Parks’s Pulse – On slants, shorthand, and bad breaks

Memphis Showboats head coach John DeFilippo: "I know what the score is. Okay? I got it. But that doesn't mean you have to stop officiating the game." (ESPN)
Memphis Showboats head coach John DeFilippo: “I know what the score is. Okay? I got it. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop officiating the game.” (ESPN)

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

Ranking the games

  1. Stallions 30, Battlehawks 26 – As many have already stated, this one lived up to the hype. The question now is: If St. Louis can’t take down Birmingham, who can?
  2. Brahmas 15, Roughnecks 12 – Admittedly, much of this game bordered on unwatchable (how many swing passes to John Lovett fell incomplete?), but the last few minutes of drama saved it. After such a poor showing, and with a playoff berth still at stake, you have to imagine QB Quinten Dormady will be on a short leash this week.
  3. Panthers 22, Defenders 9 – D.C. is going to need some turnaround to leap either St. Louis or San Antonio in the standings. This was a statement win for Michigan even as they continue to churn through QBs. Credit head coach Mike Nolan for the job he’s done this year.
  4. Renegades 47, Showboats 23 – As much as we thought Arlington was a mess, Memphis showed they are even worse off. In a game they should’ve been chomping at the bit for, they instead got blown out of the water by a previously winless team.

Slant, slant, slant…

Easily the favorite pass play of most UFL teams is the in-breaking slant. And for the most part throughout the season, it has worked. Take the Stallions, for example. They slanted the Battlehawks to death to the point that even St. Louis head coach Anthony Becht was lamenting the play. The key, though, is to get the defense expecting the slant and then exploit that expectation. That’s what Birmingham did in the fourth quarter: At the goal line, CB Brandon Sebastian jumped a slant route, leaving motion man Marlon Williams wide open in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.

All-access moment of the week, part one

Arlington rolled over Memphis, amassing over 400 yards of offense and 47 points. They even dipped into their bag of tricks when RB De’Veon Smith, who rushed for over 100 yards and two touchdowns, completed a halfback pass for a two-point conversion. Interviewed by ESPN’s Ian Fitzsimmons on the sidelines, Smith claimed “They used to call me ‘Vick,'” alluding to his ability to both pass the ball and run with it, like Michael Vick in his prime. While that may be a play Arlington goes back to sometime this year, don’t expect Smith to start taking snaps from under center anytime soon.

Ref shorthand

The promised all-access from Fox and ESPN/ABC has left a little to be desired on the broadcasts this season. One of the interesting pieces that has come through is hearing how referees communicate with each other on the field. Often, the refs will use shorthand to refer to penalties. For example, “DOF” was heard this weekend, which signifies defensive offsides. Anything with a “D” in front of it means defense, while a transgression leading with an “O” means offense. It allows refs to quickly relay the infraction to the head referee to announce. There’s also a nickname for contacting the U.S. Army Command Center and Dean Blandino or Mike Pereira, that being “mayday.” When that word is heard, you know the referee is trying to get in touch with Blandino or Pereira.

Bad breaks

Two quarterbacks were caught on hot mics last weekend discussing potential broken bones. A sack of AJ McCarron in the fourth quarter that was deemed roughing the passer led to McCarron gingerly walking off the field, telling Becht he had broken his ankle. He stayed in the game, but was not the same after that and couldn’t lead St. Louis to the comeback on just one leg. On Sunday, Houston’s Jarrett Guarantano, who just recently returned to action after a rib injury kept him out for a few weeks, appeared to have broken his wrist. At least, that was Guarantano’s own diagnosis. He stayed in for a few more plays but was eventually removed for Reid Sinnett. As of Wednesday night, neither player has been placed on injured reserve, so the injuries may not end up being as serious as first thought.

Another week, another blocked punt

The special teams phase of the UFL has gotten a lot of praise from both hardcore and casual fans. Field goal kickers are the stars, booming field goals from over 50 yards every week. Big plays are being made in the return games. There is an aspect of special teams that deserves some criticism, and that is punt protection. Seven punts have been blocked over the first seven weeks. During the 2023 NFL season, just three punts were blocked all year. How to explain this? There are two reasons I can think of. First, due to the smaller rosters, players don’t specialize on these units like they do in the NFL. A lot of players on special teams in the UFL are starters or key players on offense or defense, something you rarely see in the NFL or even college. Therefore, their concentration is more on their responsibilities elsewhere.

The second reason is that, due to smaller coaching staffs, no team has a dedicated special teams coordinator. In most cases, it’s a position coach juggling that and special teams, or different phases of special teams are split up among various coaches. It’s probably difficult for them to prioritize special teams when, like the players, they have other areas to focus on. Blocked punts are exciting and can swing momentum. But Daryl Johnston, in ditching the XFL kickoff for a more traditional one, argued UFL players that sign to NFL teams will likely have to stick on special teams to make it. If it’s that important, the UFL should add another coach to each team next year, one that concentrates solely special teams, to give these players the coaching they deserve so that they can be successful at the next level. I’m not sure how many NFL special teams coaches are watching these punt protection units, excited about what they’re seeing.

All-access moment of the week, part two

Memphis head coach John DeFilippo could be a weekly presence in this space. The ire he displays toward referees is second to none in the UFL. Against Arlington, DeFilippo got hot at the officials late in the game when they missed a pick play by the Renegades on a two-point conversion. “No, let me finish first,” he said as the mics picked him up mid-conversation with two black hats. “I’ve been quiet all day and listened to both of y’all. You listen to me for a minute. I know what the score is. Okay? I got it. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop officiating the game.” Having said his piece, Coach Flip quickly turned and walked away, showing no desire to continue the conversation.

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