Birmingham Iron coach Tim Lewis and General Manager Joe Pendry held a press conference today to let football fans know that pigskin passions can be satiated after the College Football Playoff and the Super Bowl.
“There are people who want to watch football,” Pendry said. “I was always one of those. I don’t want to turn on one of those other things that happen to be filling a void.”
The preparations begin this weekend for the Iron’s first game against the Memphis Express at 1 p.m. on Feb. 10 at Legion Field. The team whittled down a roster of 85 players to 75 at a minicamp in December and will hold a camp beginning Saturday in San Antonio that will cut the roster down to the final 52 that will take the field next month.
“It may not be the 52 best athletes. It’s going to be the 52 best football players,” Lewis said. “The tools are there. The coaching staff is prepared. Now it’s just a matter of putting the team together under that pressure of training camp and under our watchful eye, we will get this team to know what to do and how to do it.”
Most of the players on the roster had a taste of the NFL and are trying to get back there.
“We sought guys who have potential to go back and play in the NFL,” Pendry said. “For one reason or another, they didn’t make it and they want to continue to play.”
Lewis said the experience level among the current roster varies widely.
At minicamp, when Lewis asked the players with 10 years or more in the NFL to stand up, only kicker Nick Novak was standing. By contrast, 10 players stood up when Lewis asked for those who were experiencing their first professional football camp.
Lewis said the great thing about the players who have been in the NFL before is they are willing to put in the work necessary to get back.
“They understand the urgency of now,” he said. “They understand the urgency of the coach’s voice.”
Pendry said that hunger is what they were after in putting together the current roster.
“If you don’t have a burning desire to play and a burning desire to get better, we don’t want you representing our area or the Birmingham Iron,” he said.
Pendry said the allocation the AAF uses has helped the Birmingham Iron build a quality roster.
In addition to getting access to players from football schools in Alabama, the Iron gets the pick of players from Mississippi State, Maryland, North Carolina State and Missouri. The Iron also gets access to NFL players cut from the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cleveland Browns, the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots, Pendry said.
That has helped the Birmingham Iron fill its roster with names that many in Alabama will recognize. Former Crimson Tide players Chris Black (wide receiver), Leon Brown (guard), Xzavier Dickson (linebacker), Brandon Greene (tackle), J.C. Hassenauer (center), Dominick Jackson (tackle), Korren Kirven (tackle), Cole Mazza (long snapper), Trent Richardson (running back), Blake Sims (quarterback) and Bradley Sylve (defensive back) are on the current roster.
Former Auburn players on the roster include Quan Bray (wide receiver), Chris Davis (defensive back), Trovon Reed (defensive back), Robenson Therezie (defensive back) and Ryan White (defensive back).
There are also players from UAB (Chris Schleuger), South Alabama (Braedon Bowman and Wes Saxton), Troy (Jonathan Massaquoi), Jacksonville State (Jonathan Hagler), Miles (Lonnie Outlaw), Tuskegee (DeVozea Felton) and Samford (Shaheed Salmon).
Many of the 11 coaches also have connections to Alabama schools as does Pendry, who came to the University of Alabama in 2007 as the offensive line coach s part of Nick Saban’s original staff.
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Lewis said he’s excited by what he has seen from Trent Richardson thus far.
“We have a running back – you guys might know the name ‘Trent Richardson,’ not foreign to anybody in here – the guy is fantastic,” Lewis said. “He’s bought in. He’s all in 100 percent. He’s really excited about the opportunity. I can’t wait to see him go full speed. We’ve been out in shorts and he’s already got the hair on the back of my neck standing up.”
Lewis said the goal coming out of training camp is to have a team ready to contend for the first AAF championship.
“We’ve all come together and put together a package and a plan to get this team, this city, this state a championship,” he said. “You’re going to love the way the Birmingham Iron plays the game. I’m really excited about leading our team to a championship.”
Pendry, who coached in the former USFL, said one of the problems with past spring football leagues was “teams hogging the quarterbacks.” A quarterback draft was intended to address that concern and the Birmingham Iron got its first pick of Luis Perez, a former Texas A&M-Commerce and Los Angeles Rams player and winner of the Harlon Hill Trophy, which goes to the most outstanding player in NCAA Division II.
Lewis didn’t want to give away much about the team’s offensive and defensive schemes, but did say the offense will be a balance of run and pass and they will use the pass to set up the run.
“The combination of athletes that we will put on the field offensively … I’m not trying to create any bulletin board material for anybody, but I would say as a former defensive coordinator in the NFL, I wouldn’t like to play against us,” he said.
Defensively, Lewis said they will focus on stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback.
Pendry said watching the Iron take shape has him amped for the inaugural season.
“I’ve had the good fortune of being around football for a long time,” he said. “I’m as damned excited as I’ve ever been about this one, too.”
Despite the excitement, oddsmakers aren’t giving the Birmingham Iron much of a chance at winning it all. Lewis said he’s to blame.
“The fact of the matter is I’m the only one with a team who hasn’t been a head coach at any level before,” Lewis said. “But I like our chances. They don’t know our players. Our team will have more to say about that than the oddsmakers.”
Pendry said the job now is to give Birmingham and Alabama a team football fans can get behind.
“If we do our job, if we put a good product on the field … we will attract the fans.”
Watch the entire press conference below.