DC Defenders XFL 2020 Schedule Analysis

DC Defenders Schedule

When is a game more than just a game? When an entire league’s reputation and perception are potentially at stake. Superbowl III was more than just a game. The truth is that while talks were on-going and probably inevitable, of a merger between the NFL and AFL back in the late sixties, the two league experiment wasn’t going very well. The NFL was the superior football league and the first two non-NFL championship game “Superbowls” were noncompetitive and just glorified exhibitions. They didn’t draw very well and lacked credibility in the football world. The AFL didn’t appear as if it really belonged.  As heavy underdogs, the Jets carried the burden of an entire league on their shoulders when they upset the Baltimore Colts. A year later, the Chiefs would go to win the Superbowl and solidify the now AFC forever.

On Saturday, February 8th, 2020.   The XFL is actually going to get a second chance to make a first impression. The original XFL’s first chance to make an impression failed in spectacular fashion. The league debuted in front of a sold-out crowd in Las Vegas on primetime network television.  For a first-year league playing its first-ever game, the expectations and ratings were through the roof. Unfortunately, the game and the entire league crashed through the basement floor. The league wasn’t ready for primetime and it never really recovered from the premiere game in the public’s eyes. The play and product did get better as the season progressed but it was too little, too late. This time around, the league is debuting on ABC and Fox, in a back to back network doubleheader in the afternoon but the same stakes are in place. The question leading into the XFL 2020 schedule reveal was, “How would the current XFL go about scheduling their first and arguably most important game of the season?”  In terms of the mainstream public, none of the games have more importance than the first impression that the XFL makes. How the premiere game plays out will have an effect on football fans who are on the fence about watching the XFL, and whether they will decide to continue watching the league.

The choice for the premiere game could have been in Dallas. After all, Texas is football country. Globe Life Park is being retrofitted and reimagined for pro football. Bob Stoops is making his return to the sidelines, with the Innovator of the Air Raid Offense, Hal Mumme calling plays for Stoops former Quarterback Landry Jones. While Dallas Cowboys legend Daryl “Moose” Johnston watches the Renegades team he constructed along with Stoops.

The kickoff game for the XFL could have been St. Louis in The Dome. The return of pro football to the River City.  It could also have been in Los Angeles, with the Wildcats kicking off the season from the city where LA’s last pro football champions played. The premiere game could have been on the biggest stage possible with New York at Metlife Stadium. What’s old is new again could have been the theme with June Jones and his legendary run and shoot offense making a spring pro football comeback to the city of Houston. Decades after lighting up scoreboards with the Houston Gamblers in the USFL. The XFL season could have started in Tampa, six days after the Superbowl is played in the very same venue. One of the best and most passionate sports cities in the world in Seattle could have also played host to the XFL’s return.

The DC Defenders are getting the honor and distinction of being the team that kicks off the XFL season at home. Arguably the most important game of the entire XFL season and league is the first one.  At the start of any season, there is always pressure to win and get off on the right foot. This opening game goes beyond just the normal pressures of winning and losing. The DC Defenders and Seattle Dragons share in the same pressure of being the game that sets the tone and creates a new first impression for the league.

WEEK 1- HOME VS THE SEATTLE DRAGONS- SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 8th, 2PM  ET/11AM PT, AUDI FIELD, ABC

A lot of firsts in this game. This will be Pep Hamilton’s first-ever game as a pro football head coach. It could be Cardale Jones first-ever start as a pro football quarterback. Both the Head Coach and Quarterback are finally getting their chance to shine in roles they have waited quite some time for.  Legendary Seattle Seahawks Quarterback Jim Zorn brings his Seattle Dragons, to the scene of his previous crimes in DC. At least that’s the way, DC football fans feel about Jim Zorn and his time coaching there. This is a very early game for Seattle, so it’s possible that the Dragons come out to DC a day or two earlier just to get adjusted. The setting is a unique one. While XFL teams like Seattle, play in tradition football stadiums, the Defenders will be playing their home games at the home of Major League Soccer’s DC United. A beautiful smaller-sized stadium that is designed to make the fans feel like they are on the field with the players.  Early returns on ticket sales have been positive and this game has the potential to be at or near capacity come February. If you are a fan of football weather in the winter, this game has a chance to fill that need. Two of the teams playing in the coldest weather environments will be playing at home in week one in NY and DC, and it would make for an interesting style of play if this game ends up with snowy conditions.

