clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Catch up on the former Tar Heels in the AAF

The new football league features a couple of recent UNC players trying to earn second chances at the big leagues

AAF: Orlando Apollos at San Antonio Commanders Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

You may have heard of the Alliance of American Football (AAF), the mini-American football league that’s offering itself as a professional option for players who couldn’t quite find homes in the NFL and just started its inaugural season. It’s been surprisingly exciting for the first few games, with a few features that are either missing (live feed of referees during review situations so we can hear the full decision process) or extinct (full-contact play allowed against quarterbacks) from the modern NFL. That it’s taking place during the early part of the year, when football fans are most raring for more action, hasn’t hurt. But most importantly for our purposes, the eight-team league, whose rosters are mostly defined by proximity to the team’s location, happens to feature a few former Tar Heels. Here’s how they’re doing through the first couple of weeks.

Atlanta Legends

The Atlanta-based team is the closest to the Carolinas, featuring two players from Appalachian State, one from Coastal Carolina, one from NC State, one from Campbell, one from North Carolina Wesleyan, and two from UNC: receiver Bug Howard and cornerback Des Lawrence.

Howard, whom fans will remember as the third part of the 2015-17 receiving trio of Hollins, Switzer, and himself that was among the best UNC has had in a long time, has impressed fans and analytics people alike in his limited time on the field, playing a lot as an in-line tight end due to his size and snagging 4 of his 5 targets for 35 yards over the first two games. He is not starting and saw his snap count decrease in Week 2 with the return of Keith Towbridge (a tight end who played at Louisville) from injury. Pro Football Focus likes Howard, though, grading him as the best tight end in the league through two weeks:

Time will tell if his coaches follow suit and get him on the field more in future weeks. With the Legends at 0-2 and struggling to put points up (they were dusted 40-6 in their first game, then lost their second 24-12), it might not be a bad idea to make a change.

Lawrence, meanwhile, started out the season starting at cornerback, but sustained a slight injury in Game 2 and will not play this weekend. He has three tackles on the season and that’s all the stats he has, so either he’s getting consistently toasted or his counterpart is: The Legends are allowing over 350 passing yards per game. Based on the lack of frustration I see mentioning him on Twitter, I’m going with the latter explanation. Hopefully he can get healthy and start playing soon.

Atlanta has their home opener against the Birmingham Iron tomorrow at 4:00 Eastern.

San Antonio Commanders

As you may have guessed from the header image, the San Antonio team rosters quarterback Marquise Williams, who memorably led the 2015-16 edition of the Heels to a Coastal title and a last-second loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship. He’s the primary backup quarterback; Logan Whitside out of Toledo, who was a hot name in NFL Draft circles for a while last year before his lack of size and arm strength did him in, is the starter. Williams came in for a bit in the Commanders’ second game while Woodside nursed an injury, and impressed viewers primarily with his rushing ability, taking 3 carries for 32 yards. He threw 4 passes and completed 2, both near the line of scrimmage, for just 3 yards, and his lone drive led to a field goal. He’s got media buzzing about his potential amidst some frustration with Woodside, and the San Antonio coach, Mike Riley, has admitted he’s tempted to use him more:

(how does a coach “lose track of what was going on? Is that not your solitary job on gameday?)

San Antonio, 1-1 right now, will visit the San Diego Fleet (who they beat in Week 1) at 8:00 PM tomorrow. Hopefully, ‘Quise sees a little more action.