Parks’s Pulse – On fashion, shuffles, and revenge

Birmingham Stallions center Cole Schneider's fashion choices made a buzz in UFL Week 6.
Birmingham Stallions center Cole Schneider’s fashion choices caused a buzz in UFL Week 6. (Twitter @USFLStallions)

Each week during the season, Parks’s Pulse presents a smattering of thoughts on the previous weekend’s games.

Ranking the games

  1. Panthers 28, Renegades 27 – Even after five weeks of losses, Arlington somehow managed to find a new low. Michigan feels like the number two in the USFL Conference by default as they don’t really seem like a team with a lot of momentum.
  2. Defenders 18, Brahmas 12 – Though the odds-makers had this one, it felt a bit like an upset. D.C. is now firmly in the XFL Conference playoff race.
  3. Battlehawks 22, Roughnecks 8 – Houston’s defense made a potent St. Louis offense one-dimensional. Still, the talent gap was too much for the Roughnecks to overcome. A good sign was that the Battlehawks defense carried the day when the offense wasn’t hitting on all cylinders.
  4. Stallions 39, Showboats 21 – Birmingham always seems to use a big quarter to pull away; this time it was the second. It may be time for a QB change in Memphis.

Second verse

Week six was the first week of the season where teams faced each other for a second time. In week three, the Birmingham Stallions bested the Memphis Showboats, 33-14. The second verse was the same as the first, as Birmingham won by almost the exact same margin. The Defenders vs. Brahmas game this past weekend led to a different result than their first meeting back in week one. Then, the Brahmas came out victorious, 27-12. With no Chase Garbers and no Anthony McFarland, the leading passer and rusher for San Antonio in the first game, D.C. was able to hold on for the win in the rematch. Coming up in week seven, it’s four cross-conference games, so there won’t be any repeats there. However, all week eight games are teams matching up for a second time.

All-access moment of the week, part one

Stallions head coach Skip Holtz obliquely challenged Memphis fans in the pre-game speech he gave to his team before they took the field against the Showboats on Saturday. Attendance at Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium has disappointed thus far in 2024, providing little advantage for the home team. Holtz implored Birmingham to find a spark from within. “There’s not going to be a lot of natural energy out there in the stands,” he told his squad in the locker room. “We’ve got to try to create our own.” We’ll see if this lights a fire under the Yacht Club for their two remaining home dates.

Mitchell’s revenge

One effect of the merger of the USFL and XFL is that some key contributors in 2023 from surviving franchises were pushed out of jobs in 2024. This describes WR Steven Mitchell, Jr. Mitchell played 220 snaps across nine games for St. Louis in ’23, registering 16 catches for 207 yards and four touchdowns. The additions of Ja’Marcus Bradley, Blake Jackson, and Jahcour Pearson made Mitchell expendable, and he was released as the team made its final cuts at the close of training camp. Mitchell was recently re-signed amid injuries at the position, and his presence has already paid dividends. Against Houston, catches by Mitchell converted 3rd and 4th downs in the second quarter. He also made a one-yard TD reception with just four seconds remaining in the first half. No doubt he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, namely that he belongs in Battlehawk blue. His performance may make it more difficult to release him a second time.

Fashion icon

We’ve yet to see many personalities that jump off the screen during UFL games. One that did, however, was  Stallions center Cole Schneider. Team social media accounts have been posting the fashion displayed by players as they arrive to games. Schneider’s look grabbed the attention of fans this week, so much so that he was asked about it on the sidelines during the game against Memphis. As his wardrobe style would indicate, Schneider showed particular flair for handling himself in front of the camera. “Looks like a whole lot of magic to me,” he told ESPN’s Cole Cubelic about his choice of pregame outfit this week. When Cubelic asked when the last time it was that Schneider wore a shirt, he responded by asking what year it was. “I’d say it’s been some time,” he said.

OL coach shuffle in D.C.

In a story that went unreported in the lead-up to week six, D.C. went through a coaching change on the offensive line. Russ Ehrenfeld, a long time college offensive line coach, stepped away from the team, and Sean Kugler was brought in to finish out the season. He’s been an OL coach for five NFL teams in his career and was most recently the run game coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals in 2022. While the reason for Ehrenfeld’s departure is unknown, Kugler, who was interviewed on the sidelines during the game, wished his predecessor a “speedy recovery,” indicating it could be health-related. While some coaches stepping into that position at this stage of the season might prefer to keep things business as usual, Kugler did not.

Yasir Durant, the team’s season-long starter at left guard, was moved to left tackle. Starting LT Jahmir Ross-Johnson was made a healthy scratch for the game. Backup interior lineman Lamont Gaillard (whose time in Arizona crossed over with that of Kugler’s) was inserted in as the starter at left guard. Right tackle D’Marcus Hayes was benched and Jarrid Williams, signed in early April and for the most part a game day inactive since then, started at right tackle. The Defenders responded positively to the moves: The offense ran for over 100 yards for the first time this season and QB Jordan Ta’amu was sacked only once by an attacking Brahmas defense.

All-access moment of the week, part two

I’m going to cheat here and give two moments, because they’re one in the same: Players caught on hot mics talking about plays that, if run, would lead to touchdowns. And then, whaddya know, that’s exactly what happened. The first came when Battlehawks QB A.J. McCarron was talking to offensive line coach Gino Gradkowski on the sidelines just before halftime. “It’s a touchdown if you get in trips right here and they play like that. I’m going to fade and he’s going to run the same thing we ran versus Michigan.” St. Louis did just that, and scored a big touchdown that gave them a two-possession lead over Houston.

In D.C., Brahmas RB John Lovett observed something similar. “I’m open every time. They don’t account for me at all,” he said, referring to D.C.’s penchant for ignoring him coming out of the backfield on pass plays. Lovett told his coach and QB this on the sidelines in between drives. Later, San Antonio came to Lovett on a crucial touchdown from two yards out and indeed, like Lovett said, he was open. There’s certainly value in hearing some of this all-access audio live, but FOX and ESPN have gotten good at sifting through and finding the important audio, even if it’s presented later on. In these cases, that was actually a good thing because you could see how these touchdowns came about, after the fact.

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