Dallas Renegades Training Camp Week Two Observations

Dallas Renegades

Saturday morning in Houston was gloomy, dark, rainy, and humid combined together. Some would say it’s a good day to stay indoors and enjoy the start of the weekend. For XFL teams, it was the perfect day to scrimmage each other and end the second full week of training camp on a high notes. The Dallas Renegades were looking to do the same from W.W. Throne Stadium against the St. Louis BattleHawks.

The Renegades have been in the headlines for the XFL with the major news involving quarterback Landry Jones, the trades they have been making, and the recent signing of quarterback Eric Dungey. They have been under the spotlight of training camp with the amount of big names within the franchise as they push for a West Division title and an XFL Title.

Eric Dungey Suffers Injury, Philip Nelson Leading Quarterback Battle

Eric Dungey made headlines when he joined the Renegades the day after the Landry Jones injury to serve as the backup quarterback to Philip Nelson. Things got interesting after Dungey’s first workout with the team in Houston. According to offensive coordinator Hal Mumme when speaking with XFL Board, Dungey pulled his hamstring after just one workout and has been working through the injury.

“He appears to be athletic and he’s got a strong arm in the little bit we have seen him I was impressed,” coach Mumme said. “We’ll have to get him well and be able to work with.”

During Saturday’s scrimmage practice with the BattleHawks, Dungey did not suit up only wearing his number seven red jersey. He did throw during seven-on-seven drills, but Nelson took all the snaps when the teams played full offense versus full defense. While spectators were not able to see his mobility, Dungey’s arm looked good. He had quite the rip on the ball as he displayed great velocity on his deep passes. There were times he overthrew his receivers, but that could have a lot to do with his hamstring and being limited on his movement. Nelson got off to a good start as he looked good on his deep passes and seems to be developing good chemistry with his receivers. Both coach Mumme and head coach Bob Stoops have been pleased with what they have saw out of the quarterback in Jones’ absence.

“I think he’s done great,” coach Mumme said. “He was like 90% for the day (Friday). He’s done a great job throwing competitions, keeping the game moving. He has gotten better and better each day in his leadership ability and stuff like that. He’s stepped up and I think the team has really rallied around him.”

“Philip’s (Nelson) has really done a great job. Especially in the last three-four practices, he’s really picked it up. You can tell he’s getting more and more comfortable with everything we’re doing and the added repetition, he’s continued to really improve. ”

Update on Landry Jones Injury

Landry Jones did not throw passes at camp on Saturday, but Bob Stoops told XFL Board that Jones has been making good progress in his rehab back onto the field.

“Seems to be healing fine,” coach Stoops said. “Still unsure how many more weeks it will be, but he’s feeling better and better everyday.”

In a post on Sunday by the Renegades team, Jones was seen on the field with the team throughout his time in Houston working with teammates and the quarterbacks helping them get accustomed to the air-raid offense. His leadership skills have been on display since he joined the team and continues to be the man running the show even if he is sidelined. No word yet as to whether the team expects him to start week one of the season against the BattleHawks.

Dallas running back Cameron Artis-Payne finds a crease against Los Angeles last Saturday.
Dallas running back Cameron Artis-Payne finds a crease against Los Angeles last Saturday. Credit: XFL.com

Running Back Competition is Fierce

One of the toughest battles to determine a winner of during training camp has been the running back competition as five running backs are going for the top spot. The battle is tight as the competition is between Cameron Artis-Payne, Lance Dunbar, Austin Walter, Marquis Young, and Darnell Holland. Renegades running back coach Bobby Blizzard and the rest of the coaching staff know they will have a difficult decision to make when all is said and done in Houston.

“They’re making it hard on me every day. I go to sleep thinking that if I lose any of these guys, I’ll be heartbroken,”coach Blizzard said to XFL.com in a recent interview. “Still, to this day and this moment, if it came down to cuts, I still wouldn’t know who to pick. I would need the whole staff to bounce ideas off them and see what they think of each kid.”

“It has truly been a competition,” coach Mumme told XFL Board. “You got two veterans guys in Lance Dunbar and Cam Artis-Payne who have really provided a lot of leadership. They play well, they know what to do. But they have helped bring along Marquis Young who really is a great competitor. Austin Walter has had a good camp. Darnell Holland is a guy who’s learning the running back position, but he played in an offense in college that was like a Flexbone deal as the wingback so he’s had to learn a lot of stuff, but has incredible speed. He’s really someone we’ve enjoyed working with.”

One thing that has been very apparent with the running backs has been their athletic abilities to catch the ball out of the backfield. Walter had a big day as he was able to catch a tough over the shoulder diving catch that wowed and fired up the sidelines. Young and Holland ran the ball hard as the three are all fighting for spots on the team. It seems as though Artis-Payne and Dunbar could find their ways onto the squad. It’s a matter of how many running backs will the team carry and which of them will make the cut.

Receivers Impressing the Coaching Staff

There has been a lot of movement at the receiver position, but there is no denying that there is a ton of speed and talent within the group. There have been several players that have stood out in the pack as the leaders. Jeff Badet has had a great training camp and that comes at no surprise with his knowledge of the offense and the strong chemistry he has been building with Landry Jones. The one player everyone has been talking about though: Jazz Ferguson. Ferguson is poised for big things this season as he has been known for making spectacular catches and being difficult to cover one-on-one. They have no doubt caught the attention of the offensive coaching staff along with the other receivers.

“Yeah there’s been some big play guys there definitely,” coach Stoops said. “Jazz is such a big target to make big plays. Jeff Badet has such speed to make big plays. A lot of others guys are really stepping up. Flynn Nagel inside is a really sure handed guy with great route running. It’s a good group.”

During Saturday’s camp, newcomer Freddie Martino is quickly making noise as he displayed some nice route running and great hands. Despite the fact that he is coming onto the team late after being traded, Martino has already shown that he is on his way to making the roster and could get playing time. The tough part as well for the coaches is the fact that several players have played well. Coach Mumme spoke very highly of the group and how they are performing.

“Overall, it’s been a task to try to sort out who’s going to make the club,” coach Mumme said. “Mainly because they’re all so even. Of course, we traded Stacy (Coley), brought in Freddie Martino who had a great day yesterday (Friday).”

Along with Badet, Ferguson, and Martino, we have seen several other receivers stepping up. Simmie Cobbs, Flynn Nagel, and Jerrod Heard had big days Saturday and have continued to play efficiently. Cobbs will provide some needed outside skills catching the ball while Nagel makes for a perfect Wes Welker-type in the slot. Not to mention Heard has proven to be a physical receiver who seem to have caught every ball thrown his way against the BattleHawks secondary. The coaching staff will have some tough decisions Wednesday when they start making cuts.

Defense Hitting Hard and Learning Harder

The defense had to have been excited once training camp started as they finally got to suit up and tackle for the first time since joining the XFL. Mini-camp for the defenders was learning the 3-4 system that defensive coordinator Chris Woods has implemented into the defense. A scheme that requires a lot of speed and a lot of thinking on their feet to react.

“They’re a smart group,” coach Woods told XFL Board. “The focus on this one was a little bit more of a technique and toughness and see who’s going to play ball the right way and learn the rules. You know you have a reimagined game and there are some things we have to work around defensively. That’s awesome. I think there’s some great, exciting additions, but it is a little bit how you coach it.”

Some of the rule changes that is more geared towards the offense includes the one foot inbounds, the double forward pass, and the new point after conversions. Despite the new changes, the challenge of a more offensive-friendly rules doesn’t seem to faze the defensive coaching staff.

“Our number one job is to be an extension of the offense and to keep us in the game,” coach Woods said. “We can’t control the rules. Wherever they spot the ball and whatever they tell us the rules are, we are going to try to go up and stop them. It’s more of just educating the guys. Certain things they are not used to from the NFL or going back to college.”

The defense is filled with veterans and big play players from their days in the NFL and some of the Alliance of American Football including guys like Frank Alexander, Jonathan Massaquoi, Derron Smith, and Josh Hawkins. The team as a unit has been too good to point out one guy who has played well. Woods talked a lot about the linebackers like Greer Martini and Ray Ray Davison have played well along with the strong play from Smith and the rest of the secondary. They were on full display going up against the BattleHawks stacked offense and will have something to say when the season starts.

Special Teams is Pretty Special

One of the questions after the team waived long snapper Owen Gilbert was who the Renegades were going to turn to in regards to handling long snapping duties. It appears that linebacker Christian Kuntz will be taking over those duties. Kuntz was brought onto the team late last month and has done work in the past as a long snapper so the team will turn to him to handle those duties and looks to go into the season as the man in the middle of the line on field goals and punts.

Austin MacGinnis was one of the sharpest looking players at camp with his performance on field goals. He was perfect during his time on the field as he is displaying a strong leg and every kick he made looked like he was hitting them right in-between the uprights. While special teams seems to be under-appreciated especially since they have eliminated kicks on extra points, MacGinnis will have to make the most of his time on the field.

The kickoff coverage did take a hit as they get used to the new alignment as they saw a familiar foe get through the line of defense easily for a big return. Former Renegades wide receiver Keith Mumphrey seems to be making the most of his time with the BattleHawks as he returned a kickoff without being touched on the Renegades as he got a small sense of revenge in practice. Most fans know it’ll be an adjustment period for teams to get used to the new kickoff rules so Renegade fans should be happy it’s happening now and not in real action.

Notable Players Sidelined on Saturday

There were some notable players that did not workout with the team on the field on Saturday as they could be seen running on the sidelines working their way back onto the field. Noteworthy players included wide receiver Floyd Allen, running back Lance Dunbar, defensive end Frank Alexander, and defensive tackle Winston Craig. It’s a tough break for Dunbar as he has had a history of fighting through injuries and is expected to play a factor in the offense on passing downs. Allen is battling for a spot in the receiver rotation as it continues to get deeper and deeper in the position on the depth chart. Alexander is a veteran presence that the Renegades need and Craig was looked at to be apart of the rotation of defensive tackles, but with the additions of Drew Bailey and Omarius Bryant, it will make competition tougher for everyone at the position.

St. Louis BattleHawks Safety #44 Joe Powell is known for a lot on and of the field

Joe PowellThis story is going to be one that comes from my own perspective. St. Louis BattleHawks Safety #44 Joe Powell is known for a lot on the field, but it’s off the field I wanted to focus on.

Powell and I met years ago when I was on the other side of one of his explosive plays. Powell at the time was with the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks of the Professional Indoor Football League and I was with the Richmond Raiders. In 2015, he was named the PIFL’s defensive rookie of the year. Powell, a defensive back at the time, made 11 interceptions on the season.

Powell is a product of Globe Institute of Technology in New York. He spent time with the New York Giants and the Buffalo Bills in the National Football League.

Just recently he was a member of the now defunct Birmingham Iron. I drove from Texas to watch him play numerous times. He finished out with the Baltimore Brigade in the now defunct Arena Football League. Powell continued to make explosive plays in whatever league he was in.

When the XFL came around and I saw Joe was going to St. Louis I was excited. Powell does a great job at connecting with his “fans” and loves the game. Off the field Powell always takes time to check in on me and others. It takes a lot in today’s age to actual take time out of your busy schedule to check in.

Bringing the Payne – St. Louis BattleHawks Defensive End Jake Payne is a name that should be known in the XFL

St. Louis BattleHawks Defensive End Jake Payne is a name that should be known in the XFL.

I met Payne a few years back when he was playing with Washington Valor in the now defunct Arena Football League.

Before being a member of the Valor, Payne played collegiately at Division III Shenandoah. While with the Hornets, as a Senior he led the ODAC with seven sacks. He also had 53 tackles, including 26 solo and 14 for loss. He was named first team All-ODAC and Lou Wacker Defensive Player of the Year. He was also named first team All-State by both VaSID and the Roanoke Times.

Payne was also a member of the Birmingham Iron of the now defunct AAF.

Everywhere Payne goes he contributes. Payne plays the run very well and will create mayhem all season with the BattleHawks. Payne and the BattleHawks will travel to Dallas to battle the Renegades on Sunday, February 9 at 4 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN.

In search of talent, Vipers take chances on questionable characters

Jalen Collins

Over the past month, the Tampa Bay Vipers have invested in two characters whose troubles have played a big part in their exits from the NFL. First, they acquired CB Jalen Collins from the LA Wildcats in a December trade. Collins was a second round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2015 out of LSU. While preparing for the draft, it was revealed that he was reported to have had multiple drug test failures in college.

Personal missteps followed Collins to the NFL. After a quiet rookie season on that front, his sophomore season began with him serving a four-game suspension for a failed drug test. His third season, in 2017, began similarly, only this time it was a 10-game ban. The Falcons released him after that suspension. A third suspension followed, this time four games. As a free-agent in 2018, he was given another ten-game suspension, his fourth since joining the league three years earlier.

Collins’ story is not one of run-ins with the law, but it’s a risk for the Vipers nonetheless. The XFL does not have a drug testing policy for performance enhancing drugs (which is what the failed NFL tests were reported as being for), at least one that has been publicly released, so as long as Collins is a good teammate and earns his way onto the roster with his on-field play, he’ll be fine.

Antonio Callaway

Last week, the Vipers dipped their toe into the water of controversy again, this time by signing WR Antonio Callaway. The University of Florida product comes to a Vipers team that should be on the TV show Hoarders for their propensity to keep Florida players in-state. Like Collins, Callaway was a high draft pick in the NFL (fourth round) who would’ve gone higher had it not been for controversy that embroiled him at Florida.

Callaway was accused of sexual assault while in college and suspended. He was eventually found not responsible for the assault, nor for any University of Florida code of conduct violations. Like Collins, Callaway kept clean during his first year in the league. Also like Collins, his second year began with a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He was released from the Cleveland Browns for showing up late to meetings. The fact that he was also facing a ten-game suspension – for using a tainted CBD product, per a league source to Cleveland.com – likely played a part in the release from the Browns. He was suspended for the final seven weeks of the 2019 season, and the first three weeks of the 2020 season.

The Vipers needed defensive back help. They took a chance on the tall, speedy Collins. They needed to add deep speed in their wide receiver corps. They took a chance on Callaway and his 4.41 40-yard dash time. Vipers head coach Marc Trestman has made these calculated additions to the team, both appearing to be boom-or-bust acquisitions. Trestman is not a fire-and-brimstone coach, and the success of Tampa Bay’s initial foray into the XFL relies on him not needing to be one. It remains to be seen how he’s able to handle two players who, while talented, bring a lot of baggage to the team and the league. For the perception of the league, they too are taking a chance on Collins and Callaway. Both the Vipers and the XFL hope the only noise Collins and Callaway make is for their on-field play.

Houston Roughnecks 2020

On a cool morning in Houston, Texas the Houston Roughnecks welcomed fans and media to see what all the hype was about. The Roughnecks were set to battle the Tampa Bay Vipers. Being a University of Houston alumnus it was nice to see my University be the host of a Professional football team.

The Houston Roughnecks are led by legendary Head Coach June Jones. Jones has spent time at all levels of football, most recently in the Canadian Football League with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Both rosters were full of former NFL players looking at getting another shot. Wide Receiver #10 Sammie Coates is a name many should know. Coates was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round of the 2015 Draft.

When asked about what it meant to be in the XFL, Coates stated “It’s a blessing and I am happy to be here.”

While in the NFL, Coates has 29 receptions for 528 yards and 2 Touchdowns.

Quarterback’s Connor Cook and PJ Walker also looked great. Walker is a name known by many in Houston. He played in college at Temple and battled the University of Houston numerous times throughout his collegiate career.

On defense, Defensive Back Robert Nelson looks to continue his professional career. He is also happy to be back in Houston.

The Special Teams unit also looks to be on point. The Roughnecks have 2019 CFL All-Star Kicker Sergio Castillo who adds depth and experience. Long Snapper Colton Taylor, a Virginia Tech alum continues to impress with his ability to do more than just snap the ball, and punter Austin Rehkow can boot the ball far and pin the opposing team deep.

This team is full of good players and I can’t wait to see them in action on Saturday, February 8 as they host the LA Wildcats.

