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Couplin emerging as a leader in Apollos’ speedy secondary

Couplin emerging as a leader in Apollos’ speedy secondary By Tom Alexander, Orlando Apollos Team Reporter SAN ANTONIO — Orlando Apollos training camp is about halfway finished, and the defense has been the shining star of the team. The secondary has been especially impressive, both in team drills and in this week’s joint practice with the Arizona Hotshots. Apollos defensive coordinator Bob Sanders says there are a few leaders emerging in each part of the defense. “We’ve got some guys in the secondary that have been around a while, Will (Hill III) and Jerome (Couplin III) and those guys, they’ve done a good job on the back end, Terence (Garvin) and Reggie (Northrup II) there at linebacker, they’ve done a good job, and Jerel (Worthy) up front. We’ve had some guys step up, but we’re looking for more,” Sanders said following Friday’s practice. We spoke with Couplin III about the progress the defense has made so far in camp. The William & Mary product spent parts of four years in the NFL, including two times with the Detroit Lions and stints with the Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams. He also spent time with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the CFL. Q: Second week of training camp, how are you feeling so far? A: Feeling good. The defense is coming together. Guys are flying around now, not thinking as much, understanding the concepts better, the schemes better. Now guys are being able to start being more football players instead of robots because (earlier in camp) you’re thinking too much. Q: You’ve been in the NFL, you went to the CFL for a little bit. How does this compare as far as an experience goes? A: I’ve been telling people, it kind of reminds me a lot of being in the NFL. Having the coaches with the mindsets they have, how our meetings are set and how we’re getting things done. It kind of reminds me more of a NFL camp as far as meetings, walk-throughs and stuff like that. Q: What are you trying to do or accomplish on a daily basis at training camp? A: Right now, just alignment, assignment, technique and effort, of course. Understanding what I’m supposed to do within the defense, making my checks and my calls as a safety and just having fun. Q: You seem like you’ve been a vocal leader on the defense so far — do you pride yourself on being that guy? A: Yeah, but at the same time, as a safety you kind of naturally have to because we’re the guys back there, as Coach Bob (Sanders) says, we’re the quarterbacks. We’ve got to make sure guys get the whole entire call, whether it’s on my side or the opposite side, guys in front of me, a guy who’s on the line. So, it’s kind of natural, because if you’re not vocal as a safety, it’s hard to play the position in general. Q: I’ve noticed you’ve also been vocal even to the offensive guys. When they do something well that you see, you give them props for that. […]

Apollos find another weapon at receiver after Charles Johnson’s arrival

Apollos find another weapon at receiver after Charles Johnson’s arrival By Orlando Apollos Staff SAN ANTONIO — As the rain returned to the city of San Antonio, the Orlando Apollos continued to find a rhythm on offense throughout the afternoon. Returning to full pads, the defense looked strong inside the red zone, making three key stops during the team’s final drills. On offense, perhaps the quarterback battle ensuing under head coach Steve Spurrier’s staff might not be finished just yet. Here are Friday’s big takeaways: 1. Charles Johnson could be a big-time weapon for the offense The Apollos’ offense is known for their speed and ability to mismatch defenders. However, size has not been playing in their overall favor. That should change with the arrival of Johnson, who recently signed with Orlando after a stint with the Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers. The 6-foot-2 receiver overpowered defensive backs by making several impressive catches in coverage. His day culminated with a toe-drag touchdown in the red zone on a throw made by Austin Appleby. Because of his NFL experience along with a larger frame to win in man coverage, Johnson could become an x-factor for the Apollos for the remainder of camp. 2. Brandon Dixon continues to grow in coverage The defensive backfield has been the strong point on Orlando’s defense and for good reason. With their speed and footwork, the offense has seen their share of turnovers caused in the secondary. Moving into the start of the third week, cornerback Brandon Dixon might be a name gaining traction for a possible starting role. Coming out of Northwest Missouri State, Dixon looked strong in man coverage during the team drills and seven-on-seven practice. Breaking up three passes and causing an interception, Dixon was physical throughout every snap and limited the number of targets thrown his way. While he might be a small-school prospect, the 5-foot-11 cornerback is making big-time plays for Orlando’s defense. 3. Austin Appleby is going to make the quarterback battle interesting Garrett Gilbert might look to be the strongest candidate to start Week 1, but Austin Appleby could make the competition a lot closer moving into Week 3 of camp. The former Florida quarterback looked strong in the pocket during seven-on-seven drills, throwing three touchdown passes against man coverage, including a dart to speedy wide receiver Marvin Bracy-Williams Jr. In team drills, Appleby led two fourth-down drives into the end zone. On the first, he fired across the middle of the field to Jalin Marshall. On the next drive, Appleby placed the ball in position for Johnson to make his catch of the day. Although one practice won’t win him the job, Appleby’s growth could make Spurrier re-evaluate who to put under center before the Apollos’ inaugural game against the Atlanta Legends . The Apollos host the Legends Saturday, February 9, at Spectrum Stadium on the UCF campus, during The Alliance’s opening weekend. Get your tickets now:

