The Dallas Renegades hosted an open practice meet and greet event on Saturday as it gave fans their first glimpse into what the team is going to look like for the upcoming season. This is also a time for players to take advantage of the time together to not only learn their new systems in offensive coordinator Hal Mumme’s air raid offense and defensive coordinator Chris Woods’ 3-4 scheme, but a chance for them to build chemistry together. Fans saw first hand how much speed and talent is on the offensive side of the ball, and how strong the secondary is looking, after watching seven-on-seven drills. Despite not having the pads on quite yet, there were several tell-tale signs that things are looking up for Bob Stoops’ team.
I’m a Maverick Stadium in Arlington, TX for the @XFLRenegades first public practice for fans to check out. Landry Jones, Philip Nelson, and the rest of the team practicing before their meet and greet with fans at noon. Come say hi to me if you are here! #RaisingHell #XFL2020 pic.twitter.com/cJ97MLtQce
— Anthony Miller (@antmill40) December 14, 2019
Strong QB Situation
This is the quarterback situation that has the least amount of drama as it is clear cut that Landry Jones will be the starter, and Philip Nelson will be his backup. One thing that fans can tell: both of them look capable of running the air raid offense. Both quarterbacks displayed beautiful deep balls thanks in part to the speed of the wide receivers, but both quarterbacks threw perfect spiral passes and the placements of those passes were put in perfect spots. It’s the working relationship between the two that have helped in their development early.
“Landry’s been teaching me a lot,” Nelson said. “I really just kind of follow him around and try to learn as best as I can. Obviously, he has experience in the NFL and I’m just somebody who, it doesn’t matter who you are, I always like to learn from somebody. I can humble myself and anything that I like, I learn from you. Landry’s been a big help for me so far in this offense, especially because he got signed way back, and they have been working on this offense for a little bit, so he’s been teaching me everything so it’s been really good.”
Jones has gone as far as impressing Bob Stoops with his play on the field as well. “Landry in just a week and a half is got the offense down signal and everything,” Stoops said. “He could go out and play a game right now.”
It wasn’t all perfect though, as Jones missed an open Steven Dunbar in the back of the end zone during seven-on-seven when they were near the goal line and Nelson missed on some fade routes in the end zone, but they show pose in the pocket, and understand the system well. The chemistry that they have with their talented receivers were clear from practice and could be scary for opposing defenses once it is developed through training camp next month in Houston.
Deep, Fast Receiving Core
Oh boy, is this receiving core fast! There is so much speed around all their receivers as they displayed it well in all their deep routes they ran during practice. Jeff Badet and Stacy Coley were standouts during practice as they were able to effectively get open and have sure hands. They weren’t the only ones that were impressive in front of the fans.
Flynn Nagel, Joshua Crockett, and Jazz Ferguson stood out with me as both had really good practices on Saturday. Nagel’s 5-11 stature makes him a perfect slot receiver and showed really good hands. He reminded me of a young Wes Welker. If he keeps it up, I could see him compete for one of the two starting slot receiver positions when they run four receiver sets. Crockett is taller and would be more effective on the outside, but ran really good routes and was tough to cover on streak routes. With him being the second tallest receiver in the group, he will need to take advantage of that, and try to make the team by utilizing his height. Another tall receiver that showed good talent: Ferguson. He’s their tallest receiver at 6-5 and showed great ability in adjusting to the ball as he made an impressive over the shoulder catch during practice that impress his teammates and the crowd.
Running Back By Committee
Cameron Artis-Payne was taking first team snaps along with Dimitri Flowers as his fullback/halfback. Artis-Payne showed he’s going to be their inside runner as he has a ton of strength to him, but also showed that he has good hands out of the backfield. He looks to be the favorite to lead the running game.
We also got to see plenty of Dallas Cowboys fan favorite Lance Dunbar, Austin Walter, and Darnell Holland. Dunbar continued to show his main strength, which is to help in the passing game. I can see him being utilized on third down as another pass catcher. The North Texas product had 647 receiving yards in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys and the St. Louis Rams, but hasn’t played since the 2017 season. For Dunbar though, it’s a second chance to step on the field and strap on the helmet once again.
“I just want to get the opportunity to play,” Dunbar said. “Injuries has been my problem in the past and you know I’m healthy. Been healthy for two years and wanna play football.”
Walter and Holland may both either get spots on the roster or both will have to compete for the number three running back spot on the depth chart.
3-4 Defensive Knowledge
Chris Woods is known for running his 3-4 defense when he was a defensive coordinator at Texas State. He will be implementing that same system into his new defense as he will be looking for speed in the secondary and his outside linebackers as pass rushers. One of those speedy linebackers they brought in was former Atlanta Falcons linebacker Jonathan Massaquoi. He played in the NFL from 2012 until 2016 before rejoining pro football in the Alliance with Tim Lewis’ Birmingham Iron team that saw him with a successful run recording three sacks and ten quarterback hits. Without pads on, this mini-camp for the younger players on defense is about learning and adjusting to the new system.
“That’s been a great process for me being a vet and helping these guys come along and seeing them out there making plays,” Massaquoi. “We’re all going to need to come together and win championships and win games together. I’m just happy to be apart of this team and contribute any of my skill set as possible.”
While there is much to be learned, Stoops was confident in where his defense needs to be at this point of the season. “We’re right where we want to be,” Stoops told reporters at the meet and greet. “Coach Woods and our staff there defensively, we’ve got everything in, guys are making checks on the line, and really very few hiccups so it’s been solid.”
Strong Secondary Play
These mini-camps are hard to judge on the defense since there is not much hitting without the pads on, but there was plenty to see with the secondary having to cover all that speed with the receivers. The corners looked good during practice as they showed to have speed of their own. Most had the majority of their practice dealing with one-on-one coverage.
Stand outs in the secondary included Dashaun Phillips and Treston Decoud who will be competing for starting jobs on the team. Both played coverage well in their one-on-one drills and were able to make a play on the ball when they were working. They should be the ones to look like along with AAF standout Derron Smith and NFL veteran Josh Hawkins.
Bob Stoops’ Leadership
For Stoops, he’s familiar with most of the players on the team as he had the chance to recruit most, if not all of them at one point in his college career. Four players on the team are former Stoops players, while the rest are new to working under him. Most of the players on the team are new with Stoops, but he’s given his players a strong first impression through mini-camp as well as the rest of the coaching staff.
“He’s a great player’s coach,” Dunbar said. “The guys are right behind him. Still learning, still getting to know him, still early so we’re still getting to know him, but he’s a great coach.”
“He’s a very good coach obviously,” Nelson said. “He has a lot of accolades. So far it’s been really good.”
“Coach Woods is amazing and Bob Stoops is great,” Massaquoi said. ‘The whole staff is just pristine, pristine all the way around.”
— Anthony Miller (@antmill40) December 14, 2019
As a former morning sports anchor at KGNC 710 AM in Amarillo, TX and a former TV news reporter at KFDX in Wichita Falls, TX and KXII in Sherman, TX, I have a passion for all things sports (specifically football and basketball). The new look XFL got my attention as a spring football league that can work. I look forward to writing about all things XFL Dallas and covering it for the upcoming 2020 season.