Memphis Express coach Mike Singletary called the midway point of the season a critical time but not of panic or desperation
Evan Barnes, The Commercial Appeal
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Express have not been blessed with consistent quarterback play in the six games they have played so far in the Alliance of American Football’s inaugural season.
So when 26-year-old Johnny Manziel – a legendary college quarterback at Texas A&M who became the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy – became a ready-and-willing option for the AAF in early March, Memphis’ ears perked up. (Manziel had his contract terminated by the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes after Manziel “contravened the agreement which made him eligible to play in the league.)
The AAF employs a unique system that gives each of its eight teams rights to players within their allocation footprint. In Manziel’s instance, Texas A&M players are allocated to the San Antonio Commanders. But the Commanders waived their rights to Manziel, making him available to the team with the lowest winning percentage.
That’s where the Express came in. The 1-5 team wasted no time claiming Manziel.
So how to does Manziel fit in with Memphis? Pretty well, at the moment. The Express are desperate for consistency at the quarterback position. Christian Hackenberg was a bust (277 passing yards and no touchdowns) through 10 quarters and found himself benched in Week 3 in favor of Zach Mettenberger.
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“We have a guy (Manziel) we think can do some great things for us,” Express president Kosha Irby told The Commercial Appeal late Saturday. “We pride ourselves on being a league of opportunity. Whether that’s with people trying to ignite or reignite their careers. But we also want to put the best players on the field to help the Express. (Manziel) is a player with plenty of talent. We saw an opportunity and we think it’ll be a reciprocal situation.”
Mettenberger started strong in one half against the Orlando Apollos (120 yards and two touchdowns), but saw mixed results in his next two starts. Then, against the Salt Lake Stallions Saturday, Mettenberger went down with an ankle injury. Brandon Silvers was called upon and was 23 of 37 for 242 yards and a score in a 22-9 loss.
Part of the issue at quarterback has been an offensive line that head coach Mike Singletary admits is still in search of chemistry. Express quarterbacks have been sacked 10 times in the past two weeks.
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Perhaps a more mobile quarterback, like Manziel, could help alleviate those troubles. The former Cleveland Brown and Allouette has 474 rushing yards on 75 carries (6.3 yards per) and one touchdown in 23 games as a pro quarterback.
Aside from what Manziel can do on the field for the Express, he will almost certainly give the team a shot in the arm at the box office. In two home games, Memphis has announced crowds of 11,980 and 13,621 respectively. That ranks around the middle of the pack in the AAF.
“It’s gonna be a fun,” Irby said. “(Manziel) coming to Memphis will create a lot of buzz. We see it as an opportunity to be a draw for us with a guy of his appeal. But, first and foremost, we want to figure out ways to win football games. And (coach Mike Singletary) will tell you this, we’re going to put the best 11 people on the field at a time that allows us to accomplish our goals.
“Everyone has to earn their spot and that can take time.”
The Express get back on the field at 7 p.m. Sunday against the Birmingham Iron, a team they lost to 26-0 on the road in the season opener with Hackenberg at quarterback.