Ex-Giants DE Justin Tuck part of startup group
The Alliance of American Football, most commonly known as the AAF, opens its inaugural season this weekend.
This new developmental professional football league is comprised of eight teams in predominately southern locale cities. As has been experimented in the past, this entity is a spring format which of course has to play in several winter months.
There are several former Giants’ players and coaches dotted among the rosters of the AAF. This new league sports 27 former players, two coaches and a league executive.
Two prominent positions in the AAF once participated with Big Blue. Tim Lewis is head coach of the Birmingham Iron. Lewis was former head coach Tom Coughlin’s first defensive coordinator from 2004-2006 before moving on to the Carolina Panthers in 2007 after the Giants fired him and then hired Steve Spagnuolo as the new DC. The Birmingham gig is Lewis’ first as a head coach at any level.
Former DE Giants great Justin Tuck is part of the league’s Player Engagement Board of Advisors along with another DE wonderboy Jared Allen. Part of Tuck’s duties include instituting policies that benefit players in the league. Tuck was inducted into the Giants Ring of Honor in 2016.
The Apollos, coached by Steve Spurrier, have on their roster two former Giants’ cornerbacks: Brandon Dixon and Will Hill, plus DT Josh Bank and RB Akeem Hunt.
Dixon was drafted by the crosstown Jets in the sixth round of the 2014 draft. After stints with five other teams where he mainly remained on the practice squad, the Giants signed him in 2017. Again, he was a practice squad member until he was promoted to the active roster in November. He started five games with 21 tackles, four pass defenses and a forced fumble. He was later cut.
Hill came to the Giants as a tremendous talent with a knucklehead disposition. Known as a heavy hitter with run support but multiple problems off the field, he went undrafted in 2012 and then played one season with Arizona of the Arena League. The Giants signed him for the 2012 season and played in the first five games on defense and was a stud on special teams. He was then suspended by the NFL for four games for performance-enhancing drugs. When CB Michael Coe went down with a hamstring injury, the Giants were able to activate Hill. The following year he was suspended for the first four games on another drug incident, then started 10 games and finished the year with 77 tackles, two INTs, two forced fumbles and was a force in the defensive backfield. But in June he was busted with his third drug suspension and as talented as he was, the Giants cut him.
Hunt was signed by the Giants after going undrafted in 2015 but suffered a hamstring injury and was placed on IR. He was then injury/waived. He later made the Kansas City Chiefs active roster but an ankle injury once again sidelined him before being cut.
Banks went undrafted after a good career at Wake Forest and made the final roster in 2018 when the franchise unexpectedly cut Robert Thomas instead. However, the Giants claimed six players off waivers and Banks was waived to make room.
San Antonio Commanders
The head coach is Mike Riley and the Commanders have only one former Giant: S Orion Stewart.
Stewart was a standout at Baylor University as a strong safety. Signed as an undrafted free-agent, he was in training camp last year but was cut.
The Express is coached by NFL legend Mike Singletary. The LB coach is former Giants outstanding LB and Super Bowl champion Pepper Johnson. Former Giants on the roster are DT Montori Hughes, OG Jessamen Dunker, CB Charles James, P Brad Wing and the JPP of tight ends, Adrien Robinson.
Hughes was a former 2013 fifth-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts and appeared in 16 games with only one start before cutting him in 2015. The Giants then signed him to the practice squad. When Johnathan Hankins went down which placed him on IR, Coughlin moved Hughes to the active roster. Over two seasons he played in nine games. He was waived, then resigned and then waived again.
Wing came to the Giants in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015 and replaced veteran Steve Weatherford. His averages were 38.9, 40.9 and 36.7 in his three years. In 2015 he tied a Giants single-season record with 33 punts downed inside the 20. The following year the Giants inked him to a three-year extension worth $6.45 million. After a disastrous 2017 season, the franchise cut him.
The Giants and then-GM Jerry Reese had huge plans for Robinson when they drafted him in the fourth-round of the 2012 draft. He was signed to a four-year deal worth $2.48 million but played in only three games his first two seasons. In 2014, he appeared in all 16 games with one start, five receptions for 50 yards and a single TD. The following year he was in training camp but did not survive the last cut-down.
