A new star emerges
CBS had the Arizona Hotshots as number one in their Power Rankings at the start of the season. That was a surprise to many, including me, but after Week 1 it’s hard to argue thanks in large to the play of quarterback John Wolford. Wolford, the former Wake Forest quarterback who also spent time with the New York Jets, completed 18 of 29 passes for 275 yards. Bundled with four touchdowns with no interceptions this gave him an impressive 32.9 passer rating as he dissected the Salt Lake Stallions. What impressed me most was the range of throws he made – timing throws, anticipating the receiver and deep throws.
Hackenberg’s redemption on hold
I wrote about the hopes of redemption for former New York Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg here. Whilst there were signs of a quicker release his decision making and accuracy looked to be much the same. Hackenberg completed just 10 of 23 passes (43.5%) for just 87 yards. He also threw a terrible interception. “He has to get better,” Memphis head coach Mike Singletary said. “That’s the bottom line. I could sit here and talk about a number of things. But he just has to get better. Has to settle down, has to get better.” If I’m the Express ownership or Singletary I’m pleading with Colin Kaepernick to showcase his skills for Memphis this spring.
The AAF didn’t have to wait long to see its first shutout. Aided by Hackenberg and his receivers, as well as some questionable play call, Birmingham held the Memphis Express to a 26-0 defeat. The team’s defensive backs were superb in coverage, allowing little separation. However, it would be remiss of me to not mention Birmingham Iron kicker, and special teams player of the week, Nick Novak here. Novak accounted for 12 of the Iron’s points and kept the pressure on the Express.
Searching for positives
The Memphis defensive line made plays against Birmingham and gave the offense the chance to get back in the game. Linebacker DeMarquis Gates forced two third-quarter fumbles (recovered by Jonathan Cook and Jeremy Cutrer) but the offense failed to take advantage. The lone offensive playmaker for Memphis was running back Zac Stacey who rushed 12 times for 58 yards. In fact his yards per carry (4.8) were more than Hackenberg yards per pass attempt!
Richardson showing signs of life
Trent Richardson was once the third overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. After rushing for 950 yards in his first season with the Cleveland Browns he was traded to the Indianapolis Colts early in his second pro season. His career flatlined and he found himself out of a job. On Sunday the former Alabama back ran for 58 yards and two touchdowns in the Iron’s 26-0 shutout win over the Memphis Express. Whilst Richardson proclaimed “I’m back to a place where it’s just fun. It’s fun, man”, he shouldn’t be too excited, he averaged just 2.5 yards per carry. Nevertheless it’s a step in the right direction.
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 10, 2019
Steve Spurrier is no stranger to ingenious offensive play calls. In his team’s first game in the AAF he borrowed a play from the Philadelphia Eagles. The team’s wide receiver, Jalin Marshall, completed a 5 yard pass to quarterback Garrett Gilbert. But it was Gilbert’s impressive play as a passer that stood out as he completed 15 of 25 (60%) for 227 yards and two touchdowns.
Special on defence too
Not to be outdone by Gilbert, Orlando Apollos linebacker Terence Garvin turned in an inspirational defensive performance on his way to picking up the defensive player of the week award. Garvin was all over the field with a team-high 11 tackles and two interceptions. Not content with picking of the pass Garvin returned the ball 51 yards for the first defensive touchdown in AAF history. 40-6 victory over the Atlanta Legends.
The hit heard across the pond
In the first quarter of the San Diego Fleets first AAF game quarterback Mike Bercovici dropped back to pass and was levelled by unblocked Shaan Washington. The hit by the 6’2”, 239lb defender caused Bercovici’s helmet to fly off as he fumbled the ball. The hit even caught the attention of the UK’s Daily Express’ website.
Speaking of Mike Bercovici, the San Antonio Commanders defence was all over him with a massive 10 quarterback hurries and six sacks. Whilst the pass protection was woeful at times the Commanders defence allowed only 5.2 yards per play, 3-of-13 on third downs, zero red-zone points. Most impressive of all was the three interceptions the team produced as well as the forced fumble by Bercovici.
Salt Lake were probably the best of the losing teams. They kept the game close and moved the ball effectively with tight end Anthony Denham standing out and running back Branden Oliver outperforming teammate Joel Bouagnon. However, it was the passing of Matt Linehan in relief of Josh Woodrum that may hold the key to the future here.
Infamous or Legends?
The Atlanta Legends got destroyed 40-6 by the Steve Spurrier lead Apollos but there was more to the turmoil than just their play on the field. After late departure of former head coach Brad Childress just over a month ago, Kevin Coyle served as Atlanta’s head coach. It was his first game as head coach at the age of 63. However, Childress wasn’t the only disruption for Atlanta as former offensive coordinator and Falcons quarterback Michael Vick left the team on Thursday, just two days ahead of the season opener. It’s no wonder the team struggled but can they rebound?
Sky judge is watching
One of the innovations debuted in the Alliance of American Football is a ninth official at press box level. The sky judge also will have the authority to pick up or have flags thrown for defensive or offensive pass interference, but only in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. The fact that TV viewers see the same replays as this official and hear his discussions is a huge step in refereeing transparency. The sky judge is a change that was first proposed by the late Steelers owner Dan Rooney over 10 years ago. After one week this definitely looks like a change the NFL must consider.
Wolford photo Rick Scuteri, Associated Press
Apollos Photo Phelan M. Ebenhack, Associated Press