3 take­aways from Ex­press’ loss in AAF de­but

The Commercial Appeal - - Sports - Ja­son Munz Memphis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - TEN­NESSEE

BIRM­ING­HAM, Ala. — The de­fense was on board. The of­fense? Not so much. The de­but of the Memphis Ex­press on Sun­day at Le­gion Field was a mixed bag of ex­em­plary de­fen­sive work and mis­fires ga­lore on of­fense. It was that lack of any sem­blance of fire­power in the pass­ing game that cost coach Mike Sin­gle­tary’s squad most in its 26-0 loss to the Birm­ing­ham Iron.

Here are the top take­aways from the first game for both Al­liance of Amer­i­can Foot­ball teams.

Let’s start with the good

The de­fen­sive line was the best po­si­tion group on the field, de­spite the lim­i­ta­tions in place for AAF de­fenses.

Birm­ing­ham run­ning back Trent Richard­son, the third over­all pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the high­est drafted player in the AAF this sea­son, was a non-fac­tor through­out much of the game thanks to the col­lec­tive ef­forts of the Ex­press front four.

Memphis sacked Birm­ing­ham quar­ter­back Luis Perez twice in the first three quar­ters (Anthony John­son with the first, Jamichael Win­ston Sr. and Julius Warm­s­ley on the sec­ond) and held the Iron to just 33 rush­ing yards on 16 at­tempts. Richard­son had 18 yards on 11 rushes through three quar­ters.

The for­mer Cleve­land Brown and Indi-

anapo­lis Colt came up with a pair of short touch­down runs in the fourth quar­ter and ac­cu­mu­lated some garbage­time stats to help sal­vage his day.

The lineback­ing corps and sec­ondary also had their mo­ments, high­lighted by a pair of thirdquar­ter fum­bles.

De­mar­quis Gates, a for­mer Ole Miss linebacker, forced both of them.

The first was re­cov­ered by for­mer Memphis stand­out Jonathan Cook, the sec­ond by EX-MTSU star Jeremy Cutrer.

All was not lost on of­fense for the Ex­press. For­mer St. Louis Rams and New York Jets run­ning back Zac Stacy from Van­der­bilt put up 58 yards on 12 car­ries.

And now the bad

Quar­ter­back Chris­tian Hack­en­berg was just that, for the most part.

Headed into the fourth quar­ter, the for­mer sec­ond-round pick of the Jets was 7-of-18 for 54 yards and an in­ter­cep­tion.

Save for a cou­ple of drops, the rest of the in­com­ple­tions were on Hack­en­berg.

The 23-year-old sec­ond-round choice of the Ex­press in the in­au­gu­ral QB draft also was sacked twice, flagged for in­ten­tional ground­ing late in the third quar­ter and even­tu­ally pulled.

Bran­don Sil­vers, who was named the backup Fri­day, fin­ished the game and threw an in­ter­cep­tion on his sec­ond pass, while for­mer Ten­nessee Ti­tans quar­ter­back Zach Met­ten­berger dressed out but was in­ac­tive.

The de­fense wasn’t im­mune to mis­takes. Memphis gave up a 39yard pass play to Quentin Pat­ton – re­plays ap­peared to in­di­cate an in­com­ple­tion, but it was up­held by re­play of­fi­cial Mark But­ter­worth – be­fore be­ing flagged for un­nec­es­sary rough­ness two plays be­fore Richard­son’s short touch­down run.

That was far from the only flag thrown against the Ex­press.

All told, Memphis was whis­tled 11 times for 97 yards and had at least one penalty on of­fense, de­fense and spe­cial teams.

At­ten­dance

One of the big­gest ques­tions about the AAF’S in­au­gu­ral sea­son was whether it would be enough of a draw to fill sta­di­ums.

The early re­turns ap­pear to be largely pos­i­tive.

The Or­lando Apol­los’ home game against the At­lanta Leg­ends on Satur­day drew more than 20,000, while the San An­to­nio Com­man­ders’ home game ver­sus the San Diego Fleet drew north of 27,000.

The an­nounced at­ten­dance for Sun­day’s Ex­press-iron game was 17,039.

Those who gath­ered at Le­gion Field on an over­cast, chilly Birm­ing­ham af­ter­noon made their pres­ence known, cre­at­ing a nice en­vi­ron­ment.

Ex­press line­man Anthony John­son cel­e­brates his sack of Iron quar­ter­back Luis Perez on Sun­day. JOE RONDONE/THE COM­MER­CIAL AP­PEAL

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