Commanders GM Daryl Johnston on cuts, 52-man roster

Commanders GM Daryl Johnston discusses the roster cutdown to 52 players for the regular season. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders GM Daryl Johnston discusses the roster cutdown to 52 players for the regular season. – photo by Joe Alexander
San Antonio Commanders general manager Daryl Johnston has lived through player cuts as a college and NFL player.

The former Dallas Cowboys fullback was on the other side of that on Wednesday when Alliance of American Football (AAF) teams announced their 52-man rosters, down from 75 in training camp.

“Today was one of the more challenging days I’ve been a part of,” Johnston said. “We started this journey several months ago. We’ve gone from 85 down into the 60s back up to 75 and now today we had to come down to 52. There were some really hard decisions we had to make. We think we picked a very competitive 52, but time will tell.

“They’re great guys. That was the thing that made it the hardest. We had good players but we had great guys.”

The Commanders kept three quarterbacks – Dustin Vaughan, Marquise Williams and Logan Woodside. The fourth quarterback in camp, former UTSA starter Dalton Sturm, did not make the 52-man roster. Johnston said the league recommends having three quarterbacks on the roster and AAF rules call for three quarterbacks to be suited up on game day. Vaughan finished training camp as the team’s No. 1 quarterback.

Johnston said some of the toughest roster decisions were at receiver, linebacker and running back. The receiver position was complicated by some players suffering injuries in training camp and a few players joining the team late in camp.

The decision at running back was influenced by how the team performed in practice games on Sunday and Monday.

“We were prepared to go in with three running backs,” Johnston said. “We saw how well we ran the football. We saw our physical the runners were. We decided four would be better. Then Trey Williams came up with a turf toe coming out of the game.

“Aaron Green did a great job on Monday night. I’m really impressed with him not only as a runner, but special teams is something that I don’t know how much of a part of his background that was, and he’s done a really good job of embracing special teams.”

Kenneth Farrow II, David Cobb, Green and Williams are the four running backs on the roster.

Update: I just heard from wide receiver Riley Smith, who is not on the 52-man roster. Smith said he is on the injured list and expects to be activated when he is fully healthy.

Commanders quarterbacks at practice at the Alamodome

Commanders quarterbacks threw in the Alamodome on Saturday as the team practiced on its home field for the first time. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders quarterbacks threw in the Alamodome on Saturday as the team practiced on its home field for the first time. – photo by Joe Alexander
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.

Nick Temple trying to make big impression with Commanders

Former University of Cincinnati lineback Nick Temple at San Antonio Commanders training camp. - photo by Joe Alexander
Former University of Cincinnati lineback Nick Temple at San Antonio Commanders training camp. – photo by Joe Alexander
A first glance at Nick Temple doesn’t make you think linebacker.

He might more easily pass for a running back or a safety.

But the 5-foot-10, 216-pounder from the University of Cincinnati has made an impression at San Antonio Commanders camp.

“I like Nick. He brings a ton of energy,” Commanders coach Mike Riley said. “He’s got some unique skills as far as his quickness on the edge and his ability to see stuff happen and make plays.

“He’s a little bit shorter but he’s not small. He’s pretty well put together. He’s got a lot of compensating factors for not being 6-5.”

Since his college days, Temple had a look from the Cincinnati Bengals and spend time with two CFL teams.

With the Commanders, Temple is focusing on his tackling and making more plays.

“I’m not the biggest guy, but I do know how to work my strengths and I work on my weaknesses,” Temple said. “I work on my weaknesses more. It all equals out here on the field.”

Temple’s player bio at Cincinnati:
247sports.com

Temple’s player bio from CFL
cfl.ca

Temple’s tryout with Bengals
cincinnati.com

Training camp report: Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019

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.

Commanders quarterback Dustin Vaughan at training camp on Saturday. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders quarterback Dustin Vaughan at training camp on Saturday.
Quarterback competition

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.”

