Tag Archives: aaf

San Diego Fleet

Record: 3-5
Head Coach: Mike Martz

Home Stadium: Qualcomm


The Fleet were decked out in battleship gray, gray, yellow, and white. SD’s alternate color jersey, flipped the battleship gray jersey out with the white numbers.

BACKGROUND:

San Diego was extremely sore about losing the Chargers back to Los Angeles in 2018- little less to Stub Hub stadium which only sat some 27,000 capacity. The city jumped at the chance to be a part of the AAF and was named as the 6th overall franchise to the league with Mike Martz as head coach. The pairing made sense as the offensive minded Martz was a big draw coach that could handle putting on a show for the media.

Martz immediately named a fully fleshed out staff, which caught the league off guard. Former NFL QB Jon Kitna as OC, and a variety of former NFL vets as positional coaches. Jackie Slater, TJ Houshmandzadeh, Vince Amey, and Dre Bly. For one reason or another which hasn’t been revealed, almost all of these coaches didn’t stick on the roster.

After Jon Kitna departed for the Dallas Cowboys to be their QBs coach, his brother Matt stepped in. Dre Bly got a college gig so Eric Allen stepped in and performed admirably in his first coaching stop.
Ex NFLers Lamont Jordan, did a great job coaching runningbacks, while Anthony Becht was working with the TE group. Az-Zahir Hakim who had played for Martz in St. Louis at WR coached a solid group for the Fleet.

Since San Diego had a large naval base in the area, the team adopted the Fleet name on September 25th, 2018. The Commanders and Fleet considered each others rivals thanks in part to many commonalities.

Bishop Sankey was the veteran, big eyebrow raising signing by this team- but before the first game he pulled his hamstring, and was limited most of the season.

The AAF did not employ the traditional draft system the NFL did, rather it employed an allocation system that kept players close to their college or pro locations to help build fan interest.

OFFENSE:

The San Diego Fleet under Mike Martz were expected to be a high octane offense, reminiscent of his teams in St. Louis. With the first overall selection of the Protect or Pick QB draft, the Fleet protected Josh Johnson. The pick was lauded as he was considered the most seasoned and intriguing quarterback in the league. His cousin Marshawn Lynch even mused coming out of retirement to play for the AAF so he could play with Josh. Things were abuzz in San Diego. The problem was, about a week later Josh got picked up by the Redskins.

Awkward.

Yeah so SD hoped that Josh would come back to them, but if not they’d wish him well anyway. In the end, Josh did perform well- but thankfully it was so soon after the draft that the Fleet was able to move forward with the quarterbacks they had.

In the stable was gunslinger Mike Bercovici, Alex Ross, and Philip Nelson. Bercovici was the day one starter, but after suffering a brutal beating during the first half against the Commanders in the first game, he’d be replaced in the lineup by Philip Nelson. Nelson shattered his clavicle in the 4th game and was replaced by Alex Ross in the lineup. The following week Berco took back over as starter for the remainder of the season while Alek Torgersen was added as insurance. Despite missing 3 and a half games, Bercovici was 6th in overall yardage with 1,311 yards. He also finished first with 9 interceptions. You could sense, despite his struggles though, fans overall really liked Mike. As a group the QBs finished second in yardage to only Orlando (1904).

The Fleet had some good receivers with two players ranking in the top 5 in yardage. Dontez Ford finished second in yards after the catch on just 15 receptions, and 3rd overall in yards (435), with his one and only TD catch, a 72 yard barn burner. Nelson Spruce also ranked among league leaders not far off with 426 yards (5th) and 2 TDs on 38 receptions- good for second in the league. Brian Brown was right at the periphery of the league leaders, finishing with 20 receptions for 224 yards.

The tight ends got a lot of work. All the teams in the league gushed over the potential former Dallas Cowboys project Gavin Escobar possessed. He clocked 16 receptions for 176 yards to rank 3rd on the team. Not far behind him was Marcus Baugh- the former Ohio State TE caught 13 passes for 208 yards and 2 TDs including at 38 yarder. Ben Johnson was also a reliable redzone option catching 12 passes for 75 yards and 2 TDs in 5 starts.

The runningbacks were at times utterly spectacular. Diminutive Ja’Quan Gardner led the Fleet with 311 yards on the ground (64 carries, 3TDs)- good for 8th in the league. His 83 yard scamper against San Antonio is a league record, and he led the Fleet backs with 12 receptions. Unfortunately he finished on IR. Terrell Watson also saw action in 8 games, putting together 271 yards on the ground (63 carries, 2 TDs). Finally, grizzled veteran Bishop Sankey had 30 carries for 119 yards in just 4 games. As a team San Diego finished in 4th place with 851 ground yards.

