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.
Andrew McDonald’s pro football record shows more teams than games played. From 2012 to 2016 he was signed by the Dolphins, Panthers, Seahawks, Colts, Browns, Chargers and Texans. During that stretch his only playing time came in two games with Seattle in 2014.
Houston cut McDonald in 2016 and he hasn’t been on a roster since.
But that’s just the football part of his life. He was diagnosed with cancer – and beat it. He spent two years and ministry school in Indiana and might go back and finish that when his football career is over for good.
For the moment, McDonald’s life is focused on football again, specifically on San Antonio Commanders training camp.
“First week goes by quick,” said McDonald, a 6-foot-5, 314-pound offensive lineman. “Man, it’s so good to get back into it. It’s been awhile. Two years since I’ve been back. But man so good.
“All the camaraderie of the teammates, actually putting on pads, hitting people. It’s a good feeling. I feel like we’ve really bonded together.”
McDonald started every game at left tackle for Indiana University his junior and senior seasons – 2010 and 2011.
With the Commanders, he is currently seeing more time right tackle but also working some at the other positions on the offensive line. As part of a new team, he is part of a group that is trying to come together quickly.
“Everybody is new so we’ve all got to really learn each other, find what kind of people we are,” McDonald said. “You’ve got to be able to trust the teammate next to you, especially offensive line.
“It’s working out. Everybody here on the offensive line, I love them. We’re a pretty tight knit group. Obviously you’ve got to take steps, but it’s coming along pretty well.”
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: