New York Guardians Training Camp Recap: Standing on guard for the upcoming season

The New York Guardians have completed training camp in Houston. The team will be heading back home today.

Training camp officially ended on Tuesday for the Guardians’, with a live scrimmage against their week one opponent, the Tampa Bay Vipers. New York will host this rematch at MetLife Stadium in each team’s 2020 season opener on Sunday, Feb. 9 (2 p.m. ET, FOX).

Guardians Vipers Test Game
Credit: XFL.com

GUARDIANS-VIPERS SCRIMMAGE

New York and Tampa ended training camp together. They will also be starting and ending the regular season against each other, in weeks one and ten. To quote T.S. Eliot, “In my end is my beginning.”

It’s not standard practice in football for week one opponents to practice against each other before their first game. Both team staffs were put in a unique position, having to get their teams ready for the opener without putting all their cards on the table. Tuesday’s scrimmage was a dry run for both sides, and a dress rehearsal for Fox and the referees.

The final score of the Guardians’ scrimmage was New York 27 Tampa 15. The outcome itself wasn’t that important. For New York, training camp has been a mixed bag. The Guardians’ defense has been ahead of the game thus far. New York’s offense has had its struggles, and there have been quite a few changes to the roster since mini-camp ended back in late December. (More on that later).

The performance of New York’s QB1 in the scrimmage, Matt McGloin, was reflective of training-camp for the Guardians offense. McGloin threw for three touchdowns but also turned the ball over twice with two interceptions. After the game, McGloin admitted that the Guardians are still working through issues of consistency on offense. The clock is ticking with the season fast approaching.

There are three New York receivers, that figure to be key cogs in the passing game. DeAngelo Yancey, Mekale McKay, and Tanner Gentry. The competition behind those three has been wide-open.

Two wideouts who have emerged in recent weeks, shined in Tuesday’s scrimmage. Teo Redding and Colby Pearson. Both players made a strong case for significant roles come Sunday, Feb. 9. Redding, the former Bowling Green standout, had several big catches against Tampa. A 36-yard touchdown and a one-point conversion in the first half. BYU’s Colby Pearson had an unconventional 76-yard touchdown grab. Pearson made a big catch down the field, landed inside the 30, then realizing that he wasn’t touched, rose to his feet and raced to the end-zone. Another receiver that is making his case for a spot is Justice Liggins. He made a great 30-yard contested-catch during the scrimmage. Another late transplant on the Guardians roster, Austin Duke scored on a Marquise Williams touchdown pass. The New York staff has some tough roster decisions to make at receiver.

The Guardians’ defense stood out again in Houston. LSU’s Terrence Alexander has been one of the stars of New York’s camp. The player that LSU’s Ed Orgeron called one of the smartest players, he has ever been around, completed camp in Houston, with another stellar performance during this scrimmage. Alexander has been all over the field making plays all January, from the safety, nickel and outside corner position.

Guardians Dragons Test Game
Credit: Justin Kelm

TRANSACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
(VOLUME THREE)

Two weeks ago, New York jettisoned three receivers off their roster and brought three new ones in to replace them. Last week, New York traded for two offensive linemen from St. Louis in Avery Young and Dejon Allen.

On Sunday, the Guardians traded Charles ‘Chad’ Kanoff to Los Angeles for Luis Perez. The trade raised a lot of eyebrows in XFL circles. Kanoff was running fourth at Quarterback for New York in camp. Luis Perez was LA’s assigned QB back in October. The situation for Perez in LA changed a month later when Josh Johnson made his way from the NFL to the Wildcats.

The trade has people questioning the motivations of both parties involved. On the New York side of things, Is the team hedging their bets on their projected starter McGloin, or their projected backup Marquise Williams?  Perez is coming on board with New York, late in the process of season preparation. Head Coach Kevin Gilbride has a history of crowded quarterback rooms. How he and the New York staff handle the position in the coming weeks should be fascinating to watch.

The New York Guardians pulled off another trade on Monday night. This time, they were partaking in a unique three-team trade. The DC Defenders added Guard Kahlil McKenzie to their active list and then shipped him to Los Angeles. The Wildcats sent Guard Damien Mama to New York. To complete the trade, Safety Shamarko Thomas, who the Guardians had the rights to, was sent to DC.

Damien Mama is the third offensive lineman that New York has added in less than a week. Seven offensive linemen that the Guardians drafted in October are no longer on the teams’ active roster. Three of the team’s top five selections in Phase 2 of the O-Line draft are out. (Cyrus Koandjio, Parker Collins and Zac Kerin). Offensive Tackle Jarron Jones seems locked into a starting job. He was New York’s top pick. Center Ian Silberman has returned from injury to solidify the pivot. The other three starting spots are all up for grabs.

ROSTER CUTS/PROJECTIONS

The Guardians will be paring down their roster from 70 to 52 over the course of the next few days. The official 52 player list will not be made public until Monday.

There will be so many moving parts, between now and the start of the season. At this point, you can’t rule out more trades or even new acquisitions. All eight XFL teams are fine-tuning their teams even with the regular-season looming on the horizon.

At the risk of looking foolish, I am going to project the Guardians 52 player roster. Similar to NFL cutdown day, there will be surprise cuts. The waiver process could produce new players that are not currently on the New York roster.

Offense: (25)

Quarterbacks: Matt McGloin, Marquise Williams, and Luis Perez (3)

  • I wouldn’t rule out a trade. The Guardians have three capable starters in house. Garrett Fugate has had some excellent moments during camp and has a live arm. He’s a candidate for Team-Nine if he doesn’t sneak on the roster.

Running Backs: Tim Cook, Darius Victor, Justin Stockton, and Matthew Colburn (4)

  • Cook and Victor are two bowling ball type bruisers. Colburn can do a little bit of everything. Stockton is fast and provides an excellent contrast to the power runners on the team.

Wide Receivers: DeAngelo Yancey, Mekale McKay, Tanner Gentry,
Teo Redding, Colby Pearson, Bernard Reedy, and Justice Liggins (7)

  • The Guardians could keep eight receivers. They recently added Austin Duke and Darius Prince. New York also traded for Joe Horn Jr. Reedy is the most accomplished returner at the receiver position, but if New York’s staff feels that one of their younger receivers can handle the role. Reedy could be out.

Tight Ends: EJ Bibbs, Jake Powell, and Jake Sutherland. (3)

  • The lack of a traditional fullback could see New York retain four at this position. It would come at the expense of another area.

Offensive Line: Jarron Jones, Ian Silberman, John Kling, Avery Young, Damien Mama, Dejon Allen, Anthony Coyle, and Garrett Brumfield (8)

  • The ability to play multiple positions could aid a few players in sticking to the roster and help the coaching staff in activating players on game day.

Defense: (24)

Defensive Line: TJ Barnes, Joey Mbu, Bunmi Rotini, Jarrell Owens, Victor Ochi, Rykeem Yates, and Cavon Walker (7)

  • There will be some good players left off this roster. Rotini and Owens have star potential as edge rushers. Yates and Walker are tweener DE/DT’s. Barnes and Mbu are big-time space eaters inside.

Linebackers: Ben Heeney, D’Juan Hines, Nick DeLuca, Frank Ginda, Ryan Mueller, Darnell Leslie, and Jawaun Johnson (7)

  • The XFL rules may dictate that defenses play more nickel and dime sets in the XFL. As a result, the Guardians may decide to keep fewer linebackers on their roster.

Defensive Backs: Jamar Summers, Terrence Alexander, Dravon Askew-Henry, Demetrious Cox, DeJuan Neal, Bryce Jones, Andrew Soroh,
AJ Hendy, Ranthony Texada, and Tre Mathis (10)

  • You could make the argument for all twelve Guardians defensive backs making the roster. The numbers game is a factor. Traditionally, a team will keep six corners and four safeties. New York’s front office knocked this position out of the park. Many of these players may not be household names, but they will be by seasons end.

Special Teams: (3)

Kicker: Matthew McCrane
Punter: Justin Vogel
Long Snapper: Scott Daly

FINAL THOUGHTS

It’s been a long road to get to this point. The regular season is almost upon us. Sometimes, the most exciting things in life are the unknown. In a first-year league, you don’t have the luxury of years past, to define what a team is like. All eight XFL franchises are trying to forge brand new identities. The games themselves will determine each team’s personality. Two weeks from this Sunday, the New York Guardians’ football team is called on duty.

Guardians Training Camp
Credit: XFL.com

News and Notes from Week 2 of New York Guardians Training Camp

New York Guardians joint scrimmage with the St. Louis BattleHawks.
New York Guardians joint scrimmage with the St. Louis BattleHawks. Credit: XFL.com

JOINT SCRIMMAGES

The Guardians are completing their second week of training camp in Houston. Last Saturday, saw New York practice with the St. Louis BattleHawks in their first-ever scrimmage against another team. The two sides had a spirited workout. The scrimmage had its fair share of trash talking and fighting. — a common occurrence for stir-crazy teams when they finally get the chance to practice against someone else.

The joint practices continued with the DC Defenders on Wednesday. The Guardians completed the week on Saturday by having a joint practice with the Tampa Bay Vipers. A team that NY will be facing in the season opener on Sunday, February 9th, at MetLife Stadium. Still, before that, the Guardians have a full game scheduled with Tampa on the 21st. It will be the Guardians’ final test before training camp ends.

There were some positives and negatives that came from New York’s workweek against three of their divisional foes. The secondary shined, notably lockdown corner Jamar Summers, who picked off Cardale Jones on the first play from scrimmage and took it to the house. The defensive secondary for the Guardians has received rave reviews all January in camp.

New York Guardians joint scrimmage with the DC Defenders. Credit: XFL.com

GILBRIDE’S GRUMBLINGS

The one constant thus far for the Guardians in Houston has been the steady and sometimes harsh critique of the team delivered by its head coach Kevin Gilbride. Camp started with Gilbride talking about how he wasn’t pleased with where the team was, and how he is worried about week one. You could chalk this up as normal coachspeak, but the theme continued on this week with Gilbride voicing his displeasure.

With quotes like these:

” It was great that we did the scrimmage. We needed to see it and see the consequences when you don’t do things exactly right.”
    – Guardians’ Head Coach Kevin Gilbride after the Guardians scrimmage with the St. Louis BattleHawks.

“There is a need to tighten things down a bit. We are not as disciplined as we need to be. We are not far from where we have to be, but unless we make the progress that needs to be made in terms of errors, it will be difficult to maintain the type of cohesion that you need to move the ball consistently.”|
    – Guardians head coach Kevin Gilbride after New York’s joint scrimmage with the DC Defenders.

Kevin Gilbride has been a part of winning programs in the past. Gilbride knows how a team and offense should be operating at this stage of the process. He has gone through decades of training camps. It’s part of a coach’s DNA never to be satisfied or content. That’s why he is voicing concerns with certain aspects of his team. The next few weeks will be crucial for Gilbride and the Guardians staff in getting the team in the best possible position when the regular season arrives.

TRANSACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS (VOLUME TWO)

Last week, the Guardians jettisoned three wide receivers from their roster and replaced them with three new ones. Out were Demarcus Ayers, Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi, and Octayvious Miles. In came Bernard Reedy, Darius Prince, and Austin Duke.

This week, the Guardians made two trades on consecutive days. In the first trade ever for the franchise, the New York Guardians shipped wide receiver, Taivon Jacobs, to the Houston Roughnecks for wide receiver Joe Horn Jr.

The Guardians have been playing some musical chairs at the receiver position since camp started. Jacobs signed on before camp started. The 4.3 speedy wideout from Maryland spent a New York minute with the Guardians.