After being absolutely terrorized in the first game against San Antonio, the Fleet put together some decent offensive line production throughout the season, finishing fourth in the league allowing just 19 sacks. The team also boasted a 7 of a 11 (63%) 4th down success ratio.

DEFENSE:

(4-3) The Fleet’s defense was predicated on creating a lot of turnovers. Although they gave up a fair amount of yardage, they were pretty decent against the run (842 yards, 4th), but a bit more vulnerable through the air giving up 1768 yards (6th).

The secondary itself was tested early and often. Kameron Kelly (CB) had 4 interceptions and a TD along with 19 total tackles. Ryan Moeller also had a strong season with 4 interceptions for 97 yards and 37 total tackles at SS. Heartwarming comeback story Ron Brooks (CB), two years removed from an ACL tear, had a pick and 19 tackles, but really shined on special teams. Jordan Martin stepped in and had 31 total tackles and an interception. CFL DB Kendall James enforced the line of scrimmage with 36 total tackles, while Xavier Coleman finished with 15, and Demarius Travis came in at 13.

The leader of the linebacking corps without a doubt was another comeback story- AJ Tarpley. Hearing the siren’s call to play again Tarpley had a banner season for the Fleet with 35 total tackles, and an interception he returned 27 yards for a TD. Travis Feeney logged 30 tackles and a 3 yard interception. Galen Robinson and Eric Pinkins were also key contributors to the corps with 28 and 29 tackles respectively. Frank Ginda started just 2 of the 8 games he played in but led the linebackers with 37 total tackles, while John Lotulelei posted 23 total tackles in 2 of the 8 games he started as well.

Along the defensive line, Damontre Moore (DE) was a house wrecker, leading the team in tackles (39) and was second in the league in sacks (7). Shakir Soto at DT had 4 sacks and 21 total tackles. Next to him was Taniela Tupou, with 24 total tackles and a sack. Alex Barrett played on the opposite side of Moore and had 29 total tackles and 1.5 sacks.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

The Fleet boasted the stiffest punt return unit in the league allowing just 12 returns for 57 yards (14 lg) and 10 fair catches. Their punt return unit was also the best in the league. Ron Brooks had 18 returns for 212 yards, and a 57 yard TD- the first in league history. The team employed two punters, but primarily it landed on Sam Irwin-Hill’s shoulders. He had 30 punts for 1,312 yards, dropping 10 in the 20.

Donny Hageman got plenty of chances to kick field goals hitting 14/19 attempts, winning an exciting match up against the Stallions in the final seconds. Hageman also blew the shortest field goal in AAF history against SLC in the final week of the season.

THE SEASON:

San Diego fans really wanted to stick it to Dean Spanos’ family after they left for Los Angeles so they were eager to embrace the Fleet. The Fleet looked at their rival Commanders team in San Antonio and wanted to top those numbers. San Diego had relatively encouraging numbers for an inaugural Spring football team- and the numbers they were pulling in were comparable to the Chargers before they left.

The Fleet’s 20,019 in Week 2 was the 3rd largest day home opening crowd in the league, and second highest that week to only San Antonio. After a dip down to 14,789 in week 3 in SDs rematch against the Commanders, the Fleet set team records for attendance in week 5 with 20,823, and then in Week 6 with 20,986. As the Commanders were in the midst of a 4 game road schedule, San Diego led the league in attendance through both of those weeks. When the league collapsed, the Fleet had one more home game left against the Hotshots in Week 10. San Diego’s overall attendance was good enough to rank second in the league, and 3rd in overall average attendance (19,154).

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NOTES:

San Diego had some uniform issues that perhaps only I noticed. First was their original color scheme, which was a complete rip off of Buffalo Wild Wings. Second, their helmet decal was only a slight modification of the UFL Virginia Destroyers logo.

Curiously Topps did not create a Topps Now card for the Fleet/ Stallions matchup in Week 8.

Damien Mama was the first player that signed for me. He was switched to center during the opener against SA and came over to sign for a few kids.

Mike Martz was standing in all his glory maybe 3 feet from me, watching the quarterbacks warm up, but I was too intimidated to talk to him.

Ron Brooks was out before pregame and was throwing the football back and forth between fans. He and I talked briefly and he told me that he was just excited to be playing the game again. He immediately became a fan favorite of mine.

Six players from the Fleet found homes in the NFL after the AAF folded, primarily from their defensive line as Barrett, Moore, and Soto were all signed.

Donny Hageman took a curious route to the AAF. He was one of the rare guys where a Twitter message actually worked!

