With the Super Bowl behind us, NFL free agency still over a month away, and the NFL Draft nearly three months away, this is usually the slowest time of year for football news. However, this year the newly formed Alliance of American Football is giving us some extra action on the gridiron to enjoy.
The eight team league formed by Charlie Ebersol and former NFL GM Bill Polian will play ten regular season games over the next couple months before the top four teams face off in the playoffs to determine a champion. Some of the names involved in the league are carry quite a bit of credibility in the football world. In addition to Polian, Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, Jared Allen, Mike Pereira, Dean Blandino, and Justin Tuck are all working with the league office in various roles.
One of the biggest appeals about the league to me is some of the deviations from NFL rules that they are making. The two biggest differences both strike me as things that the NFL should be considering adopting moving forward:
- In an attempt to shorten game times from 180 minutes to 150 minutes, the AAF will have a 35-second play clock (5 seconds shorter than the NFL), no TV timeouts, and 60% fewer “full screen commercials”.
- They have decreased the use of kickers in the game. Teams must go for two after each touchdown and there are no kickoffs. Instead, the scoring team can elect to either give the other team the ball on the 25-yard line or attempt a 4th and 10 play from their own 35-yard line to try and keep the ball (effectively replacing onside kicks).
With onside kicks becoming virtually impossible under the new kickoff rules in 2018, I believe a move to the “4th and 10” rule would really increase the level of excitement at the end of games. Of course the potential downside is that teams get too good at converting these plays and it leads to more blowouts. The AAF gives the NFL the benefit of seeing how the rule impacts gameplay without having to make the jump themselves.
The eight teams and their respective head coaches for the inaugural season will be:
- Arizona Hotshots - Rick Neuheisel
- Atlanta Legends - Kevin Coyle
- Birmingham Irons - Tim Lewis
- Memphis Express - Mike Singletary
- Orlando Apollos - Steve Spurrier
- Salt Lake Stallions - Dennis Erickson
- San Antonio Commanders - Mike Riley
- San Diego Fleet - Mike Martz
The Memphis team will feature a lot of local connections including several players who have at least spent some time with the Titans. Backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger was a former 6th round pick of the Titans and started 10 games for the team in 2014 and 2015. The defensive line will feature 2018 Titans camp darling Julius Warmsley who many — including myself — expected to make the 53-man roster after a strong training camp and preseason. Another player who had a brief cameo on the Titans practice squad this year is Express wide receiver Demore’ea Stringfellow.
Outside of the former Titans, the Memphis roster is filled with names that will be familiar to those who follow college football in this area. The starting quarterback will be former second round pick Christian Hackenberg who beat out Mettenberger for the starting gig. The top running back is former Commodore and NFL’er Zac Stacy. Tennessee fans will recognize former Vols Raijon Neal, Alton “Pig” Howard, Dallas Thomas, Corey Vereen, Montori Hughes, Colton Jumper, and Justin Martin. There is a heavy TSU influence on the offensive line with Demetrius Rhaney, Jessamen Dunker, Robert Myers, and Anthony Morris all making the final roster. The team also features Charles James II, the fan favorite from the Texans season of Hard Knocks.
Memphis’ season kicks off on Sunday at 3:00 PM CST against the Birmingham Irons on the CBS Sports Network if you want to check it out. CBS will carry the two Saturday night games — Atlanta at Orlando and San Diego at San Antonio — while NFL Network picks up the Sunday night game of Salt Lake at Arizona.
Other former Titans who will be appearing in the AAF this spring include running back Akrum Wadley (Atlanta Legends), defensive lineman Johnny Maxey (Birmingham Irons), cornerback Cody Riggs (Orlando Apollos), guard Jeremiah Poutasi (Salt Lake Stallions), quarterback Logan Woodside (San Antonio Commanders), running back David Cobb (San Antonio Commanders), wide receiver Mekale McKay (San Antonio Commanders), and longsnapper Ryan DiSalvo (San Diego Fleet). Part of me wonders if Ruston Webster leads the AAF in players drafted, but not a big enough part for me to actually research it.
I am actually excited about the AAF. The rule choices that they made are brilliant and there are enough recognizable names to give the league an identity. If nothing else it will serve as a proving ground for guys like Hackenberg who have some talent, but failed at the NFL level. Giving young quarterbacks a place to go and get real reps and experience can only help the crop of available options to the NFL moving forward and the same thought applies to all positions. An environment with professional players, but less of the constant win now pressure of the NFL could be very conducive to innovation among the coaching ranks.
Will you be checking in on the AAF?