By Jaylon Thompson / The Alliance
ORLANDO, Fla. — Kevin Coyle insists he isn’t nervous heading into his first game as Atlanta Legends head coach.
Coyle spent 17 years in the NFL as a defensive assistant. He’s seen his share of season openers.
That doesn’t mean that the importance of Saturday night against the Orlando Apollos is lost on Coyle. He is coaching in one of the first games in The Alliance of American Football’s history, and he understands that. For that reason, Coyle has prepared the Legends all week for any situation that may arise at game time.
The Atlanta Legends play the Apollos at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando at 8 p.m. ET Saturday — the first day of The Alliance’s inaugural season. The game will be broadcast by CBS. You can buy tickets for the Legends season here.
“I have just been spending some quiet time reviewing game scenarios that could occur,” Coyle said Friday. “I am going through the what-ifs and preparing to not be caught off-guard when we get to the actual game.”
“I am looking forward to seeing these guys have the opportunity to go out and play,” Coyle said. “I want to see where we are at as a team. We have worked hard in over a month’s time to get the players ready. I couldn’t ask for more from the players or coaching staff.”
The Legends enter a tough road matchup against the Apollos — a team with skill at every position and legendary head coach Steve Spurrier manning the sideline.
Known for his spread aerial attack, Spurrier wants to spread the around and take advantage of mismatches. The Apollos have a great quarterback in Garrett Gilbert who excels in getting the ball out quickly.
Gilbert had an opportunity with the Carolina Panthers last season and can push the ball down the field. His stable of receivers includes Charles Johnson (6-foot-2), Jalin Marshall (5-11) and Marvin Bracy-Williams Jr. (5-10).
The Apollos also want to establish the run with running back Akeem Hunt. The Covington, Ga., native spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs and is a weapon out of the backfield.
“We got to put pressure on the quarterback,” Coyle said. “Our front four has got to do a great job since the league doesn’t allow you to bring more than five players in the rush. We will have some creative ways of doing that. We have to be able to rush three and four guys.”
The Legends will lean on the defensive front of J.T. Jones, Tracy Sprinkle and the “Barnes Bros.” — Tavaris and T.J. — to get the job done. If the front four can get pressure, the rest of the defense can mix coverage to quell the Apollos attack.
On offense, the Legends will start quarterback Matt Simms — voted a team captain after winning a competitive quarterback battle in training camp.
Simms also has an array of talent at his disposal. The Legends want to establish the run to balance out the passing attack. Look for Simms to connect with receivers Malachi Jones (6-2) and Seantavius Jones (6-4) early.
The Legends also want to involve their stable of running backs. Tarean Folston will get the start, but players such as Denard Robinson and Lawrence Pittman figure to get touches throughout the game.
“We have a really unique position where all of our running backs have the ability to use speed and power in their game,” Simms said. “I think it’s really exciting to see that. They have been able to show their skill set in every way possible.”
With this the first opportunity for the team to play together on the big stage, it provides both a shot at a first win and a chance for the coaches to evaluate their roster.
“The final goal is to go 1-0 every week,” Simms said. “I think we just got to take it day-by-day and chip away at every opportunity.”
Rivalry revival: The Apollos’ veteran defense is led by former Florida safety Will Hill III. Hill and Simms played against each other in high school and know each other well. That could lead to an interesting chess match on game day.
Home cooking: The Legends have nine players from Florida, including linebacker Ro’Derrick Hoskins (Orlando) and offensive lineman Brandon Pertile (Clearwater).
Scouting the opponent
Here is are two key quotes from Apollos beat reporter Tom Alexander on what to expect from the Orlando squad.
On top players… “The five guys to watch are quarterback Garrett Gilbert, (wide receiver) Charles Johnson, (running back) Akeem Hunt, (safety) Jerome Couplin III and (safety) Will Hill III.”
On linebackers… “The linebacking core has above-average size and each player 6-feet or taller. They are all fast and can stop the run. They can also get up field after the quarterback. They have the height to bat passes down at the line of scrimmage.”
Atlanta Legends home games will be played at Georgia State Stadium. Fans can purchase All Five home games starting at just $75 at http://www.atlantalegends.com or by calling 470-798-3330.
Jaylon Thompson covers the Atlanta Legends for The Alliance of American Football. Follow him on Twitter @JaylonThompson.