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Really when you ran the numbers at that point of the season, despite their 2 game difference, the San Diego Fleet and their cousin the San Antonio Commanders were not too dissimilar statistically after the 8th contest. Both had bend-not-break defenses that gave up yards while coming up with big turnovers. San Diego actually had the better offense- albeit a more turnover friendly one. The Fleet were a bit better keeping their QBs clean in the pocket, and their rushing offense, would have finished in relatively the same spot as the Commanders if Gardner hadn’t been injured.

It could be said that San Diego with a bit of help still could’ve made the playoffs. Although they faced a gauntlet over the next two weeks playing both the Apollos and then the Hotshots, if they had beaten them both and then the Commanders had dropped their next two games, the Fleet would have made the playoffs at 5-5.

NOTABLE PLAYERS:

Other Coaches: ERIC ALLEN
Quarterback: MIKE BERCOVICI
Offensive Line: DAMIEN MAMA
Wide Receivers: DONTEZ FORD, NELSON SPRUCE
Tight End: MARCUS BAUGH
Linebackers: ERIC PINKINS
Defensive Backs: KAMERON KELLY

Birmingham Iron

Coach: Tim Lewis
Record: 5-3
Stadium: Legion Field

The Iron sported an intimidating uniform that had no discernible logos on it at all. The uniforms were primarily black , dark gray,, and an accent of light gray.

BACKGROUND:

Birmingham was a shoe-in for all the prognosticators of franchise locations for the AAF. A stronghold of football talent and fandom, with good proximity to its sister franchises in the East, Birmingham was the 7th franchise named to the AAF on June 4th, 2018.

From the get go, Birmingham set out to be completely different than the rest of the league. The Iron hired long time assistant head coach and former player Tim Lewis to be its head coach. Lewis – well known in NFL circles, had never held a head coaching gig at any level until Birmingham. No other team went that route willingly- as every other team took an established coach. He hired a coaching staff with a wide pedigree. Ted Cottrell earned the linebackers coach job, longtime coach and player Ray Hamilton coached the line, and Martin Bayless coached the secondary and assisted with Special Teams. Cadillac Williams joined the staff as an RB coach briefly- landing a job with Auburn before the AAF season began.

Named for the region’s rich history in Iron smelting and manufacturing, the Birmingham Iron’s colors of black, light gray, and dark gray, were announced on September 20th, 2018.

Games were hosted at creaky Legion Field, while a new state of the art stadium was to be completed in the next year or two. Birmingham itself has a rich history of supporting alternative football leagues. The Americans (WFL 1974-1975) had crowds in excess of 50,000. The Stallions (USFL 1983-1985) drew a crowd of over 60,000 for their home opener in 1984. In 1991, the Birmingham Fire (WLAF 1991-1992) had 53,000 at their season opener, and while the Barracudas (CFL 1995) and the Thunderbolts (XFL 2001) drew mixed reviews, the general perception was the AAF would be a hit in Magic City.

It was probably thought that Atlanta, thanks in part to its proximity and being a straight shot down I- 20 , would be the Iron’s primary rival; However, as the season unwound, it became more and more apparent that it was Orlando, strictly based on divisional jockeying. (Personally I saw it being more of a Memphis-Iron rivalry since they upset Birmingham during the last two weeks of the season, but I digress.)

The city rallied around its home state hero and the AAF’s largest signing- Trent Richardson. He’d become an early star in the league (and somewhat akin to a player representative) as his signing was seen as a bit of a coup for the fledgling league. The team also picked up former Alabama QB Blake Sims, which fans also approved of. Chris Davis- the much celebrated ‘Kick Six’ Iron Bowl hero was also of interest to fans.

The Iron benefited strongly from their territorial player allocation model. Birmingham not only pulled form traditional college powerhouses Alabama and Auburn, they also pulled from other SEC schools, and the Patriots and Steelers in the NFL.

OFFENSE:

The Birmingham Iron featured the AAF leader in scoring, Trent Richardson. Richardson finished as the league leader in both rushing attempts (125) and TDs (11), and 4th in yardage with 366. He had to work hard for every yard as Richardson finished with an anemic 2.9 yards per carry, but that’d happen to you too if teams stacked the box. There really wasn’t much sophistication to the offense. The Iron just liked to pound the rock. Trent also caught the ball out of the backfield with pretty good results (31 receptions for 205 yards and a TD).

As a group, the Iron were last in the league in rushing finishing with 631 yards. Brandon Ross, LaDarius Perkins, Ty Isaac, and Marshaun Coprich rounded out an under utilized backfield. No other player rushed more than 25 times or for over 100 total yards on the season, as Trent accounted for over 50% of the ground game’s yards, 60% of the carries, and 100% of the TDs.

The Iron opted to select Luis Perez in the first round of the AAF QB Draft. Perez is an intriguing and smart QB talent. He threw for 1461 yards and 5 TDs, but his completion percentage (52.3) and yards per attempt (5.7) hovered in the doldrums of the league. Keith Price backed him up posting solid numbers playing primarily in two contests and starting the game against the Fleet.

Quinton Patton led the receiving corps in catches (33) and yards (372). Speedster L’Damian Washington set the league mark with an 83 yard TD to go along with 15 receptions, 250 yards, and a second TD- leading he team. Tobias Palmer had another 13 receptions for a buck 29. Outside of that, no other WR had over 6 catches as Amba Etta-Tawo, Quan Bray, DeVozea Felton, and Jamal Robinsion (124 yards on 3 catches), all pitched in to help the passing attack.

Tight end had a couple of bruisers. Wes Saxton just happened to be able to catch too- pulling down 17 receptions for 241 yards and a TD. South Alabama graduate Braedon Bowman had 4 catches for 43 yards and a TD, while bookends Connor Davis and Weslye Saunders snuck primarily to block catching 3 passes each, respectively.

The offensive line had some pretty decent names. Kitt O’Brien, Dominick Jackson, and JC Hassenauer held down the front. They allowed just 15 sacks on the season as they tried to give Luis Perez as much time to pass the ball as possible. Overall the passing offense was ranked 4th, as Perez and Price combined for 1626 yards on the season, but their 3rd down efficiency was pretty bad, coming in at 31%. Overall the offense put the rock on the turf with regularity- losing 12 fumbles.

DEFENSE:

The Iron kicked off the AAF season with a quieting thud, dominating defensive statistics and blanking the Express in the league’s only shut out. A solid front 7, the Iron defense didn’t make too many mistakes, but finished curiously in the middle of the pack both against the pass and run. The two places that Birmingham really excelled in was points allowed (20.6) and 3rd down defense (27%)- both of which the Iron ranked 1st in by a far margin. While the defense was much celebrated, they were prone to getting in trouble against pass happy opponents such as the Apollos, Fleet, and the Express (in their second meeting).

Beniquez Brown was a black hole at linebacker putting up 70 total tackles (2nd in the league), 3 sacks, and a forced fumble. The numbers for the other linebackers were pretty spotty. Shaeed Salmon had 17 total tackles in 3 starts and 8 games. Veteran Devin Taylor had 4 starts, 13 sacks and a tackle. Ike Spearman had 11 tackles in 8 games (1 start), and Matthew Wells started 4 games and had 16 total tackles.

The Iron were very deep along the defensive line. While they didn’t bash out tons of sacks, they held the line well and put the pressure on when it counted. At defensive end, Jonathan Massaquoi started 6 of 8 games, posting 28 tackles and 3 sacks. Xzavier Dickson had 3 starts in 7 games to go along with 15 tackles, 1.5 sacks and an interception, while Johnny Maxey had 9 tackles in two starts.

Jeremy Faulk had a motor that wouldn’t quit. He led the Iron defensive tackle group with 33 total tackles and 3 sacks. Casey Sayles posted 16 total tackles and a sack. Rickey Hatley, had 9 tackles in 6 starts. Jake Payne stepped in and started a game while playing in 3. The Shenandoah graduate had 7 tackles and 2 sacks, while Nick James and Joshua Frazier rounded out the interior.

The secondary was difficult to gain yardage on, even though they did not force too many turnovers. Jack Tocho started all 8 games, recording a pick, 1 forced fumble, and 27 total tackles. Wildman Max Redfield had a pick, a fumble recovery and 34 total tackles in 7 starts. Jamar Summers out of Connecticut led the team with 3 picks, 2 forced fumbles, and 20 total tackles. Elijah Campbell got 3 starts under his belt and 21 total tackles. Joe Powell- from Globe Tech (NY) started 1 game and had 13 total tackles and a pick in 7 contests. Bradley Sylve started 4 of 8 contests and posted 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble and 30 total tackles. Chris Davis, Joe Powell, Bradley Sylve, Ryan White, Jacob Hagen, Trovon Reed, Christian Bryant, and Trey Johnson all helped out at some point during the season in a limited capacity.

The defense did the best it could to limit the offensive shortcomings of the team recording 9 interceptions and 7 fumble recoveries, finishing with a -2 turnover differential.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

The Iron had a pretty good special teams unit. Devozea Felton had 14 returns for 125 yards and a 47 yard long. Quan Bray also posted solid results with 7 returns for 51 yards.

Colton Schmidt dropped 20 punts inside the 20. He punted 44 times for 2024 yards (46.0) and a 65 yard long. The coverage team was decent, allowing 22 returns for 169 yards- but began to unravel near the end of the season. They also allowed the only punt block (for a TD) in league history (against Memphis).

Grizzled veteran Nick Novak – another Houston Ex-an, had an impressive season hitting on 13/16 field goals including a 53 yard long.

