For the first time since the Commanders started training workouts on Jan. 5, it felt more like winter in San Antonio. The players hit the field under clowdy skies and temperatures in the low 40s. It inched up a few degrees by the time practice ended about 1:15.”
“It’s Texas in January. It’s 70 and then 40. We just deal with it,” said Commanders coach Mike Riley, who spent time as a college head coach at Oregon State and Nebraska. “It really doesn’t feel any different for me getting started. It feels like training camp and the start of the season.
The players wore helmets but no pads – making it a day bodies could heal. Coaches could focus on teaching and there was less competing for positions. The players generally had hoodies on under their jerseys.
“Totally teaching,” Riley said. “I’ve done this for a long time and had to make a lot of fall camp practice schedules in my life. I’m just using that experience to see what’s happened with some guys.
“After three of four days in a row, a day to slow down is not bad. Then three or four more days then have a day off. I think there is a rotation in there somewhere to give them a day off physically rather than go six straight days full speed real hard. You’re at some point going to get diminishing returns.”
After a day off from practice Friday, the team returned to the field at Central Catholic High School under clear blue skies and temperatures in the 60s.
It looks like Dustin Vaughan is the leader in the four-way quarterback competition. Riley said not so fast. There is no depth chart yet and nobody has publicly been named the starter or first quarterback.
“At this point we’ve got a group of players, it’s a first-year team, a beautiful thing to see take place,” Riley said of the competition in training camp. “I just want to leave the door open so that all of these guys can think of it as an opportunity. The real depth chart doesn’t have to take place for a while.”
Faces on the sidelines
Alliance of American Football (AAF) co-founder Charlie Ebersol and former Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Rams head coach Jeff Fisher visited Commanders training camp on Saturday.
Two new players
The Commanders have added offensive lineman Mason Gentry from SMU and wide receiver Greg Ward Jr. from Houston to the roster. The Commanders also terminated the rights of defensive back Tre Dickerson.
From the Commanders daily news release:
Appeared in 45 career games at Southern Methodist University along the defensive line … transitioned to
offensive line after college … made 107 tackles in college, including 8.0 for loss, 4.5 sacks and four passes
defended … undrafted in 2018 NFL Draft.
Greg Ward Jr.
Played in 49 career games at the University of Houston … played wide receiver and quarterback as a freshman
before switching to quarterback full time as a sophomore … amassed 11,080 yards and 93 total touchdowns at
Houston … 2015 Earl Campbell Award winner … ranked third in total yards, fourth in passing yards and 10 in
rushing yards at Houston … member of the Super Bowl LII champion Eagles’ practice squad in 2017 …
undrafted in 2017 NFL Draft.
San Antonio Commanders training camp was a little noisier on Wednesday.
The Commanders practiced in full pads – helmets, shoulder pads, thigh pads, hip pads – and did a little more hitting as they took one step closer to putting things together with the AAF season opener a month away.
“It felt great man,” said Zack Sanchez, a cornerback from Oklahoma. “I know for most of the guys it’s been awhile since you felt that thud so I’m glad we got to get out here, get that feel again, get that excitement back.”
Sanchez went to high school in Keller, north of Fort Worth, and played in 36 games over three seasons at Oklahoma. As a junior in 2015, his final season with the Sooners, he intercepted seven passes. The next spring he was drafted in the fifth round by the Carolina Panthers.
Sanchez saw action with the Panthers during the 2016 season, playing in three games and starting one. He had a workout with the New York Giants in August, 2018.
“Once you’re out of that loop it’s hard to get back in. It’s real hard,” Sanchez said. “This is the best thing to happen, better than the CFL. There’s other leagues that are trying it.
“There’s a lot of home-grown talent here and a lot of guys who don’t get the look they may need. It’s a blessing to be here and I’m excited for it.”
Training camp report: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2018
There was more contact with the full pads on than in the previous four days of training camp, but still no full tackling.
Commanders head coach Mike Riley could sense the energy in practice. The Commanders open the season Feb. 9 against the San Diego Fleet.
