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NY/NJ Hitmen

2001 NY/NJ Hitmen Report Card

New York – (12 April 2001) — Ten games are in the books, and the Hitmen’s inaugural season is over.

Four teams now move on in their quests to win The XFL Championship, while New York joins Birmingham, Memphis and Las Vegas in the drawing board room.

Yup, it’s back to the drawing board for these teams. It’s time to analyze what’s gone down, and what needs to be done to get better for the future. What will become of these teams and this league? If there is a second season?

Many changes will be made in order to improve not only the overall product but the structures of each team. There are going to be a lot of changes all across the league. For the Hitmen, some players and coaches earned their stripes, while others may not be around to see a second season… that’s if there is one. With that in mind, I present to all of you, the 2001 NY/NJ Hitmen Regular Season Report Card.

Let’s start with the offense.

QUARTERBACKS

Wally Richardson- Wally finished the year on injured reserve. He didn’t get to finish what he started. Under his guidance, New York went 3 and 2. Richardson finished the year throwing for 812 yards and 6 touchdowns while completing 58 percent of his passes. he also rushed for 148 yards. At times, Richardson showed that he was green with 6 picks on the season but he was a leader on the field and he deserves a shot next season. His brightest moment came in week 7, when he led his team 65 yards for a game winning score against Memphis.
Overall Grade: B Minus

Charles Puleri- Puleri started the year with a lot of people trashing him and deservedly so, Under his guidance, The Hitmen lost their first three games that he started. Puleri was benched in favor of Richardson and he did not get the opportunity to redeem himself until the final week of the season. Puleri stepped in for rookie, Corte McGuffey and threw for 158 yards and 2 TD’s against Birmingham. For the season, Charles ended up with 411 yards passing, 2 TD’s and 2 interceptions. His late season performance may have saved his job. He could be quality backup material.
Overall Grade: C Minus

Corte McGuffey- The pro rookie out of Northern Colorado started in weeks nine and ten. He showed flashes but not enough. There is some talent there but how much remains to be seen.
Overall Grade: D

RUNNING BACKS

Joe Aska- Aska started off the season being released out of camp right before the opener. He was brought back after injuries to the running back position. Aska turned out to be NY’s best runner. Aska rushed for 329 yards on the year and a 4.0 average. He also picked up 3 TD’s and rushed for an extra point. Unfortunately for Joe, his two best games were also his two worst games. Against LA in week five, Aska rushed for 92 yards but he fumbled late in the game and was ejected for striking an xtreme defender. Against The Enforcers in Week nine, Aska rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown. His performance was tainted however when late in that contest, He fumbled the football. Chicago recovered and drove to score what would be the game winning touchdown. Aska’s fumble cost The Hitmen not only the game but a playoff spot. With all that being said though, Aska is one of The XFL’s best stories, The man has only one eye and he has battled through adversity throughout his pro playing career. He deserves the opportunity to compete for a starting job next season.
Overall Grade: B Minus

Dino Philyaw- Dino was the teams starting running back. The coaching staff was high on The former patriot, but Philyaw failed to provide a spark all season. Injuries played a part in his production because he went down in the opening week. Philyaw returned later in the year but the injury may have still hampered him because He only rushed for 69 yards on the year. His yards per carry was an anemic 2.2. He scored no TD’s and he even threw an interception on a halfback pass against the demons. Dino could be given an opportunity in next season’s camp but he’s no lock to make the team.
Overall Grade:D

Mike Archie- The former Houston Oiler/Titan out of Penn State was one of The Hitmen’s best utility players. Archie played halfback, fullback, wr and he even contributed on special teams. Archie finished the year with 2 rushing td’s and 2 receiving td’s.He ended the year fifth on the team in receptions with 12. Archie is the type of player that usually goes un-noticed, but he is very valuable in the roles that he performs.
Overall Grade-B minus

Michael Blair/Keith Elias- Both players are put here together because they have similar grades. Elias and Blair contributed in the first few weeks with hard nosed running and blocking. Blair like Archie, performed several duties on offense and special teams. Elias did the same. Elias suffered a mid-season injury that took him off the field, but he did manage to contribute off the field as well. Keith joined the coaching staff in directing players and designing plays. Keith contributed in San Fran, when he designed a special
teams play that led to a blocked punt. Elias may have a future in coaching. Both guys played similar roles and they are quality backups.
Overall Grade: C

WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS

Zola Davis- Davis led the team in receptions with 29, He had 378 yards and 4 Touchdowns. He also threw a td pass to Kirby Dar Dar for 74 yards in week 6. Davis was the ideal possession receiver, He has good size and toughness and is not afraid to go over the middle. Like many offensive players on this team. He was under-utilized by the coaching staff. Davis should be a starter from the get-go next season.
Overall Grade-B plus

Kirby Dar Dar- Many XFL players have nicknames. Maybe Dar Dar’s name should be Kirby Yard Yard. Kirby led The Hitmen in 5 different categories. On the year, He garnered 1,208 all purpose yards. Dar Dar was NY’s best weapon. His reception total was 22. He led the team in yards with 405. He also had 18.4 yards a catch with 2 Td’s to go along with it. His two touchdowns came from 74 and 77 yards out. Kirby also garnered 31 yards on the ground for a 7.8 yard average. He led the team in kickoff returns with a 22 yard average and punt returns, with an 11 yard average. He wasn’t inserted into the starting lineup until late in the year. Which is pretty puzzling if you ask me. Especially since NY had scoring problems all year. He deserves a bigger role on offense next year.
Overall Grade-A minus

Anthony Discosmo- AD was a solid possesion receiver with NY. He was second on the team with 26 receptions for 268 yards. His longest catch was only 30 yards and he had no touchdowns. Dicosmo has good hands but he lacks breakaway speed. He is better suited as a 4th or 5th wideout.AD did contribute on special teams with a blocked punt this season.
Overall Grade: C Plus

Fred Brock- Brock started off the season well in Las Vegas but he also suffered from injuries throughout the year. Brock finished with 15 catches for 155 yards. He and Dicosmo are very similar in that, They are medium range type targets who don’t stretch defenses downfield. Brock could be back next year as a backup but it would not surprise me at all if The Hitmen look for an upgrade at wideout.
Overall Grade: C Minus

Chris Brantley- The Rutgers and NFL veteran went through injuries and family problems throughout the year. He wasn’t able to make a significant contribution for The Hitmen this season.
Overall Grade: Incomplete

Marcus Hinton- Steve McNair’s favorite target at Alcorn State was misused by The Hitmen offense all season. The big tight end had 19 yards a catch and his longest reception was 54 yards. He scored 1TD and 1 extra point catch. For the most part, NY used a 4 and 5 wideout attack and the tight end wasn’t used much this year.
Overall Grade: C plus

Ryan Collins- Collins at 6’7 is a good blocker with nice hands. He has battled through injuries his entire pro career. Like Hinton, Collins was mostly a blocker this season. He did however have three extra point catches on the year. He can be a force near the goal line if used properly.
Overall Grade: C

Bob Rosentiel/Eric Stocz- The Hitmen’s two other tight ends didn’t show much this year. They combined for 1 reception all season. Their duties were special teams and goal line situations and they never really stood out.
Overall Grade: D

OFFENSIVE LINEMAN

Curtis McGee- As a unit, The offensive line was New York’s weakest group. The unit gave up 26 sacks on the year. McGee, The 6’5 300 pounder was The Hitmen’s best lineman. He is the only offensive lineman who graded out well.
Overall Grade- B minus

Robert Hunt- Hunt was obtained through a trade with the Demons at mid-season. His play was better then the players he replaced but that wasn’t saying much. Hunt broke down late in games due to poor conditioning and he had too mental lapses in games.
Overall Grade- C minus

Juan Porter- Porter played center and guard. His best work came at center. He has good movement but he lacks strength at the point of attack.
Overall Grade: C minus

Ben Cavil- The expectation level was high for The former Raven. Cavil didn’t play well this year. He broke down late in games and his pass blocking was not up to par.
Overall Grade: C minus

David Camacho- David is the teams most talented young lineman, but promise and potential can only get you so far. He has the physical tools to be a good lineman but he gets banged up easily and he missed alot of action this year.
Overall Grade: C minus

Eric Cole- He is very similar to Juan Porter. They almost mirror each other in size and skill. Cole isn’t a bad center when called upon but his drive off the ball is weak and inside players exposed him.
Overall Grade: C minus

Harvey Goins/Jerome Daniels/Troy Stark- All 3 rate similar. Daniels can run block but he has slow feet. Goins is a 1st quarter warrior. The other 3 quarters, he disappears. Stark has good technique and he is pretty smart but he didn’t play well this year.
Overall Grade: D plus

Jeff Pilon/Jim Stull- Stull has talent but due to injuries and personal issues, he never became a factor. Pilon is very young and he didn’t play much.
Overall Grade: Incomplete.