Dunker went undrafted in 2017 and landed on the Giants IR list. In training camp the following season he suffered another injury and was waived.
James went undrafted in 2013 and made the Giants PS. In October, he was activated with Jayron Hosley and Aaron Ross were out and the defense wasn’t certain that Corey Webster could play. James was used mainly on special teams and was cut the following season. He then was signed by six other clubs.
Salt Lake Stallions
Dennis Erickson is the head coach of the Stallions. On his roster is former Giants WR project Kaelin Clay, P Austin Rehkow and QB Josh Woodrum.
A sixth-round choice of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015, Clay did not survive the final cut and then was a member of six NFL clubs before the Giants signed him off waivers in 2018. He was the team’s punt returner for the first two games before a sprained ankle landed him on the waived/injury list.
Woodrum was signed to the Giants 2016 rookie training camp but was not signed. He then spent six seasons with other teams.
Rehkow was a three-time First Team All-Sun Belt punter out of Idaho and two-time Second Team All-Sun Belt kicker. After a training camp competition with veteran K Steven Hauschka in Buffalo, he was waived on the final cutdown. The Giants signed him to a reserve/futures contract as a punter but was waived in the spring of 2018 with the trade for P Riley Dixon.
With Lewis at the helm, on his roster are former Giants RB Marshaun Coprich, WR L’Damian Washington, TE Conner Davis, DE Devin Taylor and WR Amba Etta-Tawo.
Etta-Tawo was one of those young guys most fans thought would stick as a roster member. The Jacksonville Jaguars had originally signed him to a three-year $1.66 million deal in 2017 but only found the practice squad. After a season with the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad, the Giants claimed him and he immediately competed for a roster spot. He was cut on the final day along with veteran WRs Roger Lewis and Travis Rudolph. The Giants then signed him to their practice squad but released him one month later.
Coprich was a highly successful and productive player at Illinois State with 5,201 career yards and a 4.47 40 time in 2016. Projected as an early sixth-round selection, he went undrafted with some off-field issues including a school suspension and ended up in Giants camp only to be engulfed in the RB numbers with Rashad Jennings, Orleans Darkwa, Shane Vereen and rookie Paul Perkins.
Davis spent one rookie training camp with the Giants but was not signed for training camp.
Taylor was taken in the fourth-round by the Detroit Lions in the 2013 draft and played all 16 games, but was let go after the season. The Giants signed him twice and released him twice.
Washington has seen many rosters after going undrafted in 2014. He has been signed by six NFL teams and two CFL clubs, making the PS on several but not spending much time with any. He lasted on the Giants PS for eight days.
San Diego Fleet
With pro football back in San Diego, they are coached by Mike Martz. On his defense is former Giants third-rounder DE Damontre Moore, plus LB Eric Pinkins, OG Damien Mama and RB Terrell Watson.
Mama was named Second Team All Pac-12 as a junior at USC but was not drafted. He was signed by the Chiefs and made their PS. The Giants claimed him and was subsequently placed on the active roster in 2017, but he never played in a game.
Moore was a very prized pick when Reese selected him in 2013 out of UCLA. His 6’4”, 250 pound frame was exactly what the Giants needed to supplant starting DEs and eventually become a viable starter for the defense. He was projected to become an explosive pass rusher. But his locker room presence was abysmal and he was looked on as a bad teammate who had issues. On top of that, his playing performance was poor and was regulated to special teams instead of becoming the menace he displayed in college. After numerous altercations with teammates, the Giants cut ties and dropped him in 2015 before the season was over. He was a roster member with five other teams and at one point was suspended for four games for substance abuse.
Pinkins was a sixth-round selection of the Seattle Seahawks in 2014 and made their PS. After two seasons he was waived after spending time on IR. He was then signed to the Giants PS and was activated where he played in five games in 2016 on special teams. The following season he was cut on the final day.
Watson’s college numbers were impressive: 79 TDs, almost 6,000 rushing yards with a 4.51 40 time and 22 reps of 225 pounds at the combine to go along with his 6’2”, 240 pound frame. As a senior at Azusa Pacific, he rushed for 2,905 yards with 37 TDs. Despite being undrafted, the Cincinnati Bengals signed him to a three-year deal worth $1.58 million, but was cut and signed to the PS. He then spent time on four other NFL team’s PS before the Giants signed him to a reserve/futures contract in 2018. He was cut before training camp.