THE SEASON:

A modest 17,039 showed up to see the Iron crush Memphis- despite the city trumpeting the team and Trent Richardson for the past few months. The following week police literally set up barricades and handed out tickets to people to show up for the Iron’s defensive struggle over the Salt Lake City Stallions. The Iron persevered and moved to 2-0 before a crowd of just 17,319.

Media put a positive spin on it- trumpeting the ‘good signs’ of so many people showing up in ’50 degree’ weather. Other media groups called the numbers ‘sizeable’. But in actuality, underwhelming would be the best way to put the Iron’s attendance numbers when you lined them up next to the Iron’s predecessors in Magic City.

After a road game in Atlanta, the team returned to host the San Antonio Commanders in Week 4. That day- tornadoes and inclement weather forced many fans to stay home. A league season low 6,539 patrons showed up for the contest, a 12-11 loss to the suddenly streaking Commanders. In Week 5 the Apollos thumped Birmingham, as the Iron ‘doubled’ attendance from the previous week at 13,310. Birmingham’s final home game came in Week 8. They’d triumph over the Atlanta Legends to secure a playoff birth in front of a season high crowd of 17, 328- A mere 9 more patrons than their Week 2 victory over the Stallions.

The Iron were the top of the second tier in terms of attendance averaging 14,307 a game, squarely in 4th place 1,500 above Memphis and roughly 5,000 behind San Diego. Maybe it was the fact the league launched and bet that Birmingham was going to come out in force for the inaugural season- but 4 out of the first 5 games for the Iron were at home? That didn’t seem very well thought out. Birmingham was the only team in the AAF to play their entire home schedule before the league folded.

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NOTES:

When Birmingham was announced as the 7th city, my heart immediately dropped- as I thought that there was no way that the Alliance would select San Antonio over St. Louis for that final franchise spot.

At the season opener the Iron gave away towels to all the fans in attendance, while at the final game they gave away an inaugural team poster of the team.

The Iron were the only other team besides the East leading Apollos to secure a playoff birth in the AAF. Their playoff contest versus the Apollos was locked in three weeks from the folding of the league. A win in Week 9 by the Apollos however, guaranteed Orlando home field for their playoff matchup.

TTM, and through EBay the Birmingham Iron have been the most difficult to acquire.

The Iron tradition was to have somebody beat on an anvil with a hammer at certain points before and during the game.

Briefly a few months after the league folded the Birmingham Iron’s Twitter admin took back over the page and talked to fans. This lasted all of 3 hours and changed the header and the hashtag to #ForgeOnForever.

Birmingham’s hashtags were #ForgeOn and #WeAreBirmingham.

The Iron sported some 19 players who attended Alabama colleges on their team- including 8 that went to Alabama and 5 that went to Auburn.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

From the signing and play of Trent Richardson, to the encouraging attendance numbers, then on to their smash mouth defense- it seemed that the Iron did a great job of garnering a lot of really positive press.

The Iron were sort of an enigma. Were they the second best team in the league behind Orlando- or were they the 4th best team that lost to Memphis in OT? Week 9 and 10 were going to determine the Iron’s true pole position in the league with matchups in Arizona against the hot Hotshots and on the road at Orlando in Week 10. Birmingham could easily finish 7-3 or 5-5. Birmingham had a stout defense against teams that ran to set up the pass- but when teams just came out and gunned them down throwing the ball, things could get out of control quickly. Supposing as much, Arizona beats Birmingham, then the Iron play Orlando. Does Spurrier play his starters and open up the playbook knowing that Birmingham will play them again the following week for a 3rd time that year?

I feel like the Birmingham Iron was a season finale for a show that got cancelled. Things were really starting to get interesting in that final game. Was Luis Perez still the QB to lead the offense or was it Keith Price? Marshaun Coprich was really starting to show some colors against Atlanta. Was he going to be the solid 2 punch to go along with Richardson? Sadly we will never know the conclusion to the Iron’s story, other than they qualified for the playoffs.

NOTABLE PLAYERS:

RB: MARSHAUN COPRICH
OL: DOMINICK JACKSON, JC HASSENAUER
K: NICK NOVAK

Memphis Express

Record: 2-6
Coach: Mike Singletary
Stadium: Liberty Stadium

BACKGROUND:

Memphis was the third city named to the AAF back on May 4th, 2018. It made sense, as the city fit the footprint of the former XFL with the Memphis Maniax and their continued support for the NBA Grizzlies. It also had a rich history of hosting other franchises over the last 30 years including the Showboats (USFL) and briefly, the Tennessee Oilers. Memphis is at a crossroads of sorts in the Mid-South and that’s part of its problem with attracting sports franchises and teams. Much like San Antonio, Memphis isn’t really a sexy pick, so it always ends up playing the role of the handmaiden, as its neighbors pick up all the glory.