“Now it’s the real deal, one month away,” Riley said. “It feels good. I think our guys have made some real progress considering the short amount of time we’ve been together. There’s a million things left to do but I’ve really enjoyed working with these guys and it’s certainly real now.”
The weather cooled off and it felt a little more like winter, at least by Texas standards. After four straight days in the 70s, it never got above the 60s today.
Commanders add defensive back
The Commanders announced they signed De’Vante Bausby, a defensive back from Pittsburg State of Kansas. Bausby played six games with the Chicago Bears in 2016, was on the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad in 2017 and played in six games with the Eagles this season.
The talk of the football world on Sunday night was a missed field goal on the final play of the Philadelphia Eagles’ victory over the Chicago Bears.
San Antonio Commanders coach Mike Riley has been around long enough to have thoughts on working with players who shoulder the blame for tough losses.
“There’s a lot of mental parts that go into it,” Riley said. “The fact of the matter is that it was tough, it was a miss.
“What we coach is it’s a great opportunity to show that you can bounce back and that you’re-tough minded enough to do it and it’s a great chance to build a better you.”
Training camp update: Monday, Jan. 7, 2019
It was warmer and more humid than the first two days of practice, up to about 75 degrees when the players walked off the field. There were lots of visiting coaches on the sidelines, due largely to the American Football Coaches Association convention in San Antonio.
The Commanders went through their first two practices on Saturday and Sunday with helmets but no pads. On Monday, they added shoulder pads. “It feels like real football,” one assistant coach said.
“If was given the choice I would go with shoulder pads on the very first day and still keep them up just because I think it provides them the protection when you’re running through the hole from the back,” Riley said. “I think it’s good. Frankly it wasn’t a lot different, except for the interaction in the line.”
Come watch practice
The Commanders’ daily news update includes the following:
“NEW ANNOUNCEMENT: All practices for teams of The Alliance of American Football are now open to the general public. Fans are required to sit in the stands.”
Henry Poggi, a fullback from Iowa State, is now No. 45 on the roster. He is listed at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds.
Mabry no longer on roster
Former UTSA defensive lineman Ashaad Mabry is no longer on the roster. He was listed as a defensive end at 6-foot-2, 312 pounds wearing No. 97. Mabry was at the first training camp practice on Saturday, but didn’t have a helmet on. He was with the team in mini-camp. The team announced he was placed on the reserved/injured list via the waiver system.
Two days into San Antonio Commanders training camp, quarterback Marquise Williams feels at home in the team’s offense.
“I love the scheme. It’s similar to the scheme that I ran in college and also at the Green Bay Packers,” Williams said Sunday. “It’s a great scheme and I love it. A lot of RPOs and gives me a ton of time to throw it down the field. I like this offense. It’s working pretty well for us.”
Williams, who played in college at North Carolina, was picked by the Commanders in the second round of the Alliance of American Football (AAF) protect or pick quarterback draft. He is part of a four-way competition at the quarterback position in training camp with Dustin Vaughan, Logan Woodside and Dalton Sturm.
“I thought they made a ton of good plays,” Commanders head coach Mike Riley said of the quarterback play on Sunday. “When we got in that first skeleton period I thought they made a lot of great throws. I like the quarterback situation here a lot. These guys are very very professional for younger ages but you can tell they’ve learned a lot and they’re very easy to work with.”
In addition to the eight AAF teams holding their training camps in San Antonio, the city is flooded with coaches. The American Football Coaches Association is holding its annual convention here.
Riley Smith update
Commanders receiver Riley Smith, who suffered a leg injury in practice on Saturday, confirmed on Twitter that he pulled his hamstring. Smith, who played in college at West Texas A&M, said Sunday he expects to stay with the Commanders while he rehabs.
Commanders add defensive lineman
The Commanders announced they added defensive lineman Richard Ash, who played three collegiate seasons at Michigan and his final season at Western Michigan. He spent two seasons in the NFL – 2015 with the Jacksonville Jaguars and 2016 with the Dallas Cowboys.
