With veteran free agency mostly in the rearview mirror, and the draft looming at the end of the week, I thought it might be a good time to look at some unusual 2019 off-season signings.
In particular, I want to take a look at the first three players the Redskins signed from the Alliance of American Football following its recent sudden collapse. On (Good) Friday, a fourth former-AAF player was added to Washington’s roster: QB Josh Woodrum, but this article will focus on the offensive lineman and two defensive players signed earlier. We’ll come back and look at Josh Woodrum at a later date.
Before getting to the profiles, though, I’d like to use some space to introduce you to James FitzGerald, who has kindly spent time looking at film of all three former Alliance players and writing a short analysis of each based on what he saw on that film.
James, himself, is a former college player, high school coach, and an avid college football fan who has spent hours in the film room watching opponents and his own teams. His analytical skill will add depth to these profiles that I can’t supply on my own.
Here is James, in his own words:
My name is James FitzGerald and I live in a small town in Northern Maryland. I played offensive tackle at Albright College, which is a small Division III school in the MACC conference. When I graduated from college I coached defensive line at a high school in Maryland. I currently teach at a middle school and I will be starting seminary in the fall to become a pastor. In my free time I enjoy playing video games and reading various novels.
And now, the profiles.
DeMarquis Gates, LB, Memphis Express / Ole’ Miss
Gates, a 6’2”, 230 pound linebacker who played college ball at Ole Miss and went undrafted in 2018, recorded 72 tackles and a single sack during his time in the AAF. Prior to that, Gates had spent just a short month with the Browns in the summer of 2018 before being cut.
Memphis Express linebacker DeMarquis Gates leads the league in total tackles.
Gates racked up 10 solo tackles in the Express’ 26-0 loss to the Birmingham Iron on Sunday. He also forced two fumbles and one tackle for loss.
“Felt great,” Gates said after practice on Tuesday. “Been off the field for about a year and few months. Felt good getting back out there, playing around and getting to hit somebody else for a chance. It felt really good.”
Gates played college football at Ole Miss, where he led the Rebels in tackles from 2015-2017. Although he became Ole Miss’ top option at the position, his coaches complained at times about his inability play within the defensive gameplan.
“I just try to make a play when it comes my way,” Gates said about playing style. “I try to be a good teammate. Just try to be the best I can be. Try to help my teammates. Try to help them win. That’s my goal as a linebacker. Do whatever I can to help my defense, and my team win.”
Gates was not selected in the 2018 NFL Draft, and spent just two months with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent. He was away from football for over a year when the Express gave him another shot at professional football. Express head coach Mike Singletary said he’s impressed with what he’s seen from his young linebacker so far.
“I think he’s a guy that’s in the process of becoming special,” Singletary said. “He just has to learn to push himself, and take it to the next level, and he can do that.”
While there’s no guarantee that Gates earns a roster spot for next season, as NBC Sports Washington’s Peter Hailey writes, the linebacker position should be filled with competition in 2019 as the middle of the defense is filled with question marks ahead of the draft.
Let’s see what James FitzGerald had to say about him based on his film review:
Film Watched: Memphis Express v. Birmingham Iron and v. Apollos
DeMarquis Gates is fast off of the blitz. In the film I watched, the Express did not blitz him much, but when he did he made an impact by hurrying or hitting the quarterback. I am unsure why they did not blitz him more in those games.
He is also good in coverage. Gates is able to cover the tight end or running back and had an almost pick and a few good pass deflections against the Apollos.
Gates also doesn’t over commit. Gates sticks to his assignments and often finds himself in positon to make a play.
Unfortunately, his game has a number of weaknesses. There were many times that Gates was in position to make a play and he wasn’t able to make it because of a lack of effort. That is the worst quality one could see in a player. There is a pure lack of urgency when he plays.
He often gets blocked by opposing offensive lineman. Gates does not shake off blocks well, and when he is in position to make a play he is often pushed out of play by an opposing blocker.
How would he fit with the Redskins?
Gates would play inside linebacker with Reuben Foster, Shaun Dion Hamilton, and Mason Foster.
I think Gates has great aspects to his game, but his lack of effort and lack of ability to shake off blocks will get him cut before the regular season begins.
Salesi Uhatafe, Guard, Salt Lake Stallions / Atlanta Falcons / Detroit Lions / Utah
Information from Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com Draft Profile:
Salesi “Leka” Uhatafe (pronounced sah-less-ee lekka oo-ha-tah-feh) suffered a terrible tragedy in July 2013 when he fell asleep behind the wheel of a car heading 1,200 miles from Salt Lake City to Texas. He lost both of his brothers and a good friend, fellow Utah football player Gaius Vaenuku, while he and his father survived.
Uhatafe redshirted the season following the accident and then earned a starting role at right guard for five of 13 games played in 2014. He played in all 13 games as a sophomore, starting seven times at that right guard spot.
