BIRMINGHAM – Turning to Plan B came quickly for Birmingham Stallions head coach Skip Holtz in his second USFL season.
With the season 60 minutes old, at least on the scoreboard, Holtz is moving forward for the rest of the season without starting quarterback J’Mar Smith, No. 1 fullback Bobby Holly and wide receiver Marlon Williams, who the Birmingham Stallions head coach planned on building the passing game around.
“It’s hard from a standpoint of you’ve got a Bobby Holly and J’Mar, who have been in this offense a long time and have given me a lot of comfort,” said Holtz, who coached Smith and Holly at Louisiana Tech before bringing them to Birmingham. “You’ve got a guy like Marlon, who was in it all year last year and played a major role. He was really going to pick up that Victor (Bolden) role. He was going to kind of be the marquee guy that we were trying to highlight. You take the stability of guys who have been with us a long time and you take the talent out. It’s a blow.”
Williams, who suffered an Achilles tendon tear, is a big loss. Obviously, the injury getting the most attention from the outside, though, is the hand injury suffered by Smith. He hurt his non-throwing hand late in the first half. Holtz put Alex McGough in the game but wasn’t sure what would happen the rest of the way.
“He said if you need me to go back in, I can go back in,” Holtz said. “(He said) I might have a hard time under the center but he kind of buddy taped it to another finger and said I can go back in if you need me. Alex did a really good job in the second half and I didn’t feel like it was worth putting (Smith) in with one hand. We finished the game with Alex.”
It wasn’t until Sunday, after getting an MRI, that they figured out the severity of the injury. He had a broken finger on his left hand but there was also tendon damage. He had surgery this week and is on injured reserve for the entire season.
“Tendons are not quick healing things,” Holtz said. “It’s not like we’ll go in and scope it. They have to do some things. It’s going to be a while. I hate it for him, the way he worked and the way he played in the first half. He was playing really well. He was throwing the ball accurate and seeing the field really well. I hate it for him, I hate it for us.”
This is the second season that Smith and McGough have been sharing the quarterback position. McGough, who was the team’s first draft choice, started the 2022 opener but got hurt early in the first game. Smith took over until he got banged up midway through the year and McGough returned as the starter. Smith started the USFL Championship Game but left with cramps in the second half, leaving it to McGough to finish out the win.
Moving on without his co-quarterback isn’t easy for McGough.
“It was hard for me,” McGough said before Thursday’s practice. “I was talking to him yesterday, he’s been at practice both days. He’s a friend. It’s tough for a friend to get hurt in general. The fact that he has to miss the whole season, or whatever the case may be, is hard for him. I’m just here for him.”
While the offense won’t change, McGough and Smith have different skill sets. Smith’s strength is throwing the ball while McGough is more of a dual threat quarterback. McGough had a 29-yard touchdown run last week but Holtz wants him to be more selective about tucking the ball down and running the football.
“I don’t know how much I really want to run our quarterbacks with the injuries we’ve had at this point,” said Holtz, who is searching for another quarterback to add to the roster. “I’ll hold my breath a little bit. I’m talking to them about sliding, getting down, not taking the extra hit. I’m not asking you to run for the extra yards.”
Jalen Morton moves up to the backup quarterback spot. The 6-foot-4, 226-pound former Prairie View A&M quarterback had to elevate his learning this week. For now, Holtz has put the two-quarterback system he used with Smith and McGough on the shelf. When Morton is ready, though, they could return to a plan of playing a pair of quarterbacks.
McGough likes what he’s seen from Morton.
“He’s got a God’s gift of a right arm,” McGough said. “That guy’s got a rocket. He’s got a lot of athletic ability, pretty similar to me. We’ve got to make sure he’s good on the plays, he’s good on the reads. So far, in practice, he’s been doing great. Hopefully, he doesn’t have to go in. But, if he does, he’s ready and we know he’s ready.”
For now, though, it’s McGough’s offense to run.
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