Former NFL coach Jeff Fisher was on the sidelines during Saturday's Commanders practice. - photo by Joe Alexander
Former NFL coach Jeff Fisher was on the sidelines during Saturday’s Commanders practice.
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:

Mason Gentry

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.

Commanders QB Dalton Sturm says arm feels good

Commanders quarterback Dalton Sturm, talking to the media after Tuesday’s practice, says his arm feels good. – photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders quarterback Dalton Sturm, talking to the media after Tuesday’s practice, says his arm feels good. – photo by Joe Alexander
San Antonio Commanders quarterback Dalton Sturm had recently taken time off from throwing due to an elbow issue.

That included watching as the team’s other three quarterbacks went through passing drills at mini-camp in December.

But the former UTSA starting quarterback has been throwing four straight days in training camp. Sturm reported after Tuesday’s practice at Central Catholic that he feels good passing the ball.

“It feels good. It’s not hurting me at all,” Sturm said. “I’m going out there, I’m able to make every throw I was before.”

A question mark was not only would Sturm be throwing when training camp started, but how he would feel the next morning after he tested his arm on Saturday.

“It was a little sore. I hadn’t thrown in about six weeks,” Sturm said. “That’s just normal. Coming out now, I’m feeling good and I’m ready to hit the ground running.”

Commanders head coach Mike Riley said on Monday he has been impressed with Sturm’s history and his performance so far in training camp.

“I love Dalton. Dalton’s got a good story behind him,” Riley said. “He walked on, won the spot, won games, has records at his school UTSA. I think he’s got a lot of self confidence and I think he understands the quarterback position.

“I’ve been impressed since we really didn’t get to see him at mini camp when all his arm issues were going on. Seeing him out here and watching it all take place, I think it’s very interesting that way. I think that we’ve been fortunate in the quarterbacks we got in this league.”

Commanders quarterbacks stretch at the beginning of Tuesday's training camp practice. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders quarterbacks stretch at the beginning of Tuesday’s training camp practice.
All four quarterbacks in camp – Sturm, Dustin Vaughan, Marquise Williams and Logan Woodside – seem to be enjoying the quarterback competition. On the field they look like the foursome is a friendly group.

“I really like it. I’ve known Logan (Woodside) for a long time, Dustin (Vaughan) is my roommate at camp so being able to compete with him out here is great,” Sturm said. “Marquise (Williams) is a really good dude so being able to compete with these guys each and every day is awesome.

“We’re all shooting for the same thing and we’re all trying to be the best quarterback we can be at the same time. Being able to try and earn that starting job alongside these guys, while working with them and learning with them is just a great opportunity.”

Training camp report: Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019

It was a hazy but sunny day and the warmest of training camp yet, getting up to about 78 degrees at Central Catholic High School’s football stadium. That might be the hottest day for a while. San Antonio is forecast to see cooler weather the rest of the week.

No pads, no helmets

The players went through the first two training camp practices on Saturday and Sunday with helmets, but no pads. Monday they added shoulder pads. Tuesday they were down to only jerseys. The coaches used the non-contact practice to focus on teaching offensive and defensive schemes.

Sounds like coaching

There are certain things you hear at practice that stick out. A favorite is receivers coach Keith Williams calling one of his player a “rascal” after a good play or a “dirty rascal” after a great play.

Wisdom from head coach Mike Riley on Tuesday: “All the parts will fit in some day.”

 Commanders receiver Speedy Noil (16) and Riley Smith talk during drills at Tuesday's training camp practice. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders receiver Speedy Noil (16) and Riley Smith talk during drills at Tuesday’s training camp practice.
Looking like a coach

Commanders receiver Riley Smith, who suffered a hamstring injury on the first day of training camp, wasn’t dressed out Tuesday. He was still with is fellow receivers, wearing black shorts and t-shirt and a Commanders cap, and could have passed for an assistant coach.