Joe Horn Jr played college football at Division II Missouri Western State. He is the son of Joe Horn, a former 4-time Pro Bowl NFL wide receiver with the New Orleans Saints. Horn Sr. is famous for pulling out a cell phone during a touchdown celebration against the New York Giants in 2003.

Back in August, Joe Horn Jr was a member of the Baltimore Ravens and was trying to make it onto the 53 man roster. Joe Horn Sr. had this to say about his son to USA Today:

“I do know that he can play in that league.” “I taught him. I know he can run routes better than most of the receivers that start in the NFL. You can quote me on that. That’s a fact.”

The team announced the Guardians’ second significant trade on Friday. New York sent CB David Rivers and OT Brian Wallace to St. Louis for Offensive Linemen, Avery Young, and DeJon Allen.

The fact that St. Louis and New York practiced against one another probably helped facilitate this trade. NY has a deep secondary and is dealing from a position of strength.

The one area that has seen the most change with New York since October has been the offensive line. Six Guardians offensive linemen selected in October’s XFL draft are no longer active with the team. (Cyrus Kouandjio, Parker Collins, Zac Kerin, Nate Theaker, Thomas Doles, and Arie Kouandjio).

Avery Young is a well-traveled NFL veteran, who can play tackle or guard. He was a 3-year starter at right tackle for Auburn. Dejon Allen was an All-Mount West player and team MVP at Hawaii as a left tackle. His lack of height at 6’3 has seen him play guard on the pro level. The Guardians are looking to upgrade their offensive line, and these two have a real shot, despite coming on board late in camp.

CUT DOWN DAY

The XFL season is fast approaching, but before teams can get there. They will have to pare down their rosters from 70 to 52 at the end of training camp on Wednesday, January 22nd.

The New York Guardians’ front office and coaching staff will have some difficult decisions to make before they head back home to prepare for the regular season. The Guardians will be returning to the Superdome Sports Complex in Waldwick, N.J., as the Superdome will be their practice facility during the regular season.

The rosters are fluid, and a lot can change between the end of camp and February 9th. One thing to keep in mind is waivers and potential late roster additions through trade or free agency.

Here are the numbers by position currently on the Guardians roster:

Quarterback (4)- Matt McGloin, Marquise Williams, Garret Fugate, Charles Kanoff

– It’s hard to envision New York carrying more than three quarterbacks. There may be a scenario where the Guardians decide to keep only two.

Running Back– (4)- Tim Cook, Justin Stockton, Darius Victor, Matthew Colburn

– The fact that the Guardians didn’t add to this position at any point in the last two months is a testament towards the teams’ faith in the players they already have.

Wide Receiver– (12)- DeAngelo Yancey, Mekale McKay, Colby Pearson, Tanner Gentry, Bernard Reedy, Teo Redding, Joe Horn Jr, Darius Prince, Andrew Verboys, Austin Duke, Justice Liggins, Dalton Ponchilla

– To stick on this roster, Special teams value on game day will be significant. The team could keep as many as 7 or 8 receivers.

Tight End– (5)- EJ Bibbs, Jake Sutherland, Garret Hudson, Jake Powell, Keenen Brown

– Playing into this group’s favor is the teams’ lack of a traditional fullback. The Guardians are receiver heavy. So the more they keep at that position could be a factor in whether or not. New York retains four TEs on their roster.

Offensive Line– (12)- Jarron Jones, John Kling, Avery Young, Dejon Allen, Bunchy Stallings, Garrett Brumfield, Ian Silberman, Brant Weiss, Maea Teuhema, Brian Fineanganofo, Anthony Coyle, Jordan Agavisa

– Most pro teams keep no more than nine offensive linemen on their roster. If a swing reserve lineman can play multiple positions, it eliminates the need for having that many players as backups.

Defensive Linemen– (11)- Ryan Mueller, Charles Wright, Bunmi Rotimi, Jarrell Owens, Rykeem Yates, TJ Barnes, Joey Mbu, Cavon Walker, Toby Johnson, Andrew Stelter, Victor Ochi

– If the Guardians plan on starting four down lineman. Then the likelihood is that the team carries no more than eight players in this group.

Linebackers– (7)- D’Juan Hines, Frank Ginda, Jawuan Johnson, Nick DeLuca, Darnell Leslie, Ben Heeney, Garret Dooley

– Barring some late acquisitions. The Guardians linebacking unit seems set for Sunday, February 9th.

Defensive Backs– (12)- Jamar Summers, Terrence Alexander, Dravon Askew-Henry, DeJuan Neal, Wes Sutton, Bryce Jones, Andrew Soroh, AJ Hendy, Tre Mathis, Demetrious Cox, Aaron Taylor, Ranthony Texada

– The Guardians are so loaded at this position that you can make the argument to keep all 12 defensive backs. DB Coach Chris Dishman has been cross-training players at corner and safety in camp. Most pro teams carry at least 10 DB’s on their active rosters.

Kicker– (1)- Matthew McCrane
Punter– (1)- Justin Vogel
Long Snapper– (1) Scott Daly

Pairing this group down from 70 to 52 will not be easy. It’s the dreaded numbers game. The coaching staff will have to decide which positions they need to stock up.

There’s excitement for fans in the season approaching, and rightfully so. There is also excitement for the teams and players themselves. The unfortunate part is that there will be players that do not make the league despite all their hard work and commitment.

There is a positive side to all of this. There will be players who cycle back into the league. Some players will end up on Team Nine. The XFL’s 40 to 45 player reserve roster. Some players may end up back on their original teams or on other franchises as the season progresses.

The Guardians and other XFL teams have shown in recent weeks, that the teams are continually looking to retool and upgrade their rosters. The process of doing that doesn’t stop at the end of training camp, cut down day, or even after week one has completed.

News and Notes from New York Guardians Training Camp

Credit: XFL.com

XFL Training camp is in full swing, and the New York Guardians are completing their first week of practice at Houston Baptist University. The Guardians are five Sundays away from the start of their season on February 9th at MetLife Stadium.

LOOMING WEEK ONE

The first week of Guardians’ practices in Houston saw the team’s offense struggle to get its footing early on. Coach Kevin Gilbride called his offensive practices sloppy and mistake-filled. One of the reasons for the rust may have been the teams’ break between minicamp and the start of training camp. The coaching staff made some changes to the offense before camp started, and it may have contributed to the slow start.

“Offensively, I think the players recognize that we need to get better.”
– New York Guardians Head Coach Kevin Gilbride

The Guardians’ offense has improved since its rocky start. Quarterback Matt McGloin and some of his star receivers like DeAngelo Yancey have stood out. Still, the early returns have Guardians Head Coach Kevin Gilbride expressing concerns to XFL.com about week one against the Tampa Bay Vipers.

“We’re doing some good things. As a coach, you’re never satisfied that it’s happening fast enough. That’s the problem. I just keep seeing this game looming in the fairly near future, and I know we gotta get a lot better than where we’re at.”
   – Guardians head coach Kevin Gilbride on Week 1 preparation.

FOUR QUARTERBACKS

“Right now, we’re thinking three because of the need for bodies at other spots. Trying to get four guys in the rotation, nobody gets enough work”.
– Guardians Head Coach Kevin Gilbride, back in December on the possibility of New York adding a fourth Quarterback.

Back in December at Minicamp, in Waldwick, I asked Coach Gilbride if the team would look to add a new QB to the roster for training camp. The Guardians were open to the idea, but it wasn’t a preference. That was until former Princeton, and NFL Quarterback Charles Kanoff became available. The former Ivy League Offensive Player of the year has had three different stops on NFL team rosters. He was most recently on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad at the end of the NFL season.

“Chad” Kanoff has the prototypical size at 6’4 – 220 and was highly efficient in college. His 73.2 percent completion percentage was an Ivy League season record. Kanoff joins a crowded quarterback room with projected starter Matt McGloin, Marquise Williams, and Garrett Fugate. With the regular season drawing closer, the Guardians might have to make some tough roster decisions at this position. The team could elect to carry only two quarterbacks come roster cutdown day in late January.

TRANSACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS

There’s a familiar saying that goes, “actions speak louder than words.”

In football, transactions speak louder than words.

The New York Guardians released Demarcus Ayers, WR, Houston, Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi, WR, Phoenix CC, and Octayvius Miles, WR, Alabama A&M. In one fell swoop, they were replaced by Bernard Reedy, WR, Toledo, Austin Duke, WR, Charlotte, and Darius Prince, WR, Penn State (Beaver).

The Guardians’ early offensive struggles played a part in these moves. Demarcus Ayers and Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi figured to play prominent roles in the teams’ return game. Early on, it appeared that Ayers would be the Guardians slot receiver. The emergence of BYU’s Colby Pearson during training camp made Ayers expendable. Bernard Reedy was an All Mac player at WR, Kick and Punt Returner at Toledo. Austin Duke is Charlotte’s all-time leading receiver, and could end up competing for a slot receiver role on the team. Darius Prince is a superstar arena league receiver and a former Arena Bowl MVP.

The Guardians have made several other roster moves since training camp started.

Additions:
Garrett Dooley, LB, Wisconsin (Waivers-BattleHawks), WR, Taivon Jacobs, Maryland, WR, Teo Redding, Bowling Green, Maea Teuhema, G, SE Louisiana (Waivers-Renegades), Jordan Agavisa, G, Utah, Charles Wright, DE, Vanderbilt,

Waived:
Nydair Rouse, CB, West Chester, Curtis Akins, LB, Memphis

XFL RULES/SEASON PREPARATION

During the tail end of minicamp, the Guardians practiced some of the league’s new rules. The team got a jump on them early by running point after touchdown drills and other league concepts.

New York will have the expanded opportunity of testing the league rules against other teams. The Guardians’ first joint practice will be with the St. Louis BattleHawks.

On the 21st, the Guardians will have a full game scrimmage with the Tampa Bay Vipers at the end of training camp. As Kevin Gilbride revealed in December, the game will act as a dress rehearsal for the season opener.

“Unfortunately, I don’t like it, but we are going against the team we’re going to open with against Tampa. Our broadcast partners want to see so that they can do their best job on opening day. So they want to see the two teams playing against each other and get a feel for the flow of the game and the players. I would rather play anybody but the team we are going to open with.”
– Kevin Gilbride on the Guardians-Vipers scrimmage on 1/21

New York Guardians Safety Demetrious Cox was a guest on ‘Schwartz on Sports‘.  Peter Schwartz asked Cox his feelings on the XFL rules. Cox told Schwartz that he liked the OT concept but joked that the defenses were getting the short end of the stick.

“They’re trying to have us play with one hand behind our back and one leg tied” “Fans don’t care about the defense” “They are making it harder on us than it already is.”
– Guardians Safety Demetrious Cox on how the XFL’s rules favor the offense.

On New York Sports Day, Cox also commented on the league’s 25-second play clock, and how getting the defensive plays right and in time will be a problem. One area that has not been a problem for the Guardians in training camp thus far has been it’s secondary. Cox boasted about how New York’s secondary recorded eight interceptions at it’s last practice. Two standouts in training camp thus far have been Lockdown Corner Jamar Summers, and versatile DB Terrence Alexander. LSU’s Ed Orgeron called Alexander, “one of the smartest players he has ever coached.” The Guardians’ defensive backs like Alexander are being cross-trained in camp by former NFL All-Pro Chris Dishman to play multiple positions. The XFL rules may favor offenses, but New York’s secondary looks like its ready for the challenge.

