Seattle Dragons week 1 preview

The run game, including Ja'Quan Gardner, could determine the Seattle Dragons' fate in Week 1 against the DC Defenders.
Seattle Dragons Running Back Ja’Quan Gardner. Photo: XFL.com

It is almost here! It seems like we have been waiting forever for this day but alas, here we are. On Saturday, the Seattle Dragons will travel to DC to take on the Defenders. Usually, during the season, I will publish two Dragon articles each week. A review of the last game and the preview for the next game. Since this is week 1, I will just be briefly reviewing the preseason game and previewing Saturday’s showdown in one article.

Preseason Game Recap

In a dress rehearsal game, the Dragons squared off against the Defenders in Houston. There were not official stats but by following social media, you could get an idea of what was going on. In the scrimmage, BJ Daniels got the start over Brandon Silvers, which will not be happening in week 1. However, the Daniels-led offense had a little bit better results. Daniels led a TD drive early as the Dragons got out to an early 10-0 lead. Cardale Jones and the Defenders ended up storming back and took the lead on pick-6 thrown by the Brandon Silvers. Ja’Quan Gardner got the Dragons back in the game with a 35 yard TD run but it was not enough as they fell 21-16.

I would not take too much from this scrimmage, a lot of the players that played in this game are not even still on the roster. While it was a little bit concerning to see those interceptions by Silvers, they happen and the fact that he was named the starter despite them is a nice bode of confidence. Knowing we have Daniels to come off the bench in relief if things go bad is also a good thing. A big bright spot was Ja’Quan Gardner. Gardner took one to the house from 35 yards out, trying to cement himself in this RB rotation. Gardner was frequently compared to MJD in the AAF and played up to the name too, frequently busting out long runs. It looks like he has not missed a beat and could be a great option in the backfield.

Week 1 Preview

There will be a lot of eyes on the Dragons on Saturday, not just because it is week 1 – but the Dragons vs Defenders is the first game on the 4 game weekend slate. The Defenders have opened as early favorite across every gambling market, usually sitting at about 7 point favorites. For season-long odds, the Defenders are also usually near the top (projected to be good) while the Dragons reside near the bottom (projected to be bad). This is a little concerning as a Dragons fan but I am not too worried about it. This is pure speculation and the fact of the matter is that the Dragons do not have a lot of big, recognizable names i.e. Cardale Jones.

Injuries

The big concern for the Dragons right now is that they are probably the most injured team in the XFL. LB Brandon Bell, WR Rueben Mwehla, LB Gionni Paul and DT Tani Tapou are already on the IR and this weeks practice report was a little too full for a week 1 game. Isaiah Battle, Kasen Williams, Tyson Graham and Cam Clear have all been declared out for this week’s game. Jeremy Clark, Mohammed Seisay and Alonzo Moore were all limited participants.

It is also too early to say if they injured players are huge contributors because we just don’t know. The Dragons are healthy at QB, which is a luxury right now in the West division. The fact of the matter is, thought, that we would like to be a lot more healthy.

Defenders on offense

If you were to rank the top receiving cores in the league, it would be a travesty to not have the Defenders in the top 2. Former NFL contributor Eli Rogers, LSU standout Malachi Dupre, and speedsters Rashad Ross and DeAndre Thompkins (Thompkins has been declared out) make up the wide receiving core. TE Khari Lee has gotten great camp reports and we have seen RB Jhurrell Pressley be utilized out of the backfield as a receiver in the AAF. I expect this team to test the Seattle secondary early and often with XFL MVP favorite Cardale Jones at the helm. This is a huge test for the Dragons here in week 1.

Matchups in the secondary will be huge for the Dragons. Starting CBs Jeremy Clark and Channing Stribling ran 4.4 and 4.6 40 times, respectively, so trying to neutralize fellow 4.4 receivers, Thompkins and Ross with Clark would be the best bet.

Differing philosophy on the other side

While the Defenders look to have an explosive air attack, the Dragons are going to have a different philosophy on the offensive side of the ball. When you draft RBs with your first two picks, keep five TEs on the roster, and your team president says the team’s greatest strengths are going to be “running the football and playing defense”, I would expect this team to air it out a little less.

When depth charts dropped there was a little unexpected shakeup to the RB rotation. Ja’Quan Gardner was listed as the starter on the depth chart with Farrow and Williams after him. As mentioned earlier, Gardner had a big run in the preseason and he did match the production of these two in the AAF. I would still expect to see a huge split in carries between the three and given the fact that I project Seattle to be the highest volume running team, there should be enough to go around.

I expect Seattle to try and keep Silvers clean with a run-heavy and quick to intermediate passing game. The Dragons could have an advantage rotating in and out five fresh TEs. The starting WRs Seattle expects to trot out are Keenan Reynolds, Kasen Williams, and Austin Proehl. Expect Reynolds to be heavily involved both catching, running and even passing the ball on some trick plays. Also, keep an eye on John Santiago. The UND alum is a converted RB and is the expected kick returner, he is explosive and someone Zorn and OC Mike Riley would be wise to get involved.

At the QB position, BJ Daniels could still possibly be in the mix, we don’t know what Zorn has up his sleeve. I would expect the leash on Silvers to be a little longer than one game but there could be specific packages for Daniels and his unique skillset.

Special Teams

The Dragons have had quite the kicker carousel so far this season. Cole Tracy was looking like the starting kicker coming out of camp but a surprise cut led to the signing of Garrett Hartley. However, Hartley’s stint was unfortunately short with the Dragons as the XFL did not permit him to play due to injury concerns. Now the Dragons will be rolling with Ernesto Lacayo in week 1. The 30-year-old kicker has been very experienced in smaller football leagues, with stints in the IFL, PIFL, CPIFL, CIF and AFL.

What I’m looking for on Saturday

Creativity – How creative will this offense be? We are expecting a lot of running but will we have creative schemes, WR runs, wildcat runs or BJ Daniels appearances.

Offensive Line – OL play was incredibly suspect in the AAF early on and without Isaiah Battle it will be interesting to see how this unit performs

Rotations – How often will Zorn want to sub his players in and out? There is depth at positions like TE and DL but OL and LBs could be undermanned.

XFL – Win or lose, I am just excited to see this team and league in action. That being said, I will be rooting for the Dragons like crazy.

Have a good week 1 everybody and Go Dragons!

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