XFL LA Wildcats trade Luis Perez to the New York Guardians

Three months after being assigned to the Los Angeles Wildcats as their Tier 1 quarterback, Luis Perez was traded to the New York Guardians for quarterback Charles Kanoff.

After the Los Angeles Wildcats acquired veteran quarterback Josh Johnson, it has become rumored that Perez was not in the running for the starting quarterback job.

Head Coach and General Manager Winston Moss said of the Perez trade:

“We respect Luis. He is a first-class person and a first-class player. We felt as though the development of Josh Johnson and Jalan McClendon would give us the best chance to have success this season.”

Charles Kanoff played college football at Princeton. He signed as an undrafted free agent with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018, and also spent time on the  practice squads of the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before signing with the Guardians on January 5, 2019. He only spent two weeks with the Guardians before being moved to the Wildcats.

The New York Guardians have not indicated how Perez will figure into their quarterback depth chart.

Anthony Johnson is focused on Seattle Dragons training camp

Anthony Johnson (91) – Credit XFL.com

Since coming to Houston to attend an XFL Seattle Dragons pre-season training camp, Anthony Johnson is focused on one thing…  having a successful training camp.

In fact, his insistence that he was not thinking past the training camp to the Dragons opening XFL inaugural game against the DC Defenders on 8 February was proof enough of his mindset.

“It is an exciting feeling,” he said. “But, right now I think we’re just focused on trying to get through camp. Trying to get everything finalized and get us ready for that game.”

Anthony pointed out that the Dragons were preparing for a pre-season matchup against the DC Defenders Monday, a game that would serve to be a “dress rehearsal” for the real game that will take place in three weeks.

Other than the job at hand, Anthony is positive about the Seattle Dragons.

“This is a great team. Everybody has come together pretty quick in just in a short period of time. I’m excited to see where this team goes.”

“We have a great coaching staff around us,” Anthony said. “Coach Lopez has a great mind. I love listening to him, and I love hearing the things that he has to say. Just all of his concepts, and the same thing with coach Johnson, you know, he’s a great coach and he’s helped me a lot with my game since I’ve been here, just changing different things up on how I play.”

We look forward to seeing Anthony on the field for the Seattle Dragons on February 8th.

To hear the entire interview with Anthony Johnson, check out the XFL Xtra Podcast – Episode 20
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Running Back James Butler is picked up by the XFL Houston Roughnecks

On January 8th, the Houston Roughnecks announced the addition of running back James Butler to their roster.

A native of Wheaton, Illinois, and a graduate of the St. Francis High School football program, Butler started his college career playing for the University of Nevada Wolfpack. In Nevada, he was named All-Mountain West honorable mention in 2015 and 2016 and earned his team’s Outstanding Offensive Player Award in 2016. In his time at Nevada, he had two 1,000-yard seasons and rushed for 3,316 yards and 27 touchdowns, in addition to hauling in 49 passes for 438 yards and three more TDs.

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After a stellar career at Nevada, Butler transferred to Iowa for his senior season and was a backup. He had 91 rushes for 396 yards and a touchdown.

After College, Butler landed in the Oakland Raiders organization, playing in the pre-season and then relegated to the practice roster, despite showing brilliance when he was put on the field.

In 2019, in a bid to get actual playing time, Butler went to the pre-season training camp of the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL. When he was waived by the Roughriders, he wound up returning to the Raider’s practice roster.

In a span of two seasons, Butler was cut four times by the Raiders. They must have liked something about him, because they kept bringing him back.  It seems there was wide interest in his football skills, but Butler was looking for on-field playing time.

This is when the XFL came into the picture.

Butler was recently in Green Bay airport, returning from a workout with the Packers, when he received the call from the XFL.

“I was in Green Bay when I got the call and I was like in the Green Bay airport and they, they were like, can we get you on a flight tomorrow? And I wasn’t even back in Chicago yet.”

On the 8th of January, the Houston Roughnecks reported that Butler had been added to their training camp roster.

Soon after joining the Roughnecks, Butler began to enjoy the type of offence they were building.

“It was a different offence. It reminded me a lot of the offense they ran in Nevada, like a true spread offence,” he explained. “I was talking to coach Estes and he was saying you’re not going to see a lot of eight, nine-man boxes in this kind of offence.”

“I would say this is a pass-first team,” Butler said. “But, incorporates a lot of that with run, so I like it. It’s different. It really utilizes a running back’s talents.”

Despite the intriguing nature of the offensive scheme, and since cut down day is fast approaching, Butler’s main incentive is to make the team.  His motivation even extends to making any XFL roster at this point in time.

“Any roster, honestly,” he clarified.

It’s not just Butler who is pulling for himself to be successful in this league. Back in Illinois, Pat Calcagno the coach of Butler’s former high school team is also pulling for him.

We hope Butler’s hard-working attitude carries him into the regular season of the XFL.

To hear the entire interview with Jame Butler, check out the XFL Xtra Podcast – Episode 20
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Wide Receiver Dontez Byrd gets an opportunity with the XFL Seattle Dragons

They call him “Speedy” Byrd and he’s a wide receiver that started out in Ballard High School in Louisville, Kentucky. In fact, he wanted to play pro football nearly his whole life. When he was young, he wrote a letter to his mother telling her so:

However, like many footballers, there would be many hurdles to cross before Dontez’s “legacy” could be achieved.

When he graduated from high school, Dontez did not have an offer to play at the college level. However, he walked on at Louisville and earned his way onto the team. It worked out, and Byrd made a name for himself on special teams.

In 2017, his senior season, Byrd transferred to Tennessee Tech, where he had a stellar year as a wide receiver where he caught 78 passes for 1,003 yards, and six TDs.

In 2018, this led to Dontez being signed by the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent. After a rookie minicamp, he earned himself a spot on the roster for the preseason. Even though he was waived before the beginning of the regular season, Dontez remains positive about the experience.

“I played in all four preseason games and had three catches for 76 yards,” he said. “it was good to come in and be around all those receivers that I looked up to in college, and having a chance to play with them in the NFL was pretty cool. And now, I use what they taught me today.”

After a switch of agents, his career suffered a slight pause. Byrd’s next opportunity came in 2019 with the Memphis Express of the Alliance of American Football (AAF). However, his playing time was limited due to an ankle sprain.

After the AAF league folded, Byrd returned to the situation where he was looking for a new pro football team. When the XFL came along, he expressed interest in the league and looked for an XFL opportunity.

That opportunity finally came in January when he received an invitation to join the Seattle Dragons at their preseason training camp in Houston. The timing of that call was quite miraculous, as Dontez was waiting for a job interview when it happened.

“It’s crazy because I received a call at 8:30 in the morning, and I was in a job interview,” Dontez explained. “It was actually my first job interview. I’ve been waiting a while to play football, and I just decided I was going to get a job.”

“I left the interview and went home. Then, I got packed up and got ready to go.”

Through his faith, Dontez just knows it was divine intervention.

Now that he is in the Dragons training camp, Dontez is anxious and eager to get on the field, prove himself, and make the Dragon’s roster.

“I know we only have a couple of practices left, and a preseason game Monday. So, I have to get out there and get some good film on tape so I can make this roster.”

Speedy Byrd has his work cut out for him, but we have faith that his skill, determination and drive will lead him to achieve his legacy.

To hear the entire interview with Dontez Byrd, check out the XFL Xtra Podcast – Episode 20
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Episode 20 – Final Hurdle – Anthony Johnson, Dontez Byrd, James Butler

In this episode, Mark Nelson interviews three XFL players, all currently participating in a combined XFL training camp in Houston. First, you hear from Seattle Dragons Defensive end-defensive tackle Anthony Johnson. We last heard from Anthony in a podcast back in October, and today he will give us an update from the Dragons Training camp. Then you will hear from two players who are brand new to the XFL, wide receiver Dontez Byrd of the Seattle Dragons, and Running back James Butler of the Houston Roughnecks. Both of these players were brought into XFL training camps in the past two weeks, and both are trying to prove themselves so they may join their respective teams for the regular season.

Music: Are You Ready – Free music archive.

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