Kicking Specialist- Leo Araguz- In The XFL, The kicking specialist is asked to do alot, He punts, He kicks field goals and he kicks off. So Leo Araguz’s plate was certainly full this season. Araguz was third in the league in punting with a 40.6 average and only 1 touchback. His kickoffs were pretty good too. His field goal kicking though was horrible. Leo finished the year connecting on just 7 of 16 kicks. He connected on only 4 out of 12 past 30 yards. His 44 percent accuracy rate was worst in the league. The XFL average was 64% for the year.
Overall Grade: C minus

Now on to The league’s #2 ranked defense:

DEFENSIVE LINEMAN

Israel Raybon- The former Steeler and Panther finally got his chance to shine and he did. Raybon led the team with 5 sacks despite being injured for his last 4 games. Raybon excelled in a 4-3 scheme that aided his skills. In The NFL, “Raybo” was used mostly in 3-4 schemes. Raybo was also stout against the run with 33 tackles and and he also got an interception on the season.
Overall Grade: A minus

Christian Maumalaunga- He may have been the league’s best run stuffer. Ron Meyer called him the league’s best all around defensive lineman and with good reason. “Maumoo” had 37 tackles and 4 sacks on the year. He battled through injuries all season and he also played through emotional pain late in the year, when Chris lost his father. Chris is an inspiration to what a true pro football player is all about.
Overall Grade: A minus

Tim Beauchamp- Champ had 27 tackles on the year and 3 sacks. Champ was used inside and outside due to injuries and he did a very good job all season putting pressure on QB’s and closing holes up front.
Overall Grade: B minus

Dwayne Sabb- Sabb’s production saw him garner 26 tackles and 4 sacks, as well as an interception. Sabb could have actually had more sacks because he had a ton of hurries on the year. 17 to be exact.
Overall Grade: B minus

James Cotton/Lamont Bryant/Henry Slay- All three played well in backup duty. Cotton may be the teams fastest defensive lineman. The 7th round pick of The Bears in 2000 did not become a factor until later in the season. Slay was used a plugger inside and Bryant’s contributions came when injuries played a factor in the lineup.
Overall Grade: C

LINEBACKERS

Ron Merkerson- The Hitmen’s best defensive player. “Big Merk” was a 4th round pick by New England in 1998. He suffered a serious injury to both legs. Doctors told him that he may be done. Merk proved them wrong this season. Ron had 62 tackles in 8 games, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. His play has him in the running for XFL defensive player of the year. It would be a crying shame if Merkerson doesn’t end up on an NFL roster next year.
Overall Grade: A plus

Haven Fields- Fields was a solid cover linebacker all season. He was lined up mostly on the strong side and he was strong at the point of attack with 27 tackles. He also had a sack and a forced fumble, but his forte was pass coverage.
Overall Grade: B minus

Ben Hanks- Hanks is as tough as they come. He was very similar to Fields in that, They both have great foot speed and are solid in covering rb’s and tight ends. Hanks finished the year with 20 tackles, 1 sack and 2 fumble recoveries. His stats like Fields were not gaudy but their play was overall good.
Overall Grade: B Minus

Bernard Russ/ Vernon Crawford- Both of these players were The Hitmen’s top backups at The LB position. They also contributed nicely on special teams. Russ had a sack for a safety late in the year and Crawford had some bone crunching hits in special teams coverage.
Overall Grade: C

Tyrell Peters/Mike Barber- The former Colt Barber was expected to do more but he missed assignments and he didn’t play well when called upon. Peters was average in his limited duty but he suffered through injuries.
Overall Grade: Incomplete

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Damen Wheeler- “Wheels” had a great season out at corner. He reminds me so much of NFL pro bowler Aaron Glenn. At 5’9. Wheeler was drafted by The Chargers in The sixth round of The 2000 draft. An injury hurt his chances to make the team and he fell through the cracks. Fortunately for NY, He fell right into the laps of The Hitmen. The Hitmen had the league’s #1 pass defense. The defense had 29 sacks and 14 interceptions on the year. Wheeler had three interceptions. QB’s stayed away from his side of the field almost all season. All three of Damen’s picks were acrobatic int’s. Because of Damen’s 5’9 stature, Teams tried to run wide to his side. It didn’t work as
Wheeler made an incredible 42 tackles from his corner position. Wheeler is only 23 years old and he should be on an NFL squad next year. If he’s not. The Hitmen will be lucky to have him back.
Overall Grade: A plus