Speaking of coaches

There continued to be a large number of college coaches surrounding the practice field. Coaches from around the country are in San Antonio for the American Football Coaches Association convention.

Commanders waive Hawkins

The Commanders terminated the rights of offensive lineman Donald Hawkins via the waiver system. Hawkins was a 6-foot-4, 310-pound guard from Texas and wore No. 77.

First day for fans

Fans are now welcome to sit in the stands and watch practice. Tuesday was the first day of the open-door policy for the fans at all of the AAF training camps. There were a few in the stands at Central Catholic. Commanders practices on Wednesday and Thursday are scheduled for 11:30 a.m.

Fans were allowed to sit in the stands at Central Catholic's football stadium to watch Commanders' practice for the first time Tuesday. - photo by Joe Alexander
Fans were allowed to sit in the stands at Central Catholic’s football stadium to watch Commanders’ practice for the first time Tuesday.

Commanders quarterback Dalton Sturm at training camp: photo gallery

Commanders quarterback Dalton Sturm gets ready to cut loose a long pass to Josh Stewart on the final play of practice on Saturday. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders quarterback Dalton Sturm gets ready to cut loose a long pass to Josh Stewart on the final play of practice on Saturday. – photo by Joe Alexander
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.”

Commanders open training camp workouts; drop Marlon Smith; Riley Smith injured

Commanders quarterback Dustin Vaughan unleashes a pass Saturday during the team's first training camp workout. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders quarterback Dustin Vaughan unleashes a pass Saturday during the team’s first training camp workout. – photo by Joe Alexander

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.

Sunny skies

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.”

First injury

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.”

No contact

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.

Quarterback Dalton Sturm (1) and receiver Josh Stewart (far right) celebrate a long pass completion on the final play of practice. - photo by Joe Alexander
Quarterback Dalton Sturm (1) and receiver Josh Stewart (far right) celebrate a long pass completion on the final play of practice.

Troy Polamalu

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:

The official game ball of the Alliance of American Football (AAF). - photo by Joe Alexander
The official game ball of the Alliance of American Football (AAF).

Former UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm ready to throw at Commanders training camp

Commanders quarterback Dalton Sturm said he is ready to throw the ball at training camp after have his work limited at mini-camp in December. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders quarterback Dalton Sturm said he is ready to throw the ball at training camp after have his work limited at mini-camp in December. – photo by Joe Alexander

For the better part of a year, former UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm had to deal with an injury to the elbow in his throwing arm.

That slowed him down when he went to training camp with the Dallas Cowboys. It still lingered when he had a chance to work out for other NFL teams. It eventually kept him out of throwing drills at San Antonio Commanders mini-camp in December.

But after having a procedure on his elbow, Sturm has declared himself ready to throw for the Commanders’ first training camp workout tomorrow (Saturday, Jan. 5).

“I feel good. I’m ready to go tomorrow,” Sturm said. “My recovery time was good. My arm feels good so I’ll be able to throw it around tomorrow and hopefully make some good plays.”

Sturm started all 24 games UTSA played his final two seasons – including a bowl appearance his junior year in 2016. As a senior he completed 185-of-297 passes for 2,185 yards and 15 touchdowns in 11 games in 2017.

It was after his senior season was over that he hurt his elbow while getting ready for a shot at a pro career.

“It was actually just a freak accident. I was training for pro day,” Sturm said. “I’ve been dealing with it for … close to 10 months, almost a year. Before pro day, I went down to Florida. I was doing some work out there. I felt something in my arm when I was throwing some weighted balls working on a quick release and stuff like that.

“I’ve just dealt with it. I finally got the opportunity to get it fixed. The recovery time, I thought that went good. Now I’m ready to throw.”

The injury wasn’t healed when he joined the Cowboys for training camp last summer. He didn’t get in any of the team’s preseason games before being released.

Sturm still considers his time with the Cowboys well spent.

