The San Antonio Commanders put in a lot of time working on their passing game offense and defense at Saturday’s practice at the Alamodome.
Commanders wide receiver Josh Stewart was used to catching passes in the Alamodome, going back to his college career at UTSA. Stewart was wearing a UTSA t-shirt under his pads and jersey on Saturday.
“”It feels great. It’s where I played college ball at,” Stewart said. “I’m excited to be around professionals. It’s a little bit different than UTSA but it’s always great to be back in the dome.”
It was the first opportunity for the team to work out on its home field. The practice was open to the public and many fans were wearing Commanders jerseys. The team estimated the crowd at almost 900.
New old kicker
Later in the day, the Commanders announced the team waived kicker Sergio Castillo and added kicker Nick Rose to the active roster. Rose had previously been with the Commanders. He was signed by the Los Angeles Chargers and played in their divisional playoff game.
For three of the San Antonio Commanders’ four quarterbacks, Saturday’s practice at the Alamodome gave them their first chance to work out at their home stadium.
Dalton Sturm played in the Alamodome as his home college stadium with the UTSA Roadrunners.
Dustin Vaughan, Marquise Williams, Logan Woodside and Sturm are in a four-way competition to be the Commanders’ starting quarterback. They are also fighting for roster spots if the team keeps less than four quarterbacks.
As a high school quarterback from New Orleans, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.35 seconds at the High School All-American combine. He was rated as the top athlete in the nation in high school football after his senior seasons.
Noil’s production at Karr High School in New Orleans backed that up. As a senior he passed for 2,235 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also ran the ball for 1,345 yards and 20 touchdowns.
At Texas A&M, the Aggies put his athleticism to work as a wide receiver. Noil’s freshman year in 2014 he caught 46 passes for 583 yards and 5 touchdowns. That turned out to be his best season with the Aggies. He caught 21 passes for 325 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2016 as a junior and entered the NFL draft the following spring.
Noil wasn’t picked in the NFL draft. He was signed as a free agent by the Seattle Seahawks and later spent time in the CFL.
Orion Stewart spent most of his college career as a mainstay in the defensive secondary at Baylor.
Life as a pro football player has been a lot more chaotic.
The Waco native played in 49 games at Baylor. As a senior in 2016 he started all 13 games, made six interceptions and earned All-Big 12 honors. In 2017 and 2018, Stewart has seen time with four different NFL teams – the Denver Broncos, Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins and New York Giants.
“I bounced around a little bit,” Stewart said. “This is what I want to do. I just knew when my opportunity came, this so happened to be my opportunity, I had to be ready. That’s what I made sure I did.
“This is opportunity. My dream is to play in the NFL. I had my little stint. That’s what I’m trying to get back to.”
The 6-foot, 200-pound safety is now at the San Antonio Commanders training camp and is happy to be back in pro football.
“I love to play this game of football,” Stewart said. “Every day I get up and put my cleats on, tie my shoes up, ready to go, I love it.”
Playing on a brand new franchise in the opening season of the Alliance of American Football (AAF), Stewart is trying to become part of a cohesive defense with a group of players who are in similar situations to his own. Success in the secondary not only depends on doing your part, but also in knowing where your teammates will be.
“That was the most difficult part about all of us coming together,” Stewart said. “The first few days was kind of rusty. People were trying to get their back legs under them almost but still trying to figure out. Their minds were just kind of going all these of these directions.
“Now everyone is in the film room talking to each other, feeling out all the players. We’re starting to get adjusted to how we play and what we can do.”
What started out as an ugly day got better as practice went along. The early drizzle stopped and the temperature was around 60 at the end of practice.
Roster update from Commanders daily update
The Commanders waived offensive lineman Avery Gennesy.
The Commanders added offensive lineman Dillon DeBoer (Florida Atlantic) to the active roster. San Antonio’s roster is at 75 players.
Appeared in 46 career games along the offensive line in four seasons at Florida Atlantic University … played center, both guard positions and left tackle in senior season of 2016, earning All-Conference USA and FAU’s team offensive MVP honors … undrafted in 2017 NFL Draft.
Ra’Zahn Howard brings the experience of a college career in a big conference to playing a big man’s position at the professional level.
The 315-pound nose tackle from Purdue expects the lessons he learned in the Big 10 to pay off with the San Antonio Commanders.
“It’s awesome. Every Saturday playing in the Big 10 you’re going against NFL caliber linemen – Wisconsin and Michigan State back to back” Howard said. “It kind of makes the transition a lot easier.
“The competition, you’re used to it playing against guys from different conferences and all over the world. Big 10 and SEC are notorious for producing some of the best linemen. I would say it’s definitely an advantage from that point of view.”
Howard spent three seasons at Purdue, playing in 11 games as a junior in 2015. He signed with the Houston Texans as a free agent in the summer of 2016.
He likes what he has seen so far in his defensive teammates at Commanders training camp at Central Catholic High School.
“I’ve seen a group of crazed animals, I like to describe our defense,” Howard said. “Relentless, fast to the ball, guys that are excited to be out here and excited to learn. We’re playing fast. We’ve got chemistry. We’ve got a great coaching staff, a great defensive coordinator.
“Our defensive line coach, coach Mac (Jeff McInerny) does a real good job of working with us with details. He’s always coaching details because at the end of the day we’ve all got talent and ability, but if you’re not detailed, you can’t put it together.”
The Alliance of American Football (AAF), which includes the Commanders, has been looked at as a place for pro football players to get a second chance – and sometimes a last chance.
“I feel like you got a bunch of guys out here with nothing to lose,” Howard said. “They say a man with nothing to lose is dangerous. You’ve got guys flying around on both sides of the ball. It’s excitement. You can feel the tension and energy every day you come out here. It’s a blessing, definitely.”
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.”