About a week after the city was named, Memphis’ new coach was announced, and boy did it have a nice buzz to it, as former head coach Mike Singletary was returning to the big stage. It had the trappings of the feel good story of the year. He’d assemble his coaching staff which included such former NFL names as OJ Otowge and Pepper Johnson. Dennis Thurman, David Lee, Hal Mumme, and Tom Mason were also notable coaching finds with considerable experience.

At first I sort of shrugged my shoulders at the logo. I felt it was a bit too close to the league logo colors, and that the Express name and colors were a bit too easy to name after the delivery service. Nonetheless- it grew on me throughout the season, and by the end of the season, it was quite lovable.

The team name comes from the fact that Memphis “is one of the leading centers for logistics and transportation. In fact, Federal Express is based out of the city. So intangibly, speed and precision come along with that.”

– According to Kosha Irby, the Express’ President.

When it came to big names to associate with the team when it launched, Mike Singletary was the uncontested big name. Team president Kosha Irby also had some buzz since he was a Memphis alum as well. Zac Stacy, Kenny Hilliard, and Chris Givens were all interesting players that Memphis signed early on that fans had interest in.

An intriguing find was ‘architect of the Air Raid Offense’- Hal Mumme- to be the offensive coordinator. With him in place, it looked like Memphis was going to be a tough team to beat in the East.

“Hal Mumme brings many positives to our team and offense,” Express coach Mike Singletary said in a press release. “First and foremost, it’s his creativity. I know it’s called the air raid system, but I want to use his imagination to get into the end zone and bring balance to the offense. I know the physicality that I want to have on our team. I want to bring muscle to the passing game.”

-Mike Singletary

Oddly around two weeks later, Mumme was out of the picture. The franchise and Hal had a ‘mutual parting of ways’- just 6 days before the Quarterback Protect or Pick Draft.

Whatever prevented Hal Mumme from becoming OC was the start of it. It could have been great with him but the team ended up going with David Lee, bad decision. The offense was getting progressively better once Bobby Blizzard came into the picture.

-Express & Goal Sports or Something
@MemphisAAF

OFFENSE:

And with the 3rd pick of the 2019 AAF quarterback draft, the Memphis Express elected to protect… Troy Cook, QB- UT Martin.
Insert audible gasp here. Not just any gasp- No. Let’s go with like the first time patrons at the Detroit Auto show saw the Pontiac Aztec type gasp. The Express didn’t select again until the 15th pick of round two, when they chose Christian Hackenberg. So there you have it. Lovable Memphis’ problems in an nutshell. Cook it turned out was the only player selected in the first round of the AAF QB draft to not even make it out of training camp. Hack would be the starter out of the gate, backed up by overlooked Zach Mettenberger, and Brandon Silvers.

Hackenberg represented just as much the feel good story that Singletary did, and in camp he showed a lot of promise. He had an excellent preseason game against SLC– posting 128 yards and a TD on 9/15 passes. Then the bottom fell out. Hack started 3 games before he yielded to Mettenberger. Under constant pressure with receivers dropping passes left and right, Christian finished with 277 yards passing and zero passing TDs in 2 and a half games.

Zack gave the Express some oomph that they really needed. Mettenberger sat in the green room of the QB Draft the longest- as team after team passed on him, but he’d show how wrong they were over the next few weeks. Taking over for Hack during the second half of the Orlando/ Memphis tilt, Mettenberger passed for 2 TDs and a 2 point conversion to get things rolling. He’d then have a solid contest against the Fleet in Week 4, leading the team to a win as he threw for 174 yards and a TD, while rushing for one more. He’d then lose a heartbreaker to Atlanta in the final seconds of regulation in Week 5. Things were moving in a positive direction, but Zack on the first offensive play from scrimmage against the Stallions in Week 6, got taken down awkwardly by Karter Schult. Zack’s season was over.

Enter Brandon Silvers. Just looking for a chance, Silvers came in and put on a show for the Express. Over the next 3 contests he’d set team passing records every week despite the fact that (after losing to the Stallions,) things went a bit off the rails as Johnny Manziel joined the Express…

For some reason, Memphis just kept trying to put Johnny in the lineup despite Silvers’ offensive rhythm. Johnny threw for 61 yards and a pick, while running 5 times for 38 yards over the final two weeks of the AAF season. In the meantime, Silvers beat the Iron, passing for a franchise high 266 yards 2 TDs (24/35), and two 2 point conversions. (It would also be the only OT game in league history.) Silvers then put on a show against Orlando, as Memphis almost upset the champs, losing to them in the final seconds of the final game of the year. Thanks in part to those dismal first few games, the Express finished with the worst passing offense in the league averaging 179.2 yards per game.