Joey Eloms- In the early part of The year, Hurricane Joey was Hurricane Joe Ann. Eloms bounced back after a slow start to have a great year. Joey finished with 4 interceptions, 1 TD and 23 tackles. Eloms was a risk taker who broke up several plays on his side. He and Wheeler were on of the league’s best tandems.
Overall Grade: B plus

Tyree Talton- Here is another NFL prospect who was drafted in The 99 draft by The Detroit Lions. Talton had a superb season at free safety this year. He had 35 tackles, 1 interception, 1 sack,2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries. A very solid year for him.
Overall Grade: A minus

Brad Trout- At strong safety, Trout and Talton provided quite a tandem. Trout’s play got better as the year went along. He finished with 47 tackles,2 sacks and 1 interception. Trout can hit and he reminds me a lot of former NFL safety, Chuck Cecil.
Overall Grade: B Plus

Donnie Caldwell- “Big Time” was a strong defensive back in nickel and dime situations. He had 2 interceptions, 1 for a touchdown. He is a pretty good cover guy and he can play safety and corner.
Overall Grade: B minus

Butler B’YNote- Butler returned kickoffs for a 21 yard average. He was mainly used in nickel and dime situations because of his speed. He isn’t much of a tackler though.
Overall Grade: B minus

Tawambi Settles/Mark Tate- Good athletics young backups who could see more action if players depart for The NFL. Settles had a crucial int against Chicago in week 3. Tate is a good special teams guy who hits hard.
Overall Grade: C

COACHING STAFF/GM

Drew Pearson/Joe Mack- Both Mack and Pearson were in charge of assembling this coaching staff and the players. They did a great job in certain areas like defense and a couple of quality offensive finds like Aska, Dar Dar, Davis and Richardson. There needs to be serious upgrades at the offensive line position. The talents of Puleri, Philyaw and Fred Brock were overrated. Their biggest mistake came in The inaugral draft when NY selected Charles Puleri instead of John Avery!!!!! That one move would have probably put NY into the playoffs.
Overall Grade: C plus

Rusty Tillman- Rusty mirrored his team. Once the league’s laughing stock. Then he and his troops regrouped and ended their season on a positive note. Winning 4 of their last 7 and contending for the playoffs saved Rusty his job. Rusty has many years of experience as both a player and coach in The NFL. This was his first pro football head coaching experience. He had growing pains but he grew into the job. He needs to make better in-game decisions next season. All in all, An ok year for gutless” rusty.
Overall Grade: C plus

The Offensive staff of Edwin Bailey(O-Line), Greg Briner(coordinator), and Joe Lombardi(RB’s) all had a disappointing year. The O-Line had way too many penalties and physical breakdowns. The offensive scheme was unimaginative until later in the year and they under-utilized several talents on the team. The RB’s were coached well by Lombardi, who went through several different looks at the position due to injuries.
Overall Grade: C minus

The Defensive staff consisted of Bill Urbanik, Tony Mottola and Mike Dietzel. All 3 did good jobs. The Hitmen employed a fascinating defensive structure. Urbanik handled the run game coordination while Dietzel was the passing game coordinator. Both did outstanding jobs. Talent helps though. I was particularly impressed with Dietzel’s varying looks on passing downs. Mottola did a good job with a young linebacking corp. These are three pretty damn good assistants.
Overall Grade: A

Paul Butcher was the teams special teams coordinator and he brought his NFL experience to the table. The specials unit was mediocre at best. Kickoff coverage was ok at best. The team was unsuccessful on trick plays and the kicking left a lot to be desired.
Overall Grade: C minus

I could sit here and mention every member of the organization but I won’t. I will say however that they ran a classy and smooth operation all year. These organizational types are always overlooked but they get the job done without much fanfare or acclaim.

There’s a full look at the 2001 NY/NJ Hitmen. How many of them will remain, well time will only tell.

Mike Mitchell is a freelance sports writer, analyst, and a general lover of all football. Mike was one of the original XFLBoard.com Team Reporters in 2001, reporting on the New York/New Jersey Hitmen. We have welcomed him back to the XFLBoard and love his ongoing insightful contributions.

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