The mainstream sports media coverage of the XFL

Everything about the XFL thus far has been about the slow build. The league has been methodical in every respect since January of 2018. Now, we are fastly approaching the start of the 2020 season, and the hype for the league from the mainstream media has been slowly building momentum. It helps that Fox, ABC, and ESPN are the league’s partners, but in recent days, you get the sense that more media outlets are finally starting to catch on to what the XFL has built so far. There hasn’t been a huge promotional push yet by the league, and that’s certainly on the horizon. Having social media as a tool to build has been useful for the XFL, but you get the sense that some media and local outlets may be coming along for the ride.

It wasn’t like this back in 2001. There I was, in my early 20’s up in a press box at what was then known as Giants Stadium, and the New York/New Jersey Hitmen were playing the Memphis Maniax. It was like being invited to some exclusive club. I had followed and written about sports since high school, and now I was getting a chance to cover a football game with members of the New York press.

Mark Nelson at XFLBoard.com had gotten me this opportunity. I didn’t even care that the league didn’t have my name when I showed up at the stadium. I was just a young guy with “XFL Board” on my media pass. I knew that the XFL was on shaky ground as a league, but my enthusiasm had not died down as a result. I wasn’t sure how my experience at the game would go. I felt like there was a chance that I wouldn’t fit in with all the seasoned media professionals in that press box. At this point, the XFL was dead and buried by the mainstream media. The league was on ignore mode. Even still, I figured that the media members who showed up for the game would match my enthusiasm. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

None of the major news outlets in the tri-state area bothered to cover or show up for the game. The Post, Daily News, Newsday, The Ledger, and others failed to show. No one from CBS, Fox, ABC, or any of the local affiliates showed. There were just a handful of media members on hand, and I was one of them. The other members of the media were there on assignment, and it showed. The only thing they were interested in was the catering. It didn’t stop me from doing what I was on a mission to do, which was to cover the game and the teams. Only one media member joined me in the locker room to interview the players and coaches. The XFL had invited me to a party that no one else was interested in attending.

I shouldn’t have been surprised by the lack of media interest. After all, the XFL never had newspaper articles written about their games or players. Very few, if any, sports shows aired league highlights. The only place where the games were written about or highlighted was fan sites. That’s where the best followers of the league resided.

Oliver Luck on Fox Sports FS1 “First Things First” show.

Flash forward, and the same is true to the present day. The most faithful followers of the current XFL reside on social media. The league has a loyal and dedicated group of followers that have been strong advocates for the league. It showed on the day of the XFL’s rules release. XFL CEO/Commissioner Oliver Luck and the Head of Officiating Dean Blandino made the media rounds on several TV and radio outlets. During Luck and Blandino’s rules related conference call it was no surprise that the majority of questions came from league dedicated sites like XFL Board, XFL Plus, XFL News Hub, XFL Chalk Talk, XFL Newsroom, and several others. The XFL has taken notice of these loyal fan dedicated members. So much so that ‘This is the XFL Show’ has now become an official podcast for the XFL.

There’s no denying that having all of these loyal and diehard supporters as your base is a great thing. However, the hard truth is that the XFL’s best chance for success hinges on the mainstream media. Alternative pro leagues have had a myriad of issues in the past. Funding and profitability have been the two most significant forms of kryptonite against them.

There are specific metrics that everyone tracks, and they are ticket sales and ratings. However, the root of all evil that ails upstart leagues is the lack of attention. The mainstream media can make or break entities by dismissing or ignoring them. The XFL has the funding and great business partners in Disney and Fox. Those outlets can help the league get the exposure it needs at the start but for the XFL to experience growth. The mainstream media is going to have to get on board eventually and follow the league’s games and players. It’s not an easy task for the XFL to accomplish. They’ll have to earn it by presenting a quality product.

Part of the lure of the original XFL was that it was anti-mainstream. It’s also what helped seal its fate. It was a radical sports league that became enemy of the state by puffing its chest out and spitting on tradition. The 2020 version of the XFL is nothing like its original counterpart. The league won’t make it long term if the mainstream sports media doesn’t get on board. Football leagues are too expensive to be niche products. It’s why the majority of them fail on a grand scale. The USFL, AAF, and even NFL Europe are clear examples of this. Media attention and interest is what drives ticket sales and ratings. It’s why the original XFL was such a smash hit for only one week. The current XFL is throwing a big fancy party on Saturday, February 8th. Will the sports media accept the invite?

Projected New York Guardians Defensive/Special Teams Depth Chart

The XFL’s league-wide training camp begins in Houston on January 4th. The New York Guardians will be setting up shop at Houston Baptist University from January 4th through the 22nd. The Guardians will be practicing at Husky Stadium. At the very end of training camp, the Guardians will be having a scrimmage game against their week one regular-season opponent, the Tampa Bay Vipers on January 21st in Houston, something that Head Coach/GM Kevin Gilbride has voiced his displeasure with, but the idea is a request from the XFL’s broadcast partners. Think of it as a full dress rehearsal for FOX Sports, the announcers, the players, coaches and referees. This scrimmage will act as an unofficial non-televised preseason game.

The Guardians will practice with other XFL teams during their time in Houston as well. January 22nd will be cut down day for all XFL rosters, and all XFL teams will pare down their rosters to 52 players. There is a lot that can change between now and training camp, and there has already been some post minicamp roster movement on XFL teams. There figures to be more moves before and even during training camp. Before we get to that point, let’s take a preliminary look at the Guardians defensive and special teams depth chart, and where they stand as the team heads towards training camp in the new year.

GUARDIANS DEFENSE

Like many of the XFL’s defenses, the Guardians defense is going to have to be multiple in their defensive looks. The 4-3, the 3-4 and the 4-2-5 are all in play here. Within their division alone, the Guardians will be facing multiple styles of offense. XFL rules will also force defenses hands, with teams playing up-tempo with a 25-second play clock and an advanced audio communication system. The Guardians’ defense will be forced to adapt. Two main positions will be vital on the Guardians: The teams’ middle linebacker and safety. Both players will have headsets and access to their coaching staff. Adjustments will need to be made on the fly and in quick fashion. Defensive Coordinator Jim Herrmann has experience coaching in the 3-4 and 4-3, but with so many spread out Air Raid inspired offenses in the league, this defense may have to line up in many nickel and dime sets as their base.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Defensive End- (#99)- Victor Ochi, (#91)- Jarrell Owens,
Defensive Tackle- (#93)- T.J. Barnes, (#94)- Joey Mbu Jr.
Potential Starters/Top Reserves- DE’S-  (#92)- Rykeem Yates
DL- (#95)- Cavon Walker, (#96)- Toby Johnson Jr., (#58)- Bunmi Rotini

The Guardians’ strength upfront is in their two experienced space eaters in Defensive Tackles TJ Barnes and Joey Mbu. It will be difficult to run up the middle against those two. How Coach C.J. Ah You and the defensive staff utilize and rotate lineman up front will be key. The up-tempo pace of the XFL is not exactly favorable to 330-pound plus defensive tackles.

There is some good talent and experience at Defensive End for New York with NFL veteran Victor Ochi. Ochi has experience lining up with his hand on the ground and standing up as an edge rusher. Ochi is a well-traveled young edge rusher who hasn’t had the opportunity to do what he does best and that’s rush the passer. In the NFL, in order to make the team as a backup, you need to be a standout performer on all special teams units. Ochi’s bread and butter since breaking sack records at Stony Brook has been disrupting passing games. He’s going to get a chance to do just that on a more frequent basis with New York. Will Ochi be an every-down contributor or just be utilized as a pass-rushing specialist? Another Guardians draft pick that New York has high hopes for is former Second Team All-Big 12 Defensive End Jarrell Owens. A breakout performer at Oklahoma State in his senior season, Owens was an effective performer on the edge as a pass rusher and run defender. Jarrell could be an every-down starter for the Guardians come February.

One of the players at Defensive End that the Guardians were banking on was Purdue and current Falcons edge rusher Austin Larkin. Austin was selected by the Guardians in the third round of their defensive front seven draft back in October. Larkin had a great preseason with the Falcons and was brought back to Atlanta’s roster. He was most recently elevated to the Falcons main roster to replace an injured Takk McKinley.

The Guardians have some intriguing under the radar talents who can play defensive end and defensive tackle if called upon in Cavon Walker, Bunmi Rotini, and Toby Johnson Jr. All three of these players can play in a 3 or 4 man front at DE or DT. Cavon Walker is a unique player. He started out at Maryland as a 220-pound linebacker and then transitioned to being a 6’2 278-pound defensive tackle. Somewhat undersized as a prototypical defensive tackle, and as an end in a 3-4 front, but with the XFL’s pace of play being different than the NFL, Walker’s skill set might be ideal for combating the non-stop up-tempo offenses that the league will present. Walker has a great motor and very good strength (31 reps) at his pro day coming out of college.

LINEBACKERS

Outside Linebackers- (#45)- D’Juan Hines & (#49)- Nick DeLuca
Middle Linebacker- (#56)- Ben Heeney
Top Reserves- (#47)- Frank Ginda, (#44)- Ryan Mueller, (#48)- Jawuan Johnson, (#51)- Darnell Leslie

This linebacking corps has been put together and built to play every down football. It all starts with the man in the middle. Ben Heeney was selected first by the Guardians in their front seven draft. The former 5th round pick of the Raiders and First Team All Big 12 Linebacker at Kansas, has had a rocky pro career since being drafted. Heeney has had some tough luck and has not been able to stay healthy after having a very promising rookie season with Oakland in 2015. Heeney is tough and smart. He can stop the run, cover, tackle and even rush the passer if needed. With New York, he’s going to be tasked with leading the front seven.

D’Juan Hines is your classic three-down outside linebacker. The 6’1 235 pound started his college career as a receiver before transitioning to safety and then eventually linebacker. Hines was named All-AAC First Team in his senior season with the Houston Cougars. Hines was also a four-time Academic All-American during his time in college. D’Juan Hines ability to cover ground and space in the run and pass game should be a valuable asset to the New York defense.

Nick DeLuca and Frank Ginda are going to be important contributors to this linebacking unit. DeLuca can play inside and outside linebacker. At North Dakota State, he was a 4-time FCS National Champion and a first-team FCS All-American. San Jose State’s Frank Ginda was a tackling machine in college. Ginda led the nation in tackles in 2017. He was first-team All-Mountain West and a three-time All-Academic athlete. Ginda decided to forego his senior season and declare for the NFL draft. He went undrafted and has since spent time with the Cards, Dolphins and San Diego Fleet, where he led the team in tackles earlier this year. It would not shock me in the slightest if Ginda breaks the starting lineup and stays there.

Ryan Mueller is a tweener type player who can line up on the edge and rush the passer. He’s always been a high motor player that gets the most out of his ability. At Kansas State, Mueller was voted the Big 12’s defensive lineman of the year. Another tweener here is Monmouth’s, Darnell Leslie. The All-Big South edge rusher could have a designated pass-rushing role in this defense.

Jawauan Johnson is an undersized coverage linebacker from TCU. Johnson was a late transfer from Northern Illinois in 2018. Johnson really surged at the end of his college run and earned the AP’s All Bowl Team designation. Many NFL scouts like Tony Pauline rated Johnson as a late-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Jawuan fits the modern-day mold of a run and chase linebacker.

SECONDARY

Cornerback- (#21)- Jamar Summers, (#24)- David Rivers, (#31)- Terrence Alexander
Safeties- (#33)- A.J. Hendy, (#22)- Dravon Askew-Henry
Top reserves- CB- (#29)- Bryce Jones, (#36) S-Demetrious Cox, CB – (#39)- Ranthony Texada II, & DB- (#30)- Andrew Soroh

A strong young secondary would have been made that much stronger if the Guardians 2nd round pick in their DB draft, Lorenzo Doss had committed to the team. Regardless, as it stands right now, and based on the early returns from mini-camp, this is a really talented unit with a major upside. It doesn’t hurt that the New York DB’s are getting coached up by former All-Pro corner Chris Dishman.