The rushing offense was led by former pros Zac Stacy and Raijon Neal out of the gate. Stacy would go over 100 yards in the second game of the season, as the team continued to search for an identity. After that strong performance early in the year, Stacy waddled in with 312 yards on 101 carries. He’d lead the team with 3 rushing TDs including a 49 yard long- but finished the season on IR. He also caught 18 passes for 138 yards and a TD- to rank second on the team. Terrence Magee gave it his best shot. The diminutive back clocked in at 5-8, 213, but rushed for 134 yards on 40 carries and 2 TDs. He was second among the Express RBs with 11 catches and a TD. Sherman Badie saw action in 3 games starting 1. He’d run for 74 yards on 16 carries and catch 3 passes for 87 yards. Kenny Hilliard and Rajion Neal lasted all of two games apiece, while Anthony Manzo-Lewis saw limited action in all 8 games as the fullback. The rushing offense finished with 694 yards- good for 7th in the league.

The team’s secret weapon was WR Reece Horn. As Memphis’ offensive identity began to coalesce, it was really apparent that he and Silvers were forming a good rapport. Reece posted back to back 100+ yard games against the Stallions and Iron in week 6 and 7 and finish with 429 yards on 28 catches. Pig Howard started 5 games and snagged 17 receptions for 157 yards from the slot. Gerrard Sheppard started on the other side of the field from Horn. He posted 12 catches for 155 yards and a 40 yard TD. Daniel Williams saw action in 4 games, starting 2. He’d finish tied for 3rd in receptions with 17 for 164 yards and a TD. Dontez Byrd saw action in 6 games behind Sheppard. He’d have 10 catches for 131 yards and a TD. Devin Lucien started a game and played in 5 managing 9 catches for 113 yards and a 30 yards TD, while Fabian Guerra and Kayaune Ross contributed to a limited degree as well.

Memphis’ tight end group was led by Brandon Barnes. As most targets were going to the receivers, and the offensive line needed all the help they could get on passing downs, Barnes finished with 9 receptions for 75 yards. He was backed up by Adrien Robinson, who had very similar stats with 7 receptions for 40 yards.

The offensive line had some terrible days punctuated by some individual highlights. The line finished in a 5 way tie for last, giving up 23 sacks. Christian Morris (LT), Davonte Boudin (LG), Demetrius Rhaney (C), Dallas Thomas (RG), and Toby Weathersby (RT), made up the starting group. The Express sported the worst 3rd down conversion rating in the league with a dismal 25% (27-106).

DEFENSE:

(4-3) The Express front four from left to right consisted of Jamichael Winston, Julius Warmsley, Latarius Brady, and Corey Vereen. Vereen led the front four in sacks with 4 (12 tackles, 2 forced fumbles). Jamichael led the down linemen in tackles with 18 (.5 sacks). Warmsley had 2.5 sacks and 16 tackles, while Latarius had 8 and a sack. Greg Gilmore was a sneaky 2 gap nose who came in and posted 2 sacks and 11 tackles. Outside of that Montori Hughes, Corey Crawford, and Martin Ifedi combined for maybe 10 tackles.

With a coach like Mike Singletary- you know that this team would pay special attention to its middle 3. With that being said Drew Jackson, Davis Tull, and DeMarquis Gates had productive seasons. Gates led the AAF in tackles and was named Defensive Player of the Week. He finished with a line of 72 tackles, a sack, and 5 forced fumbles on the year at weakside linebacker. Davis Tull in the middle out of UT- Chatanooga had 37 tackles, a sack, and a fumble recovery. Andrew ‘Drew’ Jackson took no prisoners either from strongside finishing with an impressive 52 total tackles, a sack, an interception, and a forced fumble. Backing them up was Freddie Bishop and Quentin Gause. Colton Jumper floated around as an elephant back between the secondary and linebacker corps and had 25 tackles. Of note- Gates and Jackson finished first and second in the league in Tackles for Loss.

The back 4 was led by Arnold Tarpley at free safety who had 44 tackles and a pick. Former Texan Charles James II came out of nowhere to have 25 tackles from CB starting 3 games. Channing Stribling had an interception and 19 tackles in 6 starts (8 games). Jonathan Cook also picked up a pick and 8 total tackles playing in 6 games. Justin Martin started 2 games (5 played) and managed to have 9 tackles and an interception. Jeremy Cutrer came out of Middle Tennessee State to start 6 games. He posted an interception, 2 fumble recoveries, and 20 total tackles. Brandon Maiden also chipped in 7 tackles. Of note, no player on defense had more than 1 interception, and no player other than Charles James had NFL experience.

