Apollos running back situation getting clearer
By Tom Alexander, Orlando Apollos Team Reporter
SAN ANTONIO — The first week of Orlando Apollos training camp is in the books. Saturday, the team took the field at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio for the sixth straight day. Practice had a bit more buzz in the air than most days because of a special visitor: Alliance of American Football head of football development Hines Ward. The Pittsburgh Steelers great observed practice and talked with some of the Apollos players one-on-one. Ward said it was good to see Apollos head coach Steve Spurrier back on the field.
Ward said, “I love Coach Spurrier. We go way back from when he tried to recruit me at the University of Florida coming out of high school. Just having him be a part of our league, having him mentor these kids, because he knows what it takes, especially if you’re a quarterback and a wide receiver, you want to be out here.”
Here are the three big takeaways from Saturday’s practice:
- Apollos RB situation is becoming clearer
The Apollos running back situation is beginning to solidify. The team waived running back Jamal Morrow Friday, providing more reps for the remaining running backs on the roster.
There are four running backs still in Apollos training camp: Ryan Green of Florida State, Akeem Hunt, a Purdue University product who appeared in 30 NFL games for the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs, D’Ernest Johnson of the University of South Florida and Mark Herndon of the University of Florida.
Hunt has begun to set himself apart from the group, according to Apollos general manager Tim Ruskell, who said, “Akeem has really shown that he is an NFL-caliber player. In terms of his knowledge of the system, his quickness, his acceleration, his instincts to run to daylight, I’ve been very impressed with him, but all those guys … their energy level, and going after it, and learning the playbook and being focused, we’re really happy with the group as it stands right now.”
- The defense is turning heads
It looks like the Apollos’ defense is just as loaded with fast athletes as the offense. A league staff member who has visited several Alliance training camps this year remarked that the Apollos secondary is one of the fastest he’s seen so far, and that the defense itself is really gelling as a unit. Apollos linebacker Randell Johnson and safety Jerome Couplin III made multiple good plays during combined drills Saturday.
Johnson, safety Tré Dempsey and cornerback LaDarius Gunter all had interceptions in Saturday’s practice. Dempsey and Gunter got theirs on back-to-back plays, which pumped up the defense even more.
“Our secondary and our linebackers, when we’re playing a 3-4, those outside guys, the speed that they have to come up, recognize plays and go get them [is outstanding],” said Ruskell. “We’ve just got to see what’s the best combination of those guys to fill out the depth chart.”
Apollos defensive end Anthony Moten Jr. said after practice that the defense still has room to grow, and feels like it will be a special unit. “I think when we all come together, we’re going to be something serious,” Moten said.
- The passing game is beginning to click
After a sixth straight day of practice, it’s becoming clear that the quarterbacks and wide receivers are developing a rapport. Their timing is improving, and the quarterbacks are becoming more confident in their receivers. All four Apollos quarterbacks had good moments in practice Saturday. The offensive moment that got the biggest reaction from the players was a leaping catch by wide receiver Brian Tyms over a defender in the middle of the field for a first down on a well-thrown ball from quarterback Kevin Anderson. The team audibly cheered after that play.
The Apollos have a scheduled day off on Sunday. They return to the field at Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium on Monday morning, as they get ready to host the Atlanta Legends Saturday, February 9, at Spectrum Stadium on the UCF campus. Get your tickets now: http://bit.ly/ApollosTix