Jamar Summers is an excellent cover corner. He graded out as one of the best defensive backs in the AAF by Pro Football Focus. All the rules will favor the offense in the XFL, so having a true top-flight corner is extremely important, and that’s what New York has in Summers.

It’s a good thing that David Rivers was selected third by the Guardians in their DB draft. He’s going to be a very good compliment to Summers on the outside. At 6 feet, Rivers has the size to match up and the athleticism to keep up with opposing receivers.

LSU’s Terrence Alexander is a keeper. LSU’s Ed Orgeron called Alexander one of the smartest players he has ever been around. The former Stanford graduate, Alexander transferred to LSU in 2018. Alexander did so well in Stanford’s classrooms that he was offered a job in cybersecurity for more than 100,000 dollars per year. He is holding off on his post-playing career to play more football. He transferred to LSU to get into their graduate business school but ultimately, he chose LSU for the football education of playing man coverage in the SEC. Alexander is an ideal slot corner. He doesn’t have great size at 5’10 and 182 pounds but he is very physical and smart. He may end up being one of the league’s best slot corners.

At safety, the player that has really emerged is A.J. Hendy. He made quite an impression in camp with his heady play and cover skills. Hendy has natural ball tracking skills as a former Wide Receiver. He’s been a career practice squader in the NFL but it looks like he is ready to take the next step as a pro. Joining Hendy at safety is Dravon Askew-Henry. A tough and durable player that can play multiple positions, Dravon spent time at West Virginia playing a hybrid linebacker role in the Mountaineers 3-3-5 defense. Askew-Henry’s ability to play in the box will be an asset to the Guardians’ defense.

Defensive Backs Demetrious Cox and Andrew Soroh are going to find their way onto the field in all packages. Both were selected in the 4th and 5th round of the DB draft back to back by New York. Cox is a natural free safety with good cover skills. The 6’2 210 pound Andrew Soroh is a punishing and physical defensive back with leadership traits. Soroh wore several hats at Florida Atlantic, playing safety, linebacker, nickel corner and even lined up as a pass rusher. It’s going to be hard to keep him off the field.

The Guardians currently have 15 defensive backs on their roster after recently adding DB Tre Mathis. One of their most recent pickups, Cornerback Bryce Jones could end up playing a pivotal role in nickel and dime defensive packages. The competition is pretty stiff at the corner spot. The Guardians brass is very high on Cornerbacks Nydair Rouse and Ranthony Texada. All in all, this looks like a formidable secondary. In order to contend in the XFL, it will have to be.

GUARDIANS SPECIAL TEAMS

I can’t possibly leave this area out of the equation. Especially since it’s going to be emphasized heavily in the XFL’s rules. There will be more kick and punt returns than probably any league that has ever existed. A byproduct of having no fair catch and having penalties in place for kicking out of bounds. Many of the defensive players listed will make this roster based on the value they bring to this facet of the team, specifically the coverage units.

In the kicking game, there will be less punting and no extra points, but that doesn’t decrease the value of having a quality kicker that can help you win close games. The punters might be kept on the sidelines more than football fans are accustomed to, but again there’s value in a punter’s hang time and their ability to prevent big returns from happening. Here is the current depth chart for this unit.

Kicker/Kickoff Specialist- (#16)- Matthew McCrane
Punter-(#8)- Justin Vogel
Long Snapper-(#42)- Scott Daly
Kick/Punt Returners- (#15)- Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi & ( #1)- DeMarcus Ayers

The Guardians are pretty solid all around in this area and they can be very explosive returning kicks with Sheehy and Ayers. Several other players could factor in here as well but for the time being, its hard not to envision Damon and DeMarcus leading the charge. Playing in the northeast requires the type of kicking specialists and returners that can help flip field position and specialists that can help best deal with the elements expected come February 9th when the Guardians host the Vipers at MetLife Stadium.

Projected New York Guardians Offensive Depth Chart

Guardians Helmet (Mike Mitchell)

Mini-camps have ended for all eight XFL teams. The XFL’s league-wide training camp begins in Houston on January 4th. The New York Guardians will be setting up shop at Houston Baptist University from January 4th to the 22nd. The Guardians will be practicing at Husky Stadium. At the very end of training camp, the Guardians will be having a scrimmage game against their week one regular-season opponent,  the Tampa Bay Vipers on January 21st in Houston, something  Head Coach/GM Kevin Gilbride has voiced his displeasure with, but the idea is a request from the XFL’s broadcast partners. Think of it as a full dress rehearsal for FOX Sports, the announcers, the players, coaches, and referees. This scrimmage will act as an unofficial non-televised preseason game.

The Guardians will practice with other XFL teams during their time in Houston as well. January 22nd will be cut down day for all XFL rosters. All XFL teams will pare down their rosters to 52 players. There is a lot that can change between now and training camp, and there has already been some post minicamp roster movement on XFL teams. There figure to be more moves before and even during training camp. Before we get to that point. Let’s take a preliminary look at the Guardians’ offensive depth chart and where it stands as the team heads towards training camp in the new year.

GUARDIANS OFFENSE

*QUARTERBACK*

1- (#14)- MATT MCGLOIN
2- (#12)- MARQUISE WILLIAMS
3- (#4)- GARRETT FUGATE

This figures to be the pecking order. McGloin is the experienced veteran that has taken the reigns on the field and off. Marquise Williams may still factor into this team’s offense. Working with an experienced vet like McGloin, and the Guardians coaching staff should really aid his development. Despite not being initially pegged as the starter, Williams could carve out a role in this offense based on his skillset. The Guardians figure to be running a multiple offense with some RPO elements. With the league’s new rules, Marquise could be a useful tool in short-yardage, the red zone, and in the league’s three-tiered conversions. The Guardians’ front office and the coaching staff have spoke highly of Central Missouri’s Garrett Fugate and his arm talent, but will New York be adding to their quarterback room come January. At Guardians mini-camp in Waldwick, New Jersey, Kevin Gilbride expressed that he didn’t want to overcrowd his quarterback room, the feeling by Coach was that it would result in decreasing too many potential reps at the position. Any new addition at Quarterback for New York could put Fugate’s roster spot in jeopardy. If the Guardians staff prefers to not carry four quarterbacks.

*RUNNING BACK*

1- (#20)- TIM COOK
2- (#23)- JUSTIN STOCKTON
3- (#27)- DARIUS VICTOR
4- (#34)- MATTHEW COLBURN

This is going to be a versatile multi-player backfield coached up by long-time respected position coach Jerald Ingram. Tim Cook was selected by the Guardians in the 4th round of their skill position draft back in October. The 6’0 245 pound runner from Oregon State figures to be the teams bruising bell-cow back. Cook is a powerful runner who has gone through a lot of adversity since starting out at Butler Community College. Cook has persevered to this point and is finally getting a legit chance to show his skills as the lead back. Speedster Justin Stockton is the perfect compliment to Tim Cook. The former Texas Tech big play back in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air-Raid offense. Stockton is the ideal third-down back in the Guardians offense. He is a threat to score every time he touches the ball with his 4.38 speed and has excellent hands. Both Darius Victor and Matthew Colburn could also factor in the Guardians’ rushing attack. Victor was a standout all-state runner in Maryland and at Towson University. It’s hard not to compare Victor’s running style to that of Maurice Jones-Drew. Victor is a short compact runner who can break tackles in the open field. Colburn has a similar skill set. He’s a low center of gravity runner and his compact frame also makes him difficult to tackle. Colburn has had a chip on his shoulder since college and he used it to his advantage at Wake Forest. When Louisville’s Bobby Petrino pulled a scholarship offer from Colburn a day before signing day, Matthew Colburn exacted revenge on Petrino when he steamrolled the Cardinals for 243 yards and 3 touchdowns. The one area that the Guardians may need to address moving forward is at fullback. Tommy Bohanon was drafted back in October to serve that role and would be a great asset to the teams rushing attack but he decided to pursue other career opportunities off the field. The Guardians could use their tight ends to fill hybrid roles as lead blockers but this is an area to watch as we get closer to training camp.

*WIDE RECEIVER*

1- (#82)- MEKALE MCKAY
2- (#11)- DEANGELO YANCEY
3- (#19)- TANNER GENTRY
4- (#1)- DEMARCUS AYERS

It can be argued that the Guardians have the best WR group in the entire league. The team just recently added 3 new members to this group in 4.3 speedster Taivion Jacobs, Teo Redding, and Dalton Ponchilla. They will be joining a group that also includes Colby Pearson, Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi, Justice Liggins, J-Shun Harris, and Octayvius Miles. This is going to be a tough roster to make come final cutdown day on January 22nd.

Leading the charge in the passing game should be AAF standout Mekale McKay. ‘Big Play’ McKay is a huge target in the red zone at 6’4 and he should be a factor making plays all over the field. McKay’s best trait is winning when the ball is in the air and making contested catches. DeAngelo Yancey is a polished route runner with excellent hands. The former 5th round pick by the Packers has been waiting for his opportunity to break out and he’s going to get it with the Guardians. Former Bears and Wyoming star receiver Tanner Gentry figures to also play a prominent role in this offense. Josh Allen’s favorite target in college, Gentry broke out as a senior with 72 catches, 1,326 yards, and 14 touchdowns. Like McKay and Yancey, Tanner has good size at 6’2/210 and can be a factor running routes on the inside and outside. Another player who could be playing more of a traditional slot role in this offense is DeMarcus Ayers. The undersized but prolific playmaker in college does not have great speed but what he does possess are terrific agility and open field skills. Ayers will be a factor in the teams return game as well but he showed up nicely early this year at receiver for San Antonio in the AAF. With the Guardians trotting out some giants at the receiver position, DeMarcus at 5’9 can be a nice playmaking contrast in this group.

*TIGHT END*

1- (#88)- EJ BIBBS
2-(#87)- JAKE POWELL
3-(#83)- JAKE SUTHERLAND
4- (#81)- GARRETT HUDSON
5- (#85)- KEENEN BROWN

E.J. Bibbs is the most experienced tight end of this bunch, having spent time with four different NFL teams after being a John Mackey Award finalist in the Big 12 at Iowa State. Bibbs also has the versatility to play in the backfield at the H-back position. Behind Bibbs is a talented group of unproven players on the pro level. Guardians draft pick Keith Towbridge figured to be a key part of the teams’ two tight-end attack but he signed on with the Washington Redskins and is currently a member of their practice squad. That leaves an opening for someone to emerge behind Bibbs.  This competition is going to be wide-open.

Jake Powell had a great summer with the New York Giants. The local Monmouth All-Big South tight end is known more for his stellar in-line blocking prowess, but it’s a trait that could land him a spot on the Guardians roster. Morehead State’s Jake Sutherland is very similar to Powell. Sutherland has good size and is a very physical player who can be an asset to the ground game and helping in pass protection. Both Powell and Sutherland have added value on special teams as blockers in the return game.

Garret Hudson and Keenen Brown provide good pass-catching skill sets. Hudson was a First Team All-CAA player at Richmond. Hudson is a high character player with great football smarts. He’s already winning over his Guardian coaches with his work ethic and can even contribute on special teams units.  Texas State’s Keenen Brown has good athletic ability and is excellent after the catch. Brown is a late bloomer who started out at Oklahoma State. Keenen is a former All-District Wide Receiver who played a myriad of different positions in his formative years in college. Transferring late in his college run, Brown ended up leading the Bobcats in receptions and touchdowns in his senior season. Many NFL scouts projected him to be a late-round pick. The upside is there for him to emerge from this pack.

*OFFENSIVE LINE*

OFFENSIVE TACKLES- (#74) JARRON JONES & (#77) BRIAN FINEANGANOFO

OFFENSIVE GUARDS- (#78) ANTHONY COYLE & (#69) IAN SILBERMAN

CENTER- (#75) PARKER COLLINS

SWING LINEMAN/POTENTIAL STARTERS-
C/G- (#68)- GARRETT BRUMFIELD  G/T- (#70) JOHN KLING,  OT- (#60) BRIAN WALLACE

This will be the most competitive position in camp and there is some uncertainty in this group. The Guardians just added two impressive young players in All First Team MAC Tackle Brant Weiss from Toledo and All-First Team Pac 12 Guard Jordan Agasiva from Utah. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that both could be opening day starters come February. New York also recently added former All-SEC Kentucky Guard Jervontius ‘Bunchy’ Stallings. He could also factor in as competition for a starting spot up front.

New York has had a bit of a shakeup on their offensive line since mini-camp started. The Guardians second-round pick in their offensive line draft, Cyrus Kouandjio failed his physical and was released. His brother Arie, who was also selected in the o-line phase was recently released as well. The Guardians currently have 13 offensive linemen on their roster. That will most certainly be pared down by the time January 22nd rolls around.

There is not a lot of pro starting experience in this group. Some have experience starting in the AAF earlier this year, like John Kling, but New York is rolling the dice on a talented but inexperienced group. On paper, the interior of this line looks solid and has depth, but it’s outside at tackle where the major questions exist. Notre Dame’s Jarron Jones is supremely gifted as a former defensive lineman who has transitioned to offensive tackle in the pros. He has left tackle traits with agility and a great wingspan but is largely unproven. The Guardians’ front office thinks highly of Jones and they showed it by selecting him first in the XFL’s offensive line draft in October. The player manning the left tackle spot for New York could be the most important ingredient on offense and towards this team contending for the playoffs and potentially a championship.

News and Notes from New York Guardians Minicamp

Photo by Mike Mitchell.

New York Guardians minicamp is in full swing at the Superdome Sports complex in Waldwick, N.J.  The team is barely a week old.  Despite the unveiling of the team identity, it’s brilliant uniforms, or the two drafts that formed the Guardians 70 player roster, the majority of the players and coaches are all new to each other. So much so, that some of the players on the practice field on Tuesday were referring to one another by their numbers rather than their names. The team is going through the bonding process on the fly. Up until this point, the December Minicamp has been broken down into phases consisting of meetings, walkthroughs, workouts, and organized team activities. Things will really start to ramp up later this week when the offense and defense finally start to practice against each other in 7 on 7’s and one on one drills.

Vince McMahon Meeting

Three weeks ago. Kevin Gilbride and the Guardians staff met up with the league’s owner. Gilbride walked away very impressed with Vince McMahon’s passion for the league. Calling Vince McMahon’s energy contagious. McMahon rallied the troops and stressed how the XFL is going to be all about presenting quality football. Gilbride noted how McMahon’s words were music to the coach’s ears. McMahon was very supportive and told the coaches that he is available to them 24/7 for whatever they need. After McMahon gave Coach Gilbride his direct number, a day later, Kevin Gilbride decided to text message Vince McMahon to thank him. McMahon responded immediately. He thanked Gilbride for his words and then told him that “We are going to make sports history and we are going to have a ball doing it.”

Training Camp Scrimmages

When the Guardians are done with minicamp, they will take a holiday break before joining in on the league-wide training camp scheduled to start up on January 4th in Houston. All eight teams will have individual and joint practices over the course of three weeks. At the tail end of training camp, teams are scheduled to take part in what will essentially be test games before the league kicks off in February. On the 21st of January, much to the chagrin of Coach Gilbride, the Guardians will be playing a full game against their week one opponent in the Tampa Bay Vipers. The XFL’s broadcast partners will be on hand for these glorified joint practices and games. The purpose of this will serve as almost a dress rehearsal for the regular season for the players, coaches, referees and broadcast networks.

No Changing of The Guard

Superdome Sports will be the Guardians regular-season practice facility as well. New York will also be setting up shop and the entire team headquarters at the Sheraton Hotel nearby. The entire 11th floor will be rented out for meeting rooms, team offices, and film rooms during the season. The players will be housed at the same location, as well during the season. It’s a unique set up that’s being done to increase efficiency.

League Rules

While Head Coach/GM Kevin Gilbride wasn’t at liberty to get into the specifics of the XFL’s game rules, he was asked about the process that the coaches went through and how heated the debates were. Gilbride admitted there were some competing views by all the XFL coaches involved, but that a consensus was reached among them. Gilbride astutely noted how he’s never been in any room in his career where coaches didn’t differ on opinions or football philosophies. Gilbride noted how open-minded Bob Stoops was during the process. That despite being a defensive coach at heart, Stoops is in favor of the XFL’s rules that enhance offensive play.

Player Standouts/News

Still early in the process, but it’s hard not to be impressed by Matt McGloin. Even at the early stages of minicamp, McGloin is leading the charge like the experienced veteran QB he is. He’s got a good grasp of the playbook already, and is developing a rapport with a talented group of receivers in DeAngelo Yancey, Mekale McKay, Tanner Gentry, and Demarcus Ayers. One of the lesser-known receivers who really stood out today was Alabama A & M’s, Octayvius Miles. Quarterback Marquise Williams stood out as well at practice. He’s known for his mobility and ability to improvise but he has some serious arm talent. The Guardians are in good shape at the Quarterback position. When asked about potentially adding another quarterback to the New York roster, Gilbride said that his preference is to not carry four quarterbacks in camp. He feels that dividing the reps four ways could potentially hinder the team. The Guardians projected third string Quarterback at the moment is Garrett Fugate.

Superdome Sports was sectioned off for the majority of the day with the offense split to one side of the field while the defense went through drills on the other. It’s fair to say that the Guardians defensive coaches, like Defensive Coordinator Jim Herrmann were the most vocal on this day, coaching up their players. One player that doesn’t need much coaching up, but he was getting it anyway from the great Chris Dishman, was Jamar Summers. The former AAF standout was one of the very best rated cover corners in that league by Pro Football Focus. Summers looked great in practice. I had a chance to talk to him briefly afterward. Summers feels blessed to have already been with three different teams all in the same year: the Iron, Dolphins and now Guardians. In a wide-open passing league like the XFL, if Summers plays as well as he did in the Alliance. It will be hard for NFL teams to overlook him again.

The current and updated Guardians roster is now at 66 players. One of the more notable players that is not with the Guardians right now is Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio. He failed his physical and is not currently a part of the team. His brother Arie is still on the team. The Kouandjio brothers being on the same offensive line would have made for quite a story but for the moment, it is not to be.


Photos by Mike Mitchell.

Fan Experience/Community Outreach

The Guardians have already rolled out their founding season ticket member benefits package. Which includes Discounts, Game Day Access, VIP team experiences, a VIP Field Pass, season ticket price locks among other benefits. One of the intriguing fan experience benefits for groups of fans who buy tickets is a pre-game flag football game, sideline access for warm-ups and more. xflguardians.com has all this info lined up.

Lastly, New York is off from practice on Wednesday. The Guardians players will participate in various events where players and staff will visit local hospitals, food banks, families in need, and first-responders to spread holiday cheer. Below is a list of the players involved and where they will be assisting others.

2:45 PM – 3:45 PM: CUMAC Food Bank visit
CUMAC is an organization that works to alleviate hunger and its root causes for those in need in Paterson, Passaic County, and northern New Jersey.
Players/staff will sort donated food, stock pantries, and prepare food packages at CUMAC
Location: CUMAC (www.cumac.org)
Address: 223 Elliston St, Paterson, NJ 07505
Players Attending: Terrence Alexander, Jake Powell, EJ Bibbs, Darius Victor, Keenen Brown, A.J. Hendy, Cavon Walker

3:00 PM: Holy Name Medical Center visit
Players will visit the Holy Name Medical Center to bring holiday cheer with gifts for both adults and children. Players will visit the Medical Center day care, followed by the labor and delivery unit before visiting the pediatric unit.
Location: Holy Name Medical Center
Address: 718 Teaneck Rd, Teaneck, NJ 07666
Players Attending: Arie Kouandjio, Andrew Soroh, DeAngelo Yancey, Wesley Sutton, Aaron Taylor, DeJuan Neal, Bryce Jones, Garrett Fugate

3:00 PM: The Valley Hospital visit
Players will visit The Valley Hospital to bring holiday cheer with toys and Guardians gear for acute care youth patients
Location: The Valley Hospital
Address: 223 N Van Dien Ave, Ridgewood, NJ 07450
Players Attending: Anthony Coyle, Justin Vogel, Darnell Leslie, Nydair Rouse, J-Shun Harris II, Ben Heeney, Ryan Mueller

3:30 PM: Police Department & Fire Department visits
Players will surprise local first responders in Mahwah and East Rutherford with treats and Guardians gear.
Locations:
Meadowlands Fire Station – 50 NJ-120, East Rutherford, NJ 07073
Players Attending: Nick DeLuca, Tanner Gentry, Marquise Williams, Mekale McKay, Demetrious Cox
Waldwick Fire Department – 15 E. Prospect Street, Waldwick, NJ 07463
Players Attending: Frank Ginda, Matt McCrane, Scott Daly, Toby Johnson
Waldwick Police Department – 15 E. Prospect Street, Waldwick, NJ 07463
Players Attending: Jarron Jones, Matt McGloin, Jake Sutherland, David Rivers

4:00 PM: Shopping Spree
In collaboration with the Salvation Army, players will accompany and sponsor a local family in need to Target for a holiday shopping spree.
Location: Target – Edgewater
Address: 543 River Rd; Edgewater, NJ 07020
Players Attending: Rykeem Yates, Max Lyons, Joey Mbu, D’Juan Hines, Matthew Colburn, Octayvius Miles, Jamar Summers, Demarcus Ayers, TJ Barnes

Getting to know The New York Guardians coaches

The XFL is a first-year pro football league with eight first-year teams. Building an entire franchise from scratch is a great challenge that every team in the XFL shares. Essentially what you have is eight expansion pro football teams emerging at the same time. A big key to building a new team in short order will be the coaching.

The New York Guardians have two members of their staff in Head Coach Kevin Gilbride and Running Backs Coach Jerald Ingram, who both know what it’s like to be a part of a first-year football franchise. It must seem like a lifetime ago to them, but back in 1995 Kevin Gilbride was the offensive coordinator of the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars and Jerald Ingram was the teams running backs coach. Unlike expansion teams from the past, the Jaguars and the Panthers were entering into the early days of wide-open free agency in the NFL. Even still, a large part of Jacksonville and Carolina’s rosters were made up of players that couldn’t make the rest of the league’s rosters or players that were no longer valued by the existing NFL franchises. Jacksonville and Carolina had to sift through players that were basically discarded. Within two years, both expansion teams made the playoffs. The Jaguars actually got to the AFC Championship game in 1996 with a group of players that were career backups like Quarterback Mark Brunell or castoffs like Wide Receiver Jimmy Smith. Both Brunell and Smith were fringe NFL players that may have never have gotten an opportunity to shine without the NFL adding two more teams. Gilbride and Ingram’s experience back in 1995, of finding and coaching up players that were cast aside by the NFL, should prove useful in their quest to build a winning team in the New York Guardians.

With Guardians minicamp in full swing, let’s take an in-depth look at the entire New York Guardians coaching staff.

NEW YORK GUARDIANS HEAD COACH/GENERAL MANAGER KEVIN GILBRIDE

On Monday night, Eli Manning returns back into the saddle to lead the New York Giants offense one last time. It’s been a huge fall from grace for a once-proud Giants franchise. The Giants have the NFL’s worst record since 2017. It wasn’t too long ago that the Giants were shocking the world and winning two Superbowl Championships in a five-year span in 2007 and 2011. Both times defeating arguably the greatest football franchise of this generation, led by Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the New England Patriots. Kevin Gilbride was coordinating those Giants championship offenses with Eli Manning leading the way. There’s a reason why they call it a New York minute. By the end of his run with the Giants. Kevin Gilbride’s positive contributions were quickly dismissed and forgotten. The town known for its marketing labeled Gilbride as “Killdrive”. It wasn’t a perfect run for Gilbride, but it’s been a while since the Giants have had as good of an offense as they had during Kevin’s coaching stay there.

It’s been a unique journey for Kevin Gilbride from the very beginning. He started out as a quarterback and tight end at Southern Connecticut State, following in his father’s footsteps. Gilbride then made his way into the coaching ranks as a defensive coach. He coached on the defensive side of the ball for six straight years on the college level before becoming a head coach at his alma mater. At Southern Connecticut State, Gilbride compiled a 35-14-2 overall record.

During this period. Kevin Gilbride transitioned to coaching on the offensive side of the ball and would remain there for the rest of his coaching career. Coaching in the NFL from 1989 to 2014 as a quarterbacks coach, and mostly as an offensive coordinator, his coaching star first started to shine with the Houston Oilers back in the 90’s, coordinating the explosive run and shoot offense. His success with Houston and then Jacksonville landed him a head coaching job with the San Diego Chargers. His run there, however, was short-lived. Barely six games into his second year as Chargers coach, Gilbride was let go and replaced by current Houston Roughnecks coach June Jones. It was back to coordinating offenses for Gilbride as he moved on to the Steelers, Bills and then eventually spent ten years with the Giants.

Despite the way things ended for Kevin Gilbride with the Giants, he’s the perfect choice to lead a New York franchise in the XFL. It’s fitting that he is making his return to MetLife stadium. Gilbride knows the tri-state area really well and his diverse coaching experience will be an asset to the Guardians. Gilbride figures to call the offensive plays but he will have some accomplished coaches on his staff to help aid him in the process.

OFFENSIVE STAFF

QUARTERBACKS COACH- GEORGE ALFORD (G.A.) MANGUS

Helping diversify Kevin Gilbride’s offense will be G.A. Mangus. A long-time offensive coach in the college ranks, Mangus has served as an offensive coordinator, quarterbacks, and tight ends coach and holds a wealth of successful experience at Division I, II and III levels. Mangus is a former player and coach under Steve Spurrier. The former Gators Quarterback has received accolades as a top assistant and top recruiter on the college level. Mangus was named one of the nation’s top 25 recruiters by ESPN, Rivals.com and by 247Sports. Mangus is a high energy coach who resembles his old coach Steve Spurrier in many ways. It’s not just the same type of visor they sport. Expect some Fun N Gun elements in the Guardians offense.

RUNNING BACKS COACH- JERALD INGRAM

Jerald Ingram reunites with Gilbride in New York again. Ingram has been an unsung hero in the coaching ranks for quite some time. A former fullback at Michigan. Ingram’s coached the RB position on the college and NFL level since the mid-’80s. Coaching some of the games best-running backs like Fred Taylor, Tiki Barber among others. Ingram was one of Tom Coughlin’s top lieutenants at Boston College, in Jacksonville and then with the Giants. Ingram won two Superbowls as the Giants RB coach. In 2008, using a committee backfield of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants led the NFL with 2,518 rushing yards. Ingram’s best work, however, came with Giants Running Back Tiki Barber. Ingram was tasked by Tom Coughlin with fixing Tiki’s chronic fumbling issues and that’s exactly what he did. The Guardians running backs got themselves a hell of a teacher in Ingram.

WIDE RECEIVERS COACH- MIKE MILLER

Miller has coached in the NFL, CFL, college football and all points in between. Miller has 13 years of NFL coaching experience in total. His best work came with the Arizona Cardinals in 2008 when he coached Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald, and Steve Breaston. All three receivers had 1,000-yard seasons in that year, a feat only accomplished just five times in NFL history. Miller figures to play a pivotal role in contributing to the Guardians passing attack.

OFFENSIVE LINE COACH- RONNIE VINKLAREK

Coach Vinklarek has coached offensive lines in the college ranks, in the NFL and in the CFL. He was most recently the offensive line coach at Rice University for 9 straight seasons. Vinklarek is a lifer, coaching offensive lines for over 3 decades. Some of Vinklarek’s best work came with the Buffalo Bills. Where he coached under then offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.

TIGHT ENDS/QUALITY CONTROL/SPECIAL TEAMS- RAY RYCHLESKI

Unlike NFL staffs, XFL coaching staffs aren’t occupied by nearly 20 different assistants per team. A smaller staff in a startup league requires the type of coaches that can wear multiple hats and fill multiple roles. Veteran coach Ray Rychleski is ideally suited for that task. Throughout his coaching career, in college and in the pros, Rychleski has coached tight ends, h-backs, special teams, defensive lineman, defensive backs, linebackers, and offensive lineman. Rychleski’s coached in college, the CFL, was the special teams coordinator for the Colts, and earlier this year coached special teams for the Birmingham Iron in the AAF. Rychleski’s job title with the Guardians should be Assistant Everything.

DEFENSIVE STAFF

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR- JIM HERRMANN

Herrmann has a national championship at Michigan and a Superbowl championship with the Giants on his coaching resume. Yet another assistant on that same Giants staff as Kevin Gilbride here with the Guardians. Herrmann has made his bones coaching linebackers his whole career after starting out as one under legendary Wolverines coach Bo Schembechler. As defensive coordinator at Michigan, Herrmann won the Frank Broyles Award as the year’s top assistant college football coach. Herrmann coached linebackers in the NFL from 2006 to 2017 with the Jets, Giants, and Colts.

DEFENSIVE LINE COACH- CHARLES (C.J.) AH YOU

A former NFL draft pick who played defensive line for six seasons in the NFL, C.J. Ah You is fairly new to the coaching ranks. The former All-Big 12 Oklahoma Sooner started his coaching career on Bob Stoops staff in 2015. Ah You then coached the defensive line at Vanderbilt for three seasons under Commodores Head Coach Derek Mason. This is CJ’s first foray coaching in the pro ranks and he is surrounded by quality veteran coaches that can help him in his development.

LINEBACKERS COACH- KEVIN KELLY

The no-nonsense grizzled veteran college coach Kevin Kelly brings 37 years of coaching experience to the Guardians defensive staff. He’s been a defensive coordinator and linebackers coach in the college ranks for several different universities over the years. Kelly had an eight-year stint as the head coach at Georgetown (2006-13). Kelly’s best year with the Hoyas came in 2011 when the team went 8-3 and he was named the Patriot League Coach of the Year and a finalist for the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year award.

DEFENSIVE BACKS COACH- CHRIS DISHMAN

The two-time former All-Pro Corner Chris Dishman played 13 years in the National Football League. After retiring, Dishman became a football coach. He started off by taking part in the NFL’s Minority Coaching Fellowship program. Dishman has been paying his dues ever since trying to make his way up the coaching ranks. Dishman spent five seasons with the Chargers as an assistant defensive backs coach and most recently coached with the Baylor Bears. Dishman was an all-pro with the Oilers back when Coach Kevin Gilbride was the teams offensive coordinator.

DEFENSIVE QUALITY CONTROL/SPECIAL TEAMS- JEFF MCINERNEY

McInerney served as head football coach at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) from 2006 to 2013, compiling a record of 48–41. The former college linebacker coached in the college ranks for over three decades before coaching special teams and the defensive line for the San Antonio Commanders earlier this year in the AAF. Like Ray Rychleski on this staff, McInerney will assume several roles and assist the other assistants. His experience as a head coach, coordinator and position coach brings great value to the overall staff in his supporting role.

The new look XFL unveils it’s team uniforms

Nearly two years in the making and on the eve of football activities starting up with over 500 players reporting to minicamps, the XFL unveiled the uniforms and helmets for all eight of their teams. Since January of 2018, the resurrected XFL has changed its appearance from the league it was nearly two decades ago. Internally and externally.  Today’s XFL is a marked departure from the original XFL in its approach, tone and overall presentation, and team identities and uniforms presented reflect that.

Anytime team uniforms, team names, colors or logos are presented for the first time, there can be a polarizing reaction to them from the public. It’s all very subjective. Sports fans have preferences of styles and particular color combinations.  Iconic brands and uniforms from teams like the Steelers, Yankees, Cowboys, and Raiders have a history behind them. It means something extra when a player puts on those uniforms because of the history and legacy attached to them. Hence the term rooting for the laundry. As a startup league,  The XFL doesn’t have the advantage of time served, but its uniforms will still be measured and compared to all the uniforms that have come before them and that exist today. There’s a fine line the XFL has to tiptoe around… be unique and original but not too radical. There will be criticisms levied against the XFL’s uniforms for all those things. The XFL, for better or for worse, based on it’s past almost two decades ago has a negative perception attached to it. So anything they present will be judged by some differently and harshly at the outset.  A  team’s uniforms or helmets are a big part of its overall identity.  Fans take sports uniforms seriously because there is beauty in them. There’s something about a uniform worn by a group of people that symbolizes oneness and togetherness. In sports, it’s the bonding of a team together with its city. As a start-up league. The XFL is trying to form a bond with football fans. Today was the next step in that journey.

The time has finally arrived. Let’s take an in-depth look and review all eight of the XFL team uniforms.

THE DC DEFENDERS

Classy look. Love the simplicity shown in this design. A very good choice. Less is more and it leaves an opening down the road for potential alternate uniforms that potentially incorporate a third color into the mix. Like the team name, which is supposed to embody all the great defenders in DC history, past and present, the logo itself is a hybrid as well and is incorporated nicely here. The team makes good use of a variation of the coat of arms and the DC flag. It’s a really nice touch. The uniform has a retro feel to it and yet still feels new. So many modern-day uniforms are very busy in incorporating several accented colors into play. This is the anti-modern day uniform but in a good way. The temptation here would have been to add a third color. Either blue for patriotic reasons or a black to offset the bright red and white. Interesting that the teams’ actual shield didn’t play a bigger part in the design. This one overall is a winner because of its less is more approach.

THE DALLAS RENEGADES

Good, but not quite what I expected. The red in the uniforms is a very unique combination with the powder blue color. Where the entire look stands out most is in the helmets. The Renegades blood-red eyes are piercing. They stand out from a mile away on what is a really nice looking helmet.  Three of the XFL’s teams have black as a primary base color for their jerseys in LA, NY, and Dallas here. The Renegades red is used as an accent color on the jersey and pants but the jersey falls a bit flat around the shoulder and neck area. The look in this area to me feels unfinished. The striping down the pants is a nice touch and best incorporates the teams’ three colors. The positioning of the stripe will look great when players are in full motion. I like this look and it could probably benefit in appearance from seeing the players wearing it, which we will see in the coming days at camp. Overall, I was just a tad bit underwhelmed. The overall look feels like it needs some tweaking.