Overall defensive numbers looked average at best as their 3rd down defense came in around the middle of the pack allowing 34% conversions. The Express made only 17 sacks, ranking 6th, while their turnover differential wasn’t too bad, coming in flat at -1. Unfortunately they allowed the most big plays in the league (72+).

SPECIAL TEAMS:

The special teams were just as incongruous as the rest of the team.

Reece Horn juggled #1 receiving duties also with being the team’s primary punt returner. He had 9 returns for 125 yards including a 33 yarder he almost broke to daylight. Amir Carlisle had 4 returns for 17 yards, while Sherman Badie, Dontez Byrd, and Pig Howard stood back to return a combined 4 times.

Brad Wing started out as the punter, but he’d be cut a few weeks into the season. He finished with 16 punts for 705 yards, 6 inside the 20 and a puny net of 41.5. He was replaced by Ryan Winslow, Winslow really boomed his kicks averaging 48.4 yards per punt (27 punts), dropping 10 inside the 20 (2 touchbacks), and nailing a 68 yard long.

Hometown Josh Jasper started as the kicker for the Express but he too cut after going 3/5- but missing 2 field goals over 40 yards. Austin MacGinnis replaced him at kicker and finished 9/11 on field goals including 4/4 over 40 yards. He’d also kick the game winner for the franchise’s first win.

Although DeMarquis Gates had the only punt block in the history of the short lived league the Express allowed 23 returns for 160 yards and a TD as Winslow outkicked his coverage with regularity. He also fumbled a punt at the end of the Orlando game. The coverage team also blocked a punt for a TD against the Iron in their second meeting- the only one in league history.

THE SEASON:

The Express’ expectations came crashing back down to reality right out of the gate playing against the Iron in Week 1, as they were shut out. In the Express’ season opener against the Hotshots, Memphis fell 20-18 in front of a supposed crowd of 11,980. After almost beating the Orlando Apollos on the road behind Zach Mettenberger, Memphis returned home to play the San Diego Fleet. A reputed 13,621 showed up to see the Express pull off their first win of the season. The Express drew a two game road stand, where they lost a heart breaker to Atlanta, and then got socked in the face by Salt Lake.

Returning home without Mettenberger, the largest crowd in Express history showed up for week 7- 13,758. They’d not be disappointed as the Johnny Manziel/ Brandon Silvers show, pulled off the OT upset over the Iron.

The Week 8 game- in which 12,417 attended, was marred by controversy as the teams combined for a league high 25 penalties. Memphis alone had 13-147, as Mike Singletary himself garnered the penalty that allowed the Apollos to sneak in to win the game. It would be an ignominious end to the franchise.

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NOTES:

During the first contest, Christian Hackenberg showed us why all players should not necessarily be miced up as he had some amazing profanity laced tirades.

Zac Stacy notched the league’s first 100 yard rushing game in week 2 against the Arizona Hotshots.

Johnny Manziel mania gripped the AAF after Week 5, as the league tried to figure out what to do with the former Heisman Winner. After his regional team that controlled his rights- The Commanders- opted not to sign him, Memphis got first dibs, and immediately added him to their roster.

The Express were the most undisciplined team in the AAF finishing with 75 penalties for 620 yards.

The Express’ record is very misleading, as they were 2-4 in games decided by 6 points or less.

Memphis was 0-4 on the road with a tough match up in San Antonio coming up the following week. The Express were competitive at home posting a 2-2 record.

During the bankruptcy disclosure it was revealed that perhaps the Express attendance numbers were inflated- so the above numbers given could be inaccurate.

Before the league shut down, Memphis added to the active roster: DL Anthony Johnson, OL Anthony Morris, RB Jarvion Franklin and LB Taiwan Jones.

The next game for the Express was at San Antonio. I had my season tickets ready to go in the app, and was looking forward to greeting Mike and his team in the endzone.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

What if the Express came out of the gate with Brandon Silvers at QB? It wasn’t the most sexy pick, but by the end of the season, he was the right player at the position. He really made the Express more competitive from top down especially when he was on the same page with Reece Horn. They managed to beat Birmingham and gave Orlando a run for its money. The Express never stopped churning their roster over to find the right guys from QB to Special teams- to even their coaching staff (!!), and I think the team was on the right path. It just took a long time to get there.

Although they were out of the playoff race, Memphis faced San Antonio- and Atlanta. I doubt seriously that the Express would beat SA, but Atlanta, that was doable to finish 3-7 on the year- and I had to double check that because Memphis’ played some good games. They just couldn’t finish them out.

NOTABLE PLAYERS:

HC- MIKE SINGLETARY
QB- CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG, ZACH METTENBERGER
RB- RAJION NEAL, ZAC STACY
LB- DAVIS TULL
CB- CHANNING STRIBLING, CHARLES JAMES
K- JOSH JASPER