There’s an old saying in football: the offense wins games; the defense wins championships, and this year the Roughnecks with the new XFL season just weeks away will no doubt remember the importance of a stalwart defense in winning games. Through the XFL draft, the Roughnecks have amassed a strong depth chart on the defensive side of the ball with most of the players having some sort of game time either on active NFL rosters, working on NFL practice squads, time in the Canadian Football League (CFL), or with the now-defunct Alliance of American Football (AAF.)
Defensive Line: The big men up front in any defensive scheme lead the way and can make or break a Defensive Coordinator’s game plan each week. The Roughnecks have built up a D Line corps around such players as Corey Crawford from Clemson who brings not only championship-caliber NCAA experience, but time with the Washington Redskins practice squad and playing time with the Memphis Express of the AAF and will help solidify the line. Kony Ealy out of Missouri brings not only SEC playing experience, but NFL time with the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets, as does Gabe Smith who played collegiately at Auburn and had playing time with the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders. Yet another SEC alumnus is Trenton Thompson out of Georgia, who also earned playing time with the Arizona Hotshots of the AAF. Alongside Thompson is Johnny Maxey out of Mars Hill, who had time on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster and played with the defunct Birmingham Lions of the AAF. Rounding out some of the D Line standouts is Taylor Reed from SMU, who also had professional experience in the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, as well as Calgary and Ottawa. Many of these players have been in NFL camps and will bring that experience and maturity with them to the Roughnecks first season.
Linebackers: The Roughnecks Linebacker corps is also deep with professional experience. Carl Bradford was an All Pac-12 standout at Arizona State, and spent 2014-2016 between the Green Bay Packers active roster, and practice squads and also was with the Arizona Hotshots last season with the AAF. Beniquez Brown is another SEC alumnus from Mississippi State who also spent 2016 on the Green Bay Packers practice squad, and played for the Birmingham Iron of the AAF. DeMarquis Gates also brings SEC experience from Ole Miss, and last season with the Memphis Express led the AAF with 52 tackles and five forced fumbles. Rounding out the Roughnecks LB’s are Le Troy Lewis and Ty Schwab. Lewis, coming out of Tennessee, was on the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans active rosters, and Schwab was an NFL draft prospect from Boston College. The experience and versatility of the Roughnecks LB’s will pay dividends quickly, and bolster DC Ted Cottrell’s defensive schemes this season.
Defensive Secondary: Yet again the Roughnecks will immediately benefit from the depth of their secondary roster this season. Corrion Ballard was a safety at Utah and comes in as an addition to the Roughnecks roster in time for training camp. Ballard brings NFL experience with him, after being on the active roster for the Carolina Panthers. Ajene Harris from USC also brings an additional depth to the Roughnecks secondary,as Harris originally was a quarterback in high school and converted to a WR initially by USC before moving to cornerback and nickel back. Harris also spent time with the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad. Robert Nelson from Arizona State earned 2013 All Pac-12 honors. Nelson also has extensive NFL experience having been on the rosters of the Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans and New York Jets, and spent last year with the Arizona Hotshots of the AAF. Saivion Smith from Alabama is a graduate of Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide defensive back factory and was with the Jacksonville Jaguars this past pre-season. The Roughnecks secondary is deep with playing time and will play an integral part in shutting down other XFL teams’ passing attacks this upcoming season.
Mike Gambill has joined XFLBoard.com as a reporter for the Houston Roughnecks.