Former teammates Wolford, Banks on opposite sides in The Alliance

Former teammates Wolford, Banks on opposite sides in The Alliance   By Tom Alexander, Orlando Apollos Team Reporter   SAN ANTONIO — Orlando Apollos defensive end Josh Banks Sr. is used to seeing John Wolford on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage. He’s just not used to seeing him there wearing opposing colors. Banks and Wolford, a quarterback for the Arizona Hotshots, were college teammates at Wake Forest University. This week, they met for the first time as opponents when the Apollos and the Hotshots held a joint practice during The Alliance of American Football’s training camp in San Antonio.   “It’s kind of weird, honestly, because we both know we put a lot of work in together at Wake, especially trying to get the program to turn around,” Banks said after the joint practice Wednesday. “But, honestly, it makes me smile, man, because it’s like ‘small world.’ I know a lot of guys out here, but he’s the only one I played with. He knows what type of man I am, what type of man I became, for sure.”   On Banks, Wolford said, “I came in, he was in his latter years at Wake, and he set the tone for the program at Wake. I have a lot of respect for what he did, someone I looked up to when I was in my younger years, and a big reason we were able to turn it around at Wake. Any time I share the field with him, it’s an honor.”   Both are excited to have the second chance at their pro football dreams The Alliance provides.   “It’s a blessing to be out on the football field again, especially seeing my man Johnny right here,” Banks said.   “To not let it [football] end after college, to have a shot to try and get back to the NFL, to be with a group of guys on a team again … I’m enjoying every second of it,” Wolford said. He went on to say he thinks The Alliance is filling a void in professional sports.   Wolford continued, “You look at the other leagues that are doing it, the MLB has the minor leagues, the NBA has the D-League [now known as the G League], there’s a lot of guys that maybe near the extra year of development, and The Alliance is going to give us that chance. Additionally, it’s going to be entertaining football. There are some talented guys out here, you can see it. So, you’re going to get good football, you’re going to get better. A lot of times, if you’re a third-string quarterback in the NFL, you get two reps a practice. [In The Alliance] you’re getting a lot of live reps, and it’s just going to help us in the long run.”   “Each and every day you get an opportunity to get better, and I really appreciate The Alliance for [those] opportunities. The dream is still alive for a lot of guys,” Banks said.   Banks says he can already see improvement in his former teammate: “When we were down […]

Apollos focus on lessons learned from joint practice

Apollos focus on lessons learned from joint practice   By Tom Alexander, Orlando Apollos Team Reporter SAN ANTONIO — The Orlando Apollos went back to work Thursday following an injury-shortened joint practice with the Arizona Hotshots Wednesday. Thursday’s practice was not a full-contact affair, coming the day after the full-contact joint session. Here are three key takeaways from Thursday’s practice: Offense feeling confident The Apollos’ offensive players say they came away from Wednesday’s practice encouraged by how they stacked up as a unit against the Hotshots’ defense. Apollos quarterback Austin Appleby said after Thursday’s practice that playing against a defense that doesn’t see the Apollos’ offensive concepts every day was helpful. “We go against our defense every day, that I would argue might be the best in the entire league. Then, you get a chance to go against somebody else and these runs start popping a little bit and you start to get a little movement. You start to get routes that open up,” Appleby said. The offensive is fine-tuning the details With the Apollos’ offensive playbook close to fully installed, the team is now working on fine-tuning the concepts and executing them the way the coaches want. Apollos tight end Scott Orndoff said after practice that will be a focus in the last two weeks of training camp. “Our playbook’s pretty much completely installed. We’re adding new plays here and there, but, I think, just locking it down, polishing off the edges a little bit, getting [the] gameplan together [will be the focus],” Orndoff said. ‘Nasty’ defense The Apollos’ offensive players have expressed admiration for the talent level of the defense, especially after watching the tape from Wednesday’s joint practice with Arizona. Appleby said the offense enjoyed seeing its defensive teammates perform against the Hotshots. “Our defense is nasty. We threw on the defensive tape just to see, we want to know if we were as bad as we thought we were [before Wednesday]. It turns out we’re pretty good, it’s just our defense is that great,” Appleby said. Apollos cornerback Brandon Dixon said the defense’s speed is creating a deeper level of trust among the secondary especially, noting, “I got beat on the goal line down there [during team drills Thursday], but [Apollos safety] Will [Hill III] came back over the top, picked the ball. [Having] fast guys helps out a lot, it covers up mistakes.” The Apollos have two more practices left in the second full week of training camp in San Antonio before the players have a scheduled day off Sunday.