Kevin Coyle is the head coach with Michael Vick installed as the OC. Former Giants WR Jimmy Robinson is Atlanta’s WR coach while S Doran Grant and RB Jhurell Pressley are roster members.
Pressley went undrafted in 2016 and signed with the Minnesota Vikings but did not survive the final cutdown. After being signed by three more clubs, the Giants inked him prior to last year’s training camp and eventually ended up on the PS, but later released.
Grant is a former fourth-round pick of the Steelers and made their PS in 2015, was elevated to the active roster late in the season and then was a last day cut the following year. After a short stint with Buffalo, he was signed to the Giants PS but lasted only one month.
Rick Neuheisel is the head coach. Former Giants include S Rahim Moore, WR Marquis Bundy and OT Malcolm Bunche.
Undrafted, Bunche made the Philadelphia Eagles PS squad in 2015 and invited to participate in training camp the following season but was cut on the last round. He then went to the CFL and then a short stint with Jacksonville before the Giants signed him in 2018, but was waived in September.
Bundy had what most fans thought was a very good chance of making the Giants final roster at times with his 6’5”, 220 pound frame. Signed by the Arizona Cardinals, he made their PS and then was activated to the roster late in the year. After being waived the following year, the Giants signed him to their PS and again he was activated to the active roster and played in one game. At the end of the 2018 training camp he was a final day casualty.
Moore was projected as a highly-valued player by being named First Team All-Pac 10 and First Team All-American by Sporting News. He was taken by the Denver Broncos in the second-round of the 2011 draft where he played for four seasons. He then signed a three-year $12 million deal with the Houston Texans but was eventually benched and cut. Moore made Cleveland’s roster in 2016 was cut the day after final cutdowns. The Giants inked him to a reserve/futures deal but let him go before training camp.
New league, new venture
This new league is comprised of eight teams with 50-man rosters with a 10-week season followed by a four-team playoff. Part of the planning process of this new league does not include becoming a developmental league or a farm system for the NFL, but at this time will not target existing NFL players. They insist that the term “semi-pro” will not pertain to their league.
The AAF is the brainchild of movie producer Charlie Ebersol and former NFL GM Bill Polian. So far the planning is to continue the game of professional football onward into the spring until the NFL season resumes play similar to what the USFL did from 1983-1985.
CBS Sports has signed on to broadcast games. Under the TV agreement, CBS will begin airing weekly games on February 9, 2019 with league games broadcast on CBS Sports Network along with the championship contest the weekend of April 26-28. At the same time a free app will be available to stream live games along with integrated fantasy football that will offer weekly prizes to fans.
League rules that differ from the NFL include the elimination of kickoffs and PATs, two replay challenges per game, 40-second play clock, 2 ½ hour game duration, two-point conversion attempts after every TD, player bonuses structured around victories, fan engagement and statistical achievements, the elimination of the three-point stance, and post-career education/planning for every player. Instead of the kickoff, each team will begin play from their own 25-yard line.
The AAF will also install a video referee called the “SkyJudge” who is able to make calls that the on-field officials missed. This league will place an official in the press box every game with the ability to assess plays that are deemed unsafe during each contest. This official will also have the authority to pick up markers thrown for both offensive and defensive pass interference, but only in the last five minutes of the game.
Overtime rules are different from the NFL also but similar to high school rules. Each team gets a possession from the 10-yard line with four downs, but unlike the high school level, no field goals are permitted. After each TD, it is mandatory to go for two points on the conversion.
One odd rule will be centered as the result of the elimination of the kickoff. By doing so, this also signifies the removal of the onside kick. To offset this standard football feature, if a team is trailing by 17 or more points or within five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, they will have the option to take possession of the ball on their own 28-yard line with a fourth down and 12. If a first down is achieved, the game continues on with the trailing team in control. If the attempt fails, the game will also resume with a change of possession.
Another odd rule is that the defense can only rush a maximum of five players at any time, and none of those players can begin the play from the secondary. Obviously this rule is to allow more scoring and for offensive lines who may not be ready for the NFL level to be able to play and focus on their blocking assignments – or possibly to protect each club’s QB.
For more information go to AAF.com.