More good weather
The Commanders’ second day of training camp workouts was under mostly cloudy skies with a little sunshine. Practice finished with a temperature of 72 degrees.
Former UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm went through the first practice of San Antonio Commanders training camp on Saturday, taking part in the same drills as the other three quarterbacks on the roster.
That was important for Sturm, who didn’t throw during team mini-camp in December while he recovered by an elbow injury.
Sturm was part of a big connection on the final play of practice. Sturm completed a long sideline pass to wide receiver and former UTSA teammate Josh Stewart.
“There’s no doubt it’s a good sign,” Commanders head coach Mike Riley said. “It’s probably a comfort level for those guys to have somebody they’ve known for quite a while on the team so, one of the beautiful things to is as we’ve formed the team, these guys have are going to be getting closer and developing that relationship you need on a football team.”
The other quarterbacks in camp are Dustin Vaughan from West Texas A&M, Marquise Williams from North Carolina and Logan Woodside from Toledo. The four quarterbacks are competing to be the starter and probably for two or three roster spots.
“The best think about football is that it is a competition. No matter how you see it, it’s a competition with you vs. another quarterback or another receiver or whatever,” Vaughan said. “It’s also a competition when you build this team that you’re playing against somebody else, another team. We’re playing against San Diego on Feb. 9. We’re preparing for that.
“So in the midst of this there is always this competition but also too, we’re working toward a goal as a team. We’re looking forward to that.”
San Antonio Commanders training camp: Saturday, Jan. 5, 2018
Marlon Smith was not listed on the San Antonio Commanders’ updated training camp roster, which was handed out by the team at Saturday’s practice.
Smith had been listed as a linebacker and No. 45. The former UTSA player was with the Commanders during mini-camp in December, but did not take part in drills at that time.
The players hit the field on Saturday under bright sunshine and about 63 degrees. By the time they were packing up at the end of practice, the temperature was up to 73.
“We had a lot of fun today,” Commanders quarterback Dustin Vaughan said. “It was good. We’ve been waiting for this day to get started. First day of training camp. There’s been a lot of process that has got us to this point. Finally we start with a roster of 75. We’re able to kind of start building as a team leading to the regular season.
“It was fun. We’ve got a lot of work to do. One of the last things coach (Mike) Riley talked about is from here we just keep building. That’s what we’re going to keep doing.”
The one negative from the first practice of training camp was an injury to Riley Smith, a wide receiver from West Texas A&M. Smith, who had been with the Commanders during mini-camp in December, had to be helped from the field. It looked like he had ice on the back of his left leg when he was on the sidelines.
“It’s hard to see anybody go down. It’s definitely hard to see Riley go down,” said Vaughan, who also played at West Texas A&M. “I know how much work he’s put into it.
“I also know he has been here really since the beginning. He has developed relationships with guys on this team that I know this whole team really hurts for him. I really hope that the process of recovery starts really soon and he can make a full recovery.”
Words that were repeated over and over on Saturday were “no contact”. Players are going through the early training camp practices with helmets and jerseys but no pads. Hitting is not yet part of practice.
“This is what I remember about the San Antonio Riders,” said Commanders coach Mike Riley, who coached the San Antonio Riders of the World League in the early 1990s. “These guys are really fired up to continue their playing career. They’re good players and they want to make the team.
“We’re regulated by what they can wear right now and it’s smart to start them out without full gear. It’s easy to get them back into it this way. You just have to be careful and keep reminding them that they don’t have gear on. We have to be very smart when we practice against each other and you have to be a pro. You’ve got to learn how to practice in shorts so you can get some repetition without all the big hitting all the time.”
Riley stopped practice more than once to remind the players over and over not to be hitting. That goes against the instincts of the players in the defensive secondary.
“One of the hardest things when you practice like this is for the defensive backs,” Riley said. “It’s on them to avoid the collision.”