Happy to be home: Apollos DE Davis grateful to play in Orlando

Happy to be home: Apollos DE Davis grateful to play in Orlando   By Tom Alexander, Orlando Apollos Team Reporter SAN ANTONIO — Orlando Apollos defensive end Ryan Davis Sr. is glad to be back home. The six-year NFL veteran played grew up in Tampa and played college football at Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.   Though he spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the 6-2, 270-pound defensive lineman hasn’t played near his hometown since 2015. We caught up with Davis after a recent practice at Apollos training camp in San Antonio to talk about training camp and playing close to home.   Q: How do you feel the defense is coming along so far?   A: “I think we’ve come along pretty good. I think we’re moving along pretty fast, especially after the first few days where our effort wasn’t to the standard that we expected it to be. I think ever since then, ever since Coach called us out about it, we’ve been very energetic and we’re hustling to the ball. Today (Tuesday) was definitely a good step in the right direction, got a lot of guys communicating today. I think the defense is coming along pretty good.”   Q: What’s it like to play for somebody like [Apollos defensive line coach] Jim Jeffcoat, who had a long NFL career and two Super Bowl rings?   A: “It’s good. Whenever you get an experienced guy like Jim Jeffcoat to give you any kind of gems, to train you and stuff like that, you definitely take that training to heart and you listen to him. A guy of that pedigree knows what he’s talking about, has been there, done that, over 100 career sacks. You’ve got to listen to that, especially for guys like us trying to find our way back in the league or just making an impact, to be great players. I think you’ve got to listen to that.”   Q: You’re from Tampa and went to Bethune-Cookman. What does it mean to you to play pro ball close to home?   A: “Man, it’s awesome. To be honest, when my agent told me Orlando reached out to us, I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’ It’s a great feeling to be this close. I haven’t been this close since I played my first four years in Jacksonville. To be right there, 45 minutes from Tampa, where my family can come to every home game, and I’ve got a lot of family and friends in Orlando, too. It’s a great feeling to be able to play back home again.”   Q: What’s been your favorite part of camp so far?   A: “Favorite part of camp? Really … inside run in the team drill, when we get the pads on. I think that’s been the fun part, because for me, I’ve never really been a guy that was vocal too much, but now I’m finding myself, the older I get, to be more vocal, especially to give a little wisdom to the young guys. When we start inside run, I’m full of energy, […]

Injury cuts short Hotshots-Apollos joint practice

Injury cuts short Hotshots-Apollos joint practice By Jose M. Romero, Arizona Hotshots Team Reporter SAN ANTONIO — The Arizona Hotshots’ joint practice with the Orlando Apollos ended early on Wednesday with an injury to Hotshots defensive back Kamari Cotton-Moya, who had to be carted off the field at University of the Incarnate Word. Cotton-Moya, who last played at Iowa State, was going for an interception when he landed awkwardly on his right leg. Two separate team drills were going on simultaneously, and as players and coaches realized what had happened on one side of the field, practice was abruptly halted and a hush came over the stadium. Many players kneeled around Cotton-Moya as he was being attended to by trainers, who put a brace over his leg. After a few minutes, he was helped onto a cart and offered handshakes and well wishes from players from both Alliance teams. Both head coaches, Rick Neuheisel of Arizona and Steve Spurrier of Orlando, decided to call it a day. Practice wasn’t far from ending as scheduled before the injury. “We both had the same idea. We don’t need two guys hurt today,” Spurrier said. “You don’t want anybody playing with any caution,” Neuheisel said. “You’ve got to be playing and getting all your assignments done. If you’re thinking in the back of your mind about trying to stay safe, it’s just not the right thing to do.” Cotton-Moya had been playing safety in training camp, and his play had him in solid contention for a final roster spot. His injury was announced as a right knee injury with further testing and evaluation to come. “We gathered around him as a family,” Hotshots defensive back Devin Chappell said. “He’s in my position group. You never want to see a guy go down like that, especially for him and his family. He’s got kids. Hopefully everything is OK. But that’s just a part of football and it’s very unfortunate. Prayers for Kamari and his family and hoping for a speedy recovery.” Before the injury, both teams were able to get plenty of work against each other, which offered a new perspective for the Hotshots after nine days of going against only teammates in practice. There were one-on-one drills between both teams’ offensive and defensive linemen and the skill position players against the defensive backs and linebackers. The drills were lively with banter back and forth between players on both teams, and with both sides in pads, the hits came in pass rush and team drills. The practice was key for quarterbacks, who got to attack a true opposing defense. “The ball came out of his hand great,” Hotshots wide receiver Deion Holliman said of quarterback Trevor Knight, “and he gave our receivers a chance to show what we’ve got. The extra reps that we’ve been doing in practice paid off (Wednesday).” The most spirited one-on-one drills came when receivers ran routes against defensive backs, with every play celebrated on the sideline by the most successful unit. Chappell said he felt the Hotshots gained confidence from seeing how successful they could be against another team. […]