Uhatafe finally locked down the lead role for all 13 games in 2016, displaying a combination of size, athleticism, and toughness that NFL scouts desire for a nextlevel starter. Those traits came through in 2017, as Uhatafe was voted second-team All-Pac-12 by league coaches after starting all 13 games at left guard.
Offensive guard Salesi Uhatafe, who most recently played for the Salt Lake Stallions, was a four-year starter for the Utah Utes following a redshirt freshman year, but Uhatafe hasn’t had much NFL experience. He went undrafted in 2018, and the Atlanta Falcons signed him as a free agent, but later cut him. He was also briefly on the Detroit Lions’ and Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squads, according to ProFootballTalk.
At Utah, he played in 52 games and 38 starts. In 2017, after starting all 13 games at left guard, he was given a second-team All-Pac 12 selection by the league’s coaches.
The Redskins need depth on the offensive line, so Uhatafe should be a welcome addition to this Redskins training camp roster.
Here’s James FitzGerald’s analysis of Uhatafe’s film:
Film Watched: Salt Lake Stallions v. San Diego Fleet and v. Orlando Apollos
Uhatafe has good hands in pass protection. He punches quickly enough and with enough force to stop a pass rusher either from a defensive tackle or linebacker. He also has a great base in his pass set which allows him to block anyone who rushes against him.
His greatest strength is blocking at the second level. He is able to work up past the initial double team with the center or tackle and move up to the linebacker very well. He makes the block on the linebacker and creates space and time for the running back to get past the second level of defenders, helping turn a 2-3 yard gain into a 6-8 yard gain.
I also noticed that he gets down field during screen plays with a sense of urgency. It may be by design, but he is the first blocker downfield to make a block on a screen pass. He does this so urgently he got called for being an ineligible receiver down field against the Fleet on one screen play.
His biggest weakness is his pad level in the running game. He plays with almost no bend in his knees. His pad level will get him bullied in the NFL. This point alone would make me hesitate to put him on an NFL field.
He also plays with little aggression when run blocking on the first level. He seems to just be going through the motions at times. I don’t know if he is spending too much time thinking about his technique or assignment, but he needs to be more aggressive if he wants to play on a run-first team like the Redskins.
How would he fit with the Redskins?
Uhatafe would play guard on the left side, but he would not be a starter. If he were to make the 53 man roster he would be a depth player on the offensive line; however, I predict he will be cut by the Redskins. His pass protection and second level play are both intriguing, but his weakness in the run game (Pad level, and aggression level) are hard to coach.
Andrew Ankrah, edge rusher, Orlando Apollos / James Madison
Ankrah is a local player from James Madison University. He was a part of JMU’s FCS national championship team in 2016, and was the Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year in 2017, putting up 45 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
At 6’3” and 244 pounds, Ankrah is a hard-working defensive end who projects to outside linebacker. More athletic than his computer numbers, he moves fluidly about the field and plays with proper pad level. Ankrah quickly changes direction, immediately alters his angle of attack and pursues laterally with decent speed. With good movement in every direction, he shows the ability to make plays in space and wraps up tackling.
In eight games with the Apollos, Ankrah was eighth on the team in tackles with 14. He was also third on the team in sacks with three. The Apollos were the best team in the AAF, winning seven of their eight games before things started to go wrong with the league.
Ankrah’s role in JMU’s FCS championship ad the “unofficial” championship of the Orlando Apollos indicates that he may be one of those guys with the intangibles that teams look for. You know the old saying: “All he does is win”.
The Redskins may have found a local kid who is a diamond in the rough who can make the roster, adding depth and special teams play.
Let’s see what James FitzGerald had to say after reviewing Ankrah’s film:
Film Watched: Orlando v. Salt Lake and v. Memphis and V. Arizona
Andrew Ankrah uses his length to create separation from the blocker to generate a chance with a pass rush move — and he has many pass rush moves. He utilizes a club that goes into a rip move, and he also utilizes a club into a swim. His quick hands and feet give him many weapons with which to beat a pass blocker.
He was also responsible for outside contain on many plays, and he performs his duties well, though I wouldn’t describe this as a strength. Ankrah was beaten by a reach block a few times when he had contain, but he won more times than he lost.
He is also able to find the ball from the back side, which is an important trait at his position, and takes great pursuit angles in order to track down the ball.
On the down side, Ankrah struggles to shake blocks when defending the run. He is often over powered by the offensive tackle early and is unable to beat the block.
In addition, his vision often leads him to be easily tricked by play action. Many times against Memphis, he over committed to the run when he had straight line toward the quarterback to make a sack. He needs to be able to read a play action and react accordingly.
How would he fit with the Redskins?
Ankrah would rotate edge duties with Ryan Anderson and a drafted edge rusher.
Out of the three AAF players signed by the Redskins, I think Ankrah has the best chance to make the roster based on ability. He can be coached on his weaknesses and he his strengths are top notch at the AAF level. His ability may translate to the NFL level.
How many of these three players will make the 53-man Redskins roster in 2019?
This poll is closed