“There is an enormous amount you are able to pick up just from all the guys you are around,” Sturm said. “Just study habits, just work ethic, just a bunch of different stuff like that. Things that you never would have thought about.

“Being able to pick up some of that stuff from Dak (Prescott), from Cooper (Rush) and from all the guys, being out there is a great opportunity. I learned a lot.”

Joining the fledgling Alliance of American Football (AAF) and playing in the spring allowed Sturm to get his elbow right. His contacts in the NFL also encouraged him to give the new league a chance. He hopes it will also lead to him getting more playing experience.

“Whenever I was released (by the Cowboys) I had a couple of opportunities to work out with other teams. But then when I found out about this opportunity, my agent thought it was a great idea,” Sturm said. “I actually got pushed along by coaches from the Panthers as well. They thought it was a really good idea for me to go out there and get film.

“I think it’s going to be a good opportunity for me and for all these guys. For all of us to help make this league grow and to benefit us by getting some film and being able to play football.”

The Commanders have four quarterbacks in training camp: Dustin Vaughan, Marquise Williams, Logan Woodside and Sturm. All four were at mini-camp in December and all but Sturm got work in throwing the ball at mini-camp.

“I feel like I got everything out of mini-camp, just as much as everyone else did,” Sturm said “The only thing would be timing with receivers. But I feel like we’ve got a month to do that. I didn’t lose an edge. I was able to learn the playbook. I was able to get started on being able to do that.

“That’s the main thing. With this new league, none of us have played together. Being able to get that chemistry and getting everyone on the same page is going to be big. We weren’t able to do team reps during mini-camp, not a whole lot of them, not full speed. This month right here is going to be really important.”

The Commanders will have to cut their 75-main training camp roster down to 52 by Sunday, Feb. 3. That means the four quarterbacks are competing not only to start, but probably for two or three roster spots.

“I think it will be good,” Sturm said. “A couple of us knew each other prior. Just being able to go in there and learn from each other, being able to compete on and off the field, being able to help each other grow is going to be good.

“At the end of the day, everybody wants the starting job. It’s going to be whoever wants it and whoever grasps the offense and takes this team to wins.”

Former UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm at Commanders mini-camp

Former UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm takes part in drill last week during the San Antonio Commanders mini-camp.Former UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm takes part in a drill last week during the San Antonio Commanders mini-camp. Sturm was not throwing during the mini-camp. Commanders coach Mike Riley said Sturm would be held out of throwing until training camp opens in January due to an elbow issue.

The Commanders open the inaugural Alliance of American Football (AAF) season on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019 at home at the Alamodome against the San Diego Fleet.

Who is the Commanders’ top quarterback?

Commanders coach talks about the team's performance in mini-camp after the final practice on Saturday. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders coach Mike Riley talks about the team’s performance in mini-camp after the final practice on Saturday.
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.

Commanders quarterbacks Dustin Vaughan (left) and Marquise Williams go through a passing drill Thursday during the first practice of mini-camp. - photo by Joe Alexander
Commanders quarterbacks Dustin Vaughan (left) and Marquise Williams go through a passing drill Thursday during the first practice of mini-camp.

Commanders QB Dalton Sturm meets the media

San Antonio Commanders quarterback Dalton Sturm, a former starter at UTSA, talks to members of the local media on Wednesday at the  team's mini-camp. - photo by Joe AlexanderSan Antonio Commanders quarterback Dalton Sturm, a former starter at UTSA, talks to members of the local media on Wednesday at the team’s mini-camp.

Sturm first joined the UTSA program as a walk-on. By the time he was done, he played in 35 games for the Roadrunners and passed for 5,775 yards and 49 touchdowns.

“I was never handed anything at UTSA. I was never handed anything in high school either. So being able to earn that scholarship at UTSA, I just built my way up to the starting quarterback. I ended up starting, I don’t know, like 30-some games in a row.

“It was a great experience for me. It definitively gives me and edge and lets me know what it’s like to be able to compete for a job”
– Dalton Sturm