Last play, big play
The final play of practice featured a connection between two players who were teammates at UTSA. Quarterback Dalton Sturm completed a long pass to wide receiver Josh Stewart on the sideline. Stewart had shown good hands during mini-camp and his grab at the end of Saturday’s practice was an attention-getter.
Coincidentally, in a workout that made “no contact” a priority, one of the NFL’s legendary hitters was watching from the sidelines. Former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, a four-time All-Pro, is the head of player relations for the Alliance of American Football (AAF).
Worth reading is this story where Polamalu talks about his concussions and head injuries in a 2012 ESPN story:
Daryl Johnston was sitting by himself Friday afternoon in a hotel conference room filled with helmets, shoulder pads and piles of paperwork.
The San Antonio Commanders general manager was working his cellphone as players and members of the media filtered in and out until head coach Mike Riley showed up.
Then Johnston and Riley stopped their preparations to talk about training camp workouts, which kick off tomorrow.
“Each step of the way it’s become a little clearer of getting started and having a real team and a brand new league,” said Riley, who leads the Commanders into their first season of the Alliance of American Football (AAF).
“All that stuff from the very beginning to getting the chance to go to mini-camp and now getting ready to start practicing with this group tomorrow,” Riley said. “It’s all become clearer and real and we’re excited.”
Johnston’s part of the equation is to put together the Commanders’ roster.
AAF teams can have 75 players on their training camp roster. That number has to cut down to 52 by Sunday, Feb. 3 – six days before the Commanders’ opener at the Alamodome against the San Diego Fleet.
As Johnston was waiting for Friday afternoon’s news gathering to start, he was still looking for players. The Commanders announced both additions and subtractions to the roster on Friday.
“We’ll definitely continue to look,” Johnston said. “I’m actually getting ready to get one more right now. We unfortunately had a couple of guys with injuries that won’t be able to join us. So up until the last minute. We did the same thing in mini-camp.”
Johnston got a first-hand look at the level of talent it takes to reach the NFL during 11 seasons as a fullback for the Dallas Cowboys. He was part of three Super Bowl championship teams and made a name for himself as a smart, hard-nosed blocking back.
“There’s a lot of talented guys out there. But the one thing is you have to love the game of football,” Johnston said. “This is not an easy game. So it’s going to get difficult here in the next couple of days. We want guys who love the grind and embrace the challenge. That part of the football player, the desire and passion for the game, is just as important as the skills.
“If we’re doing our job right, we’re going to have a little bit of roster turnover. Hopefully some of our guys are going to have an opportunity to go to the NFL… That’s what we’re looking to do. We’re looking to provide them the opportunity.”
League notes: With all eight AAF franchises holding training camp in San Antonio, some of the teams will be looking to getting together with other teams in practice. The Commanders are planning to practice or scrimmage against the Atlanta Legends.
Johnston said teams can make trades within the league and some teams already have. His example was if a team had a player with talent, but who didn’t fit into that team’s system but might be a good fit with another AAF team.
After the final practice of San Antonio Commanders mini-camp, I asked head coach Mike Riley if anyone stood out as the top quarterback. He didn’t name a player, but his answer was interesting.
“Even if I knew I wouldn’t tell you right now,” Riley said. He laughed when he said that. “That’s a good question. It’s just something that we’re going to let play out through time.
“Once we get these guys and you go 75 at camp it’s really open competition once again. We want them all to feel like they have opportunity. When people feel like they have opportunity I think you get the most out of them.”
Earlier in mini-camp, Riley said he was pleased with the way the quarterbacks looked. He repeated that viewpoint after Saturday’s final workout.
“They did a nice job,” Riley said. “I think we got a foundation at that position that’s going to be good for us to carry over into camp.”
During the Alliance of American Football (AAF) protect or pick quarterback draft earlier this month, the Commanders protected Dustin Vaughan in the first round. They picked Marquise Williams in the second round and Logan Woodside in the third round.
The team protected former UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm in the fourth round.
All four quarterbacks have participated in the mini-camp, but Sturm has not been throwing due to what has been called an elbow issue. Riley said earlier in the week that Sturm would not be throwing until training camp in January.