THE NEW YORK GUARDIANS

Menacing yet extremely stylish. The helmets are very bold, and almost reminiscent of the USFL’s Michigan Panthers. I am usually not a fan of oversized logos on helmets (see the Bucs), but the size of NY’s logo on this helmet works perfectly. New York perfectly blended their three main colors of grey, red and black. The all grey road uniforms really stand out. The shoulder striping on them is excellent.  The Guardians logo kind of gets lost on the road uniform’s shoulders, because it is like colored but it’s a small nitpick. Another nitpick in relation to that is having the Guardians logo on the helmet and shoulders. New York could have gone with an alternate logo on their shoulder sleeves. Similar to what a team like the Ravens has. In the Guardians defense, the Patriots have their logo also in the same positions.  The Guardians secondary logo is used well on the chest portion of the jerseys. It’s worth noting that not only are the individual team colors represented on the team footballs but the team colors are also used for the league’s main logo on the uniforms as well. It’s a really nice touch and looks great on the Guardians uniform. It’s reminiscent of the original XFL league logo. This was a home run overall. So many teams in pro football have a black-red combination, so the concern for me was that NY would look too much like a knockoff version of the Cardinals or Falcons. I think the league got this one perfectly.  This is one of the better-looking uniforms released by any football team in recent memory.

THE HOUSTON ROUGHNECKS

I have a feeling that this could be one of the more debated and scrutinized team looks in the XFL. The helmet to me might be the best overall in the league. It scores points because of its tip of the helmet homage to the Oilers old grey/silver helmets. I also realize that one of the strengths of this brand is also perceived by some as its weakness. Are the Roughnecks a modernized and upgraded Oilers tribute team, or are they a blatant rip-off? The colors don’t scream knock-off that’s for sure. On the helmet, the colors of the H shaped rig and star work perfectly. It’s the use of colors in the rest of the entire uniform that is more hit or miss depending on your personal taste. Red and Navy are a time-tested color combination that have been a staple of pro and college sports teams for years. These colors always work well together and they do here as well, particularly with the Roughnecks home jersey. However, the road look is a personal miss for me. While the navy blue stripe works well on the home uniform. The red striping on the road uniform just doesn’t. It just looks very generic.

THE ST. LOUIS BATTLEHAWKS

The team with the most unique name in the entire league and probably all of pro sports, this team’s logo is just as out there as the team name, but it works. Like the Renegades, the uniforms had such high expectations going in for me. The BattleHawks have great colors and a great logo. While the helmet certainly stands out for its glorious sword/wings combo, the uniform is much more understated. Perhaps that’s the balance there needed to be. From the neck down, St. Louis’ uniforms are as simple as it gets. It’s a paint by numbers type design. Dark home jersey, light pants. Light road jersey, dark pants. The overall look is pretty safe and simple. While it works so well for DC, STL could have used a bit more flair to their jerseys and pants. Overall, this has the feel of a uniform that will be enhanced by the bright lights of the Dome in St. Louis.

THE TAMPA BAY VIPERS

No team look in the XFL stands out more than Tampa’s, this coming from a team that appeared to be a complete contrast from the BattleHawks in name and in the logo. The Vipers are going all-in on the color green with two different shades of it playing off of each other. The light green helmets with the team’s fang-shaped V is fairly simple and works for the most part. You could argue that it’s secondary logo could have been on the helmet instead. The color gold works well as a complementary color. It’s the home uniforms that might take some getting used to. The road uniforms are a much cleaner and safer look. The greens act more as accent colors than the main base in the road look.  To the league’s credit, they could have gotten cute with this concept and tried to incorporate some form of scaling in the uniforms to reflect actual Vipers. Thankfully, they didn’t go that route. This is not a home run design, but it’s also not a strike out either. It’s really a matter of personal preference when it comes to the colors used.

THE SEATTLE DRAGONS

You got the feeling that this would be one of the more unique team designs in the league from day one. Seattle lands on white helmets with a terrific elongated Dragon starting from the bottom side of the helmet to the near top. Everything about this logo and the color combination for Seattle is bold. Navy blue is very prominent in the home uniform but nearly disappears in the road uniform. The one steady is the emerald green and orange combination. The home uniform is a very busy look color-wise. There’s a lot to take in. The wide orange stripe on the helmet almost seems unnecessary but works better with the road uniform, which is a more simplified overall design. This is kind of a Jekyll & Hyde design, with the home uniforms seeming like there is too much going on, while the road uniform looks like something is missing. As an overall package, the Dragons presentation is unique and fun. Nothing bland or boring about it. It’s one of those looks that might get more appreciation over time.

THE LOS ANGELES WILDCATS

The last team to unveil their uniforms and helmets. On their first day of camp preparations in Las Vegas, Wildcats Head Coach Winston Moss greeted Shawn Oakman by attempting to tackle him, so it’s rather fitting that the team that has the most fun in the league, would start a live simulcast on social media to present their uniforms, complete with a Vegas-styled announcer doing the coach and player introductions UFC style.  It was also fitting that Shawn Oakman would be the first player dancing onto the stage with a Wildcats uniform on. LA has a nice combination of colors in black, red and light orange. They work well together. The one thing that stands out from the design is the blood-red claw marks on the helmet subbing for traditional stripes. There are also claw marks down the traditional stripe area of the pants. The home all-black uniforms look very good. The all-white road jerseys are fine, but are not as dynamic as the home look. Although the design where the claw marks bleed into the color black is a nice subtle design.

FINAL SUMMARY

Overall there are some hits and misses in this group. New York stands out as my favorite of the bunch. The Guardians were the best in show. Overall, I think the league scored another victory on its way to February. The XFL is in its infancy stages as a pro sports league. They can lay a foundation and then build upon it. That lends itself to the uniforms and helmets that were just unveiled. The league could use feedback from its fan base and players to experiment and improve upon the uniforms they currently have. Either by changing up jersey combinations or by using feedback for future alternate uniforms. It’s what the XFL’s aim could ultimately be. To build a football league with the fans as it’s partners. Developing that oneness with the players and fans.

XFL Western Division Supplemental Draft Recap

The XFL is less than two weeks away from the start of team mini-camps. It’s been quite a journey for the league from January of 2018 to this point. Almost two years in the making with actual on-field football activities right around the corner. On Friday, the XFL took yet another step forward with the next phase of roster building for all eight teams. The XFL’s first Supplemental Draft is working as a complement to the 560 player draft that took place in October. Since then, Over 20 XFL players have signed on to NFL rosters, a clear sign of the quality players that were drafted into the league. A combination of the positioning of the calendar year during football season, and the ever-changing rosters in the NFL, has put the XFL in the unique position where a series of signings and drafts are needed to stabilize and strengthen the rosters heading into February. The first-year league is not done drafting or signing players, as evidenced by three new Quarterback signings that took place on Friday. The league figures to add more players heading into January’s league-wide training camp in Houston.

Let’s take an in-depth look at the players selected by the teams in the XFL’s Western Division.

 

LOS ANGELES WILDCATS

*QUARTERBACK ASSIGNMENT: JOSH JOHNSON- SAN DIEGO*

One of the ways to improve the quality of play for a team is by creating competition. That’s exactly what Los Angeles did for their quarterback position by signing Josh Johnson. The Wildcats first assigned Quarterback, Luis Perez, has been doing all the right things, working with his receivers and offensive coordinator Norm Chow, and even leaning on Hall of Famer Kurt Warner recently for guidance and on-field help. It’s a good thing that the former Harlon Hill Trophy winner and Division II National Champ has been doing these things, because if he is to be the team’s starter on opening day, Perez is going to have to fend off the challenge of Josh Johnson.

Very few quarterbacks have the type of resume that Josh Johnson has. Outside of maybe Josh McCown, it’s hard to think of another veteran pro quarterback, that is as well-traveled as Johnson. Josh Johnson was a major star on the FCS level over a decade ago at USD under Jim Harbaugh.  Johnson then entered the NFL back in 2008 as a 5th round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Since then, Johnson has been on a total of 13 different NFL teams. He has also spent time in the United Football League for Sacramento back in 2012 and was the first overall pick by the San Diego Fleet in the AAF’s QB Draft a year ago. Johnson has always been a dependable and reliable backup with great mobility and a very good arm. It’s one of the reasons why he’s been on so many pro teams. Despite all this, Johnson has only started eight total games in his NFL career.  Last NFL season, when the Washington Redskins lost Alex Smith and Colt McCoy to injuries, the Skins were scrambling for any quarterbacks they could find to come off the street and play. One of the Quarterbacks who answered the casting call and made the team was Johnson. Josh came in off the street cold with little knowledge of his team’s playbook and did an excellent job under the circumstances. After all these years in the NFL, Johnson finally won his first NFL start last December. By seasons end, Johnson injured his ankle and it took time for him to recover and latch on to another NFL team.

During this past summer when the Baltimore Ravens lost RG3 to injury, they called Johnson. In a surprising move. Johnson turned the position down. With Lamar Jackson firmly in tow as the starter and RG3 returning shortly. At this stage of his career, Johnson wanted a better opportunity to make an NFL roster and to not just be a camp body. Johnson ended up making the Detroit Lions roster instead, and was backing up Matthew Stafford until Jeff Driskel was brought in to be Matthew’s backup. Johnson was released in mid-September by the Lions. Now, Josh Johnson is in a great spot with the Wildcats. He is back home in California, working with Norm Chow and the Wildcats have one of the better-receiving trios in KD Cannon, Rashad Ross, and Nelson Spruce. Luis Perez got some good experience finally starting earlier this year with the Birmingham Iron, but the pressure will be on him to hold off Josh Johnson for the starting job. LA could be Johnson’s first chance to become a full-time starter in his career.

WILDCATS SUPPLEMENTAL DRAFT PLAYER SELECTION

The Los Angeles Wildcats selected 10 different players in this process. There are several names who stand out from this group and have a great chance to make the team’s active roster come February 8th when the Wildcats travel to play the Houston Roughnecks on Fox.

One of those players is WR Saeed Blacknall from Penn State. Nicknamed ‘Megatron Jr.”, Blacknall is 6’3 with 4.3 speed. The physical tools are elite for the former 4-star recruit. The production, however, hasn’t matched his massive upside. Current Wildcats Director of Player Personnel Joey Clinkscales was with the Oakland Raiders when Blacknall was signed as an undrafted free agent. Saeed would spend time on and off the Raiders active roster and practice squad in 2018. This past summer, Blacknall was released by the Miami Dolphins. Blacknall is joining a talented group of receivers in LA.

Another supremely gifted player in this group is former 2nd round pick Cornerback Jalen Collins. The issue with Collins has never been his physical gifts. The former Falcons and Colts DB is a tall rangy corner at 6’1 with 4.4 speed. Since his days at LSU, and into the NFL, Collins has carried with him off-field issues that have outweighed his immense talent. Since 2015, Collins has been suspended on four different occasions for performance-enhancing and substance abuse violations. Only 26, Collins has been given multiple opportunities because of his elite skills. He has been trying to revive his pro career in Indianapolis. Jalen was most recently on the Colts practice squad before being released on September 30th. The Wildcats DB Coach Otis Smith can be a great mentor for Collins if he’s willing to make the effort to get on the right path.

Temuchin “Bucky” Hodges is another elite athlete with tremendous physical tools. At 6’6, 257 pound, and possessing 4.5 40 speed, Hodges elite skill set saw him get drafted in the sixth round by the Vikings in 2017. Hodges was a 4-star recruit at Virginia Tech. Originally a dual-threat Quarterback who transformed himself into a pass-catching tight end. Since becoming a pro, things haven’t worked out for Hodges. He’s been on 3 different NFL teams and hasn’t been able to find a role or fit.

Veteran Nose Tackle Montori Hughes fits the bill as the type of inside presence that is sorely needed in what projects to be a 3-4 defense in LA. The massive Hughes is a former 5th round pick of the Indianapolis Colts. His weight has fluctuated throughout his career from 320 to 350 plus. Hughes has familiarity with Wildcats Defensive Coordinator Pepper Johnson, as Montori played for Pepper in Memphis for the Express earlier this year.

