACLs—the team’s collective buy-in remains top notch, as does their pipeline of youth talent, which includes a couple teenage rookies that Coach Merrill feels can break into the squad’s active 20. They have also been practicing twice a week since the beginning of March, focusing on individual skills and fundamentals on Mondays while honing the seven-man lines, along with the structures and systems that they hope can ultimately take them one step further this summer, each Wednesday. 

“Trying to bolster the O-line handler core to be prepared for DC-New York-Colorado levels of physical defense,” mentioned Merrill. “Repping that and building that into our practices so it doesn’t come as such a shock to the system later.”

“There’s gonna be acceleration in April, and I hope our guys are up to it.”