The UFL Top Five – Nighthawks Position Groups
By Dusty Sloan
The Omaha Nighthawks have gotten younger as a whole in Year 2 in the United Football League, but there still are plenty of proven veterans who are a part of the team’s best position groups.
Here is a look at the Nighthawks’ top five position groups as 2011 training camp heads into its first full week:
Running backs – One of the major weaknesses in Omaha in 2010 was a running game which averaged just more than 20 attempts and 73 yards per game, as well as a league-low 3.5 yards per attempt and one touchdown. Don’t look for a repeat of that in 2011, thanks to a stable of talented running backs who all bring something different to the table.
The headliner is Maurice Clarett, who by the end of his first professional season last fall looked like a back who could shoulder the load in 2011. Then there is Shaud Williams, who has been one of the UFL’s top all-purpose threats and was one of the league’s top return specialists last fall. The newcomers are led by rookie Noel Devine, who is third in WVU history with 4,315 rushing yards. Also on hand are ex-Nebraska all-purpose threat Marlon Lucky, late of the New York Sentinels two years ago, and rookie Daniel Borne.
Quarterbacks – If you are looking for players to run American professional football’s first foray into a full-time spread offense, you could do much worse than the quartet of Eric Crouch, Jeremiah Masoli, Daryll Clark and D.J. Shockley. While none of them have an extensive professional football history, each one brings exciting possibilities to the Nighthawks’ attack.
Crouch, an Omaha native and 2001 Heisman Trophy winner at Nebraska, brings a competitive fire, a hunger to prove himself and a desire to bring a winner to his hometown. Masoli, a rookie, wants to work his way back to the National Football League after spending some training camp time with the San Francisco 49ers. Clark had two highly-productive seasons at Penn State and spent 2010 in the Canadian Football League. Shockley was a backup in Omaha last year after spending four seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.
Defensive ends – Thanks to the defensive rules in the UFL, pass-rushing defensive ends are even more vital, and the Nighthawks look like they have a very good group of those. Jay Moore was Omaha’s sack leader a year ago (3½), and the ex-Cornhusker had a solid season overall. Also coming back is 2010 backup Kevin Basped, who had two sacks among the eight Nighthawks DEs had a year ago.
The newcomers include ex-CFLers Claude Harriott and Khari Long, who had 10 sacks for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats just two years ago, ex-Indianapolis Colt Curtis Johnson and rookie Christian Anthony, who had a dominant 2009 season at Grambling (five interceptions, 76 total tackles, 15 tackles for loss, eight sacks, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries).
Cornerbacks – Professional football is a pass-happy proposition these days. Omaha knows this, and has eight cornerbacks looking to make the 2011 Nighthawks roster. The returnees include three veterans – Ricardo Colclough, who also was the UFL’s top kickoff returner in 2010, DeMarcus Faggins and Eric Green.
The newcomers all have a mix of professional experience, ranging from ex-Tennessee Titan Reynaldo Hill, former Detroit Lion Keith Smith, ex-NFLer and CFLer Dovonte Edwards and Arena Football League standouts Virgil Gray and Tanner Varner.
Punters - It’s always a good thing to have the option of choosing between two good punters. Omaha has that luxury thanks to the return of Justin Brantly and the addition of Eric Wilbur.
Brantly was tied for second in the UFL in 2010 with a 41.4-yard average, and his net average of 35.7 was second-best. Wilbur averaged 43.0 yards a punt with the Tiger-Cats last year, and boasted a net of 38.1.