Another NFL veteran in this group is Linebacker Will Smith. He’s had a strange journey dating back to his college days. From Division II to Community College to becoming an All-Big 12 player at Texas Tech, and then being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. His path as a pro has been similar, since Smith has gone back and forth between the NFL and CFL. Smith is a better player than his career resume would indicate. Perhaps two former star linebackers in Winston Moss and Pepper Johnson can get the best out of him and finally create a permanent home.

Former Mississippi State and New York Jets defensive back Brandon Bryant has no shortage of physical talent. He is a 6’0 210 pound safety with blazing speed in the 4.2 to 4.3 range. Bryant left school early and then attempted to be drafted in the 2018 NFL Supplemental Draft. After failing to be drafted, Bryant signed with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent in 2018. Bryant ended up on the Jets practice squad as a rookie, and was promoted to the active roster late in the 2018 NFL season. Bryant was waived/injured at cutdown day this summer, and was then placed on the team’s injured reserve list the next day. He was waived from injured reserve by the Jets with an injury settlement on September 10. This is a raw talent who really hasn’t scratched the surface yet as a player.

The Wildcats drafted two offensive linemen in Toa Lobendahn and Dwayne Wallace. USC offensive lineman Toa Lobendahn was an All-Pac 12 selection. He started 45 games in his career with the Trojans, at four different positions. The mammoth 330 pound Dwayne Wallace was one of the best lineman at the 2019 NFLPA game, a game that current XFL VP of Football, Doug Whaley has been the director of for the last two years. Wallace’s strength is his run blocking prowess. He signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent before being released this summer.

Sometimes teams dig deep to find diamonds in the rough, and LA did that with two longshots to make this roster in DE Austin Flynn (Long Beach)  and RB/KR Terrell Alex (Southern). Flynn is a raw small school talent, who played at what appears to be the potential Wildcats practice facilities during the 2020 season at Long Beach. Alex is a 6’0 215 pound back with good speed. Terrell Alex has had a unique path to get to this point, from Southern to Canada, to the Arena League, and all points in between.  Making this roster will be a challenge for both but just having this opportunity is a blessing.

 

SEATTLE DRAGONS

*QUARTERBACK ASSIGNMENT: CHASE LITTON- MARSHALL*

Perhaps the most interesting of the XFL’s quarterback assignments is in Seattle signing Chase Litton. The Dragons already have a crowded quarterback room with assigned Quarterback Brandon Silvers, and drafted QB’s Joe Callahan and BJ Daniels. From a pocket passer standpoint, it’s easy to be enamored with Chase Litton. The 6’5 plus 230-pound standout signal-caller from Marshall possesses a rocket sized arm and a beautiful throwing delivery. Litton made 34 starts for the Thundering Herd, completing 60.8% of his career passes with 7.0 yards per attempt and a 72:31 TD-to-INT ratio. Chase declared early for the NFL draft and ended up going undrafted in 2018. Many experts felt that he should have finished out his college career. Not doing so, put him in the developmental category in the NFL despite his great physical tools and college success. Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs took a two-year flyer on Litton. With Maholmes, Henne and Matt Moore in KC, Litton ran out of real estate with the Chiefs. The Jaguars signed Litton to their practice squad in September. When Nick Foles went down to injury, the Jags traded for Joshua Dobbs and saw the emergence of Gardner Minshew. Coupled with the recent return of Nick Foles,  Chase’s time with the Jags ended on October 21st, just days after the initial XFL draft was concluded. In the lead up to the XFL draft, each team gave the league office a list of priority Quarterbacks that they wanted to sign if they were to become available. Litton was not available to be signed when the first XFL Draft occurred. Seattle’s assignment leads me to believe that Chase was high on their priority list while he was still in Jacksonville. The competition for the Dragons starting quarterback position may go right down to the wire on opening day when the Dragons play at the DC Defenders on ABC. Litton has a shot to impress Jim Zorn and Mike Riley during mini-camp and training camp in the new year.

DRAGONS SUPPLEMENTAL DRAFT PLAYER SELECTION

The Dragons had the smallest group of supplemental draftees in the league. It’s an indicator of a couple of things. The first being that the Dragons didn’t lose any draft picks to the NFL since October. The second is that the team is extremely content with their initial 71 player group.

Joining Seattle’s latest assigned quarterback is Chase Litton’s teammate at Marshall University, WR Tyre Brady. Like Chase Litton, Brady was also recently with the Jaguars. Tyre brings good size at 6’3 210 pounds. A go-to target for the Herd, Brady racked up 133 catches for nearly 2000 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2 seasons, after transferring from Miami.

Former All Big 10 Safety Godwin Igwebuike has spent time with 4 different  NFL teams in two years. Most recently being released by the Jets in August. When Godwin came out for the NFL Draft in 2018, he finished in the top 5 among safeties in 5 different combine drills. Despite this, he still went undrafted. Like many of the XFL’s players. Godwin has elite physical traits but hasn’t had the opportunity to shine as an active football player on game day.

Former Canes Defensive Tackle Anthony Moten is also a player who went undrafted last year. The 315-pound Moten, a former 4-star recruit never lived up to his promise at the U. He has spent time with the Miami Dolphins.

 

DALLAS RENEGADES

The Renegades were busy selecting 10 players in the supplemental draft. 5 of their draft picks in October have signed on with NFL teams, so there was a need to stock up.  Dallas went heavy on the defensive side with 7 of their picks concentrated on that side of the ball.

On the defensive Line, the Renegades drafted tackles  Deon Simon (Northwestern State) and Curtis Cothran (Penn State). Simon is a former 7th round pick, who spent his first three years in the NFL with the New York Jets. A 335-pound nose tackle who figures to back up Sealver Siliga.  Curtis Cothran is an undrafted free agent who has spent time with the Vikings. He’s undergone a transformation since leaving Penn State. Initially, an undersized  260-pound interior defender, Cothran is up to 280 pounds. In the Renegades scheme, he could be playing inside or outside. Having former Cowboys great Jim Jeffcoat as a teacher could help in Cothran’s development.

At linebacker, Tobenna Okeke was a late bloomer at Fresno State. The Nigerian edge rusher had 11 sacks in his senior season. He has spent time with the Titans and has played in the CFL since going undrafted. Dallas may have found a diamond in the rough with Okeke, and he could help compliment Hau’oli Kikaha on the edge as a pass-rushing option.

The Renegades added 4 players to their defensive backfield during the supplemental draft. At corner, they picked Josh Thornton and Jamal Peters. Thornton is a very fast corner. It’s his speed that has landed him with 5 different NFL team practice squads since going undrafted in 2017. Josh Thornton was most recently released by Carolina in September. Jamal Peters is a former college safety turned corner, a physical 6’2 DB who was signed by the Colts after going undrafted. The question is whether Dallas will move Peters back to safety or if they will start him at corner. It’s Peters 4.6 speed that led to him being undrafted.

Marwin Evans is a physical in the box safety who has played for both the Seahawks and Packers. Ryan Moeller is a high football IQ safety out of Colorado. Former San Diego Fleet GM and current Renegades Manager of Football Operations, Dave Boller has familiarity with Moeller. Ryan really emerged in the AAF with 4 interceptions and was developing into one of the league’s better safeties. Moeller finished his AAF run on a tear before the league folded. In his final AAF game, Moeller picked off two passes, recovered a fumble and recorded six tackles in an 8-3 loss to the Salt Lake Stallions.

Dallas bolstered it’s receiving corps with the additions of Jazz Ferguson and Floyd Allen. Ferguson is a beast. The undrafted Northwestern State product brings plenty of size (6’5″/227) and athleticism (4.45 forty) to the table. Jazz caught 7-of-12 targets for 119 yards and a touchdown for the Seahawks in the preseason. He was recently on the Seahawks practice squad. Jazz can give the Renegades a big target in the red zone. Floyd Allen is a talented slot receiver type who simply got lost in the shuffle at Ole Miss behind DK Metcalf, AJ Brown, and company.

Austin Walter played college football at Rice, where he rushed for 1,744 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 5.1 yards per carry; he also had 79 receptions for 803 yards, and in his senior season, averaged 27.3 yards on 18 kickoff returns. The 5’8 speedster earned a contract with the 49ers after trying out for them as a rookie. The New York Giants signed Walter a month ago, only to release him when Saquan Barkley returned to the lineup from injury.

 

HOUSTON ROUGHNECKS

7 selections in total for Houston and only one of them was a wide receiver. Of course, no tight ends taken for June Jones “tight end free” run and shoot offense. The receiver that is joining the Roughnecks is Utah State’s Hunter Sharp. The 5’11 Sharp finished his college career in style with 137 catches and 16 touchdowns in his final two years. Sharp has been on five different NFL teams since going undrafted in 2016. If June Jones handpicks you to be on his team. It’s for a good reason. No one has had a better history of unearthing hidden gems at receiver than June Jones, dating back to his days with the Houston Gamblers in the USFL.

The Roughnecks offensive line was bolstered with the selections of Sebastian Tretola and Tejan Koroma. Tretola is a former 6th round pick of the Tennessee Titans. Once seen as a potential long term starter, Sebastian was an All-SEC player who was dominant in the run game. A nasty and physical player. Unfortunately, his NFL career was cut short in 2017, as Tretola was involved in an off-field incident shooting which ended with him being shot in the leg. This coupled with an earlier incident where he and teammate Tajae Sharpe were allegedly involved in a physical altercation with a fan, led to The Titans parting ways with Tretola. He has been out of the league ever since. Koroma is an undersized center from BYU, at only 6’0 and 290 pounds. He goes against the grain of the prototypical pro center, but Tejan had a stellar career at BYU. Koroma started in all 51 games played as a four-year starter. He was named to the Pro Football Focus All-America Second Team in 2017.

Veteran Defensive Tackle Gabe Wright brings good experience and leadership to Ted Cottrell’s defensive front in Houston. Wright is strong enough to play inside or outside in a 3-4 front. He’s very nimble for a man of his size. The former 4th round pick of the Detroit Lions could be one of the Roughnecks leaders on defense.

Latroy Lewis projects as an outside edge rusher in the Roughnecks defensive scheme. Since 2017, Lewis has been on 3 different NFL teams, spending time in that fringe area between the practice squad and being elevated to the active roster, something he has done the last two years with Houston and Tennessee in the NFL. Kind of a career no man’s land.

Alabama Junior Cornerback Saivion Smith made what many thought was a mistake declaring early for the 2019 NFL Draft.  Smith (6’1/199) spent just one season at Alabama after spending one season as a five-star recruit at LSU, then transferring to JUCO, then starting 12-of-15 games and logging three interceptions with a pick-six for last year’s Crimson Tide. Plus-sized with long arms (33 ¼”), Smith struggled in pre-draft athletic testing with a forty time in the 4.7s at Alabama’s Pro Day, and only a 33-inch vertical. The Jaguars signed Smith after he went undrafted, but he was released at final cut down day. Will the Roughnecks keep him at corner or move Smith to safety.

Finally, the Roughnecks added Kicker Sergio Castillo. The Texas-born kicker has made his bones kicking in Canada for the majority of his career.  Like Roughnecks Kicker/Punter Austin Rekhow, Castillo also has experience punting. In the CFL, Castillo averaged 44.4 yards per punt. As a kicker for several CFL teams, one of which was June Jones former Tiger-Cats team. Castillo has an 87 percent career kicking percentage with a long of 57 yards. In 2019 with BC, Castillo had his best season. Connecting on 91 percent of his kicks. He was 41 of 45. The Roughnecks have two quality specialists on their roster in their kicking and punting game.