WEEK 2- HOME VS THE NEW YORK GUARDIANS- SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 15TH, 2PM/ET, AUDI FIELD, ABC

DC has 4 games currently scheduled on ABC, with a potential 5th in the final week of the season. This is the Defenders’ first divisional game on their schedule. The two markets have pro football history going back between one another for many years now. They are natural rivals. DC has 4 of their first 6 games at home. So these home divisional games are going to be very important for the Defenders.

WEEK 3- AT THE LOS ANGELES WILDCATS- SUNDAY FEBRUARY 23rd, 6 PM ET/9 PM PT, DIGNITY HEALTH SPORTS PARK, FS1

Much like the Defenders, the Wildcats play in a soccer stadium that the Chargers and MLS’s LA Galaxy share. This is DC’s longest road trip of the season after starting off the first two weeks at home. To their benefit, it is a later game and they do have an extra day to prep for it. The weather can be a complete contrast from what DC has seen up until this point. Cardale Jones returns to LA, the place he has been in the NFL since 2017.

WEEK 4- AT THE TAMPA BAY VIPERS- SUNDAY MARCH 1ST, 7PM ET, RAYMOND JAMES STADIUM, ESPN 2

The second straight road and night game for the Defenders. This can technically be considered the league’s first prime time game. This is also the first game where the Defenders will be playing in a traditional pro football stadium.

WEEK 5- HOME VS THE ST. LOUIS BATTLEHAWKS- SUNDAY MARCH 8TH, 3PM ET/2 PM CT, AUDI FIELD, FS1

The Defenders return home after a 2 game road trip. This will be their second straight divisional matchup. The game features a  battle of two first time head coaches in Hamilton and Jonathan Hayes. Hamilton, Hayes and Winston Moss are the three coaches in the league who all share the same distinction. FS1 is a frequent home for Defender games during the season. This is also the third of five straight Sunday games for the Defenders.

WEEK 6- HOME VS THE THE DALLAS RENEGADES- SUNDAY MARCH 15TH, 4 PM ET, AUDI FIELD, FS1

This could be a preview of the XFL Championship game. Two of the more accomplished Quarterbacks in the entire league face off in Cardale Jones and Landry Jones. This is a crucial stretch for the Defenders before they close the regular season playing 3 of their last 4 games on the road. The Renegades are projected and rightfully so to be one of the league’s best teams. This is another market in Dallas, that DC has a long-standing natural rivalry with.

WEEK 7- AT THE HOUSTON ROUGHNECKS- SUNDAY MARCH 22ND, 6PM ET, TDECU STADIUM, FS1

In a wide-open fast-paced league that the XFL figures to be, this matchup is one of the reasons that DC went so corner heavy in their DB draft, taking 7 corners in total. You need them all against June Jones and the Run and Shoot offense.

WEEK 8- HOME VS THE TAMPA BAY VIPERS- SATURDAY MARCH 28TH, 2P ET,  AUDI FIELD, ABC

The final home game of the season at Audi Field for the DC Defenders. If the Defenders win the Eastern Division, they will not be able to host a playoff game at Audi Field, as the venue will not be available. It’s unfortunate but the drawback to not being a primary tenant. DC hopes to be in that position by the end of the season. The league would have to set up potential alternate sites. RFK is not in the cards and FedEx may not be either. So it’s possible that in the DMV, Navy or Maryland’s football stadiums could be alternate sites. Since the league’s championship game figures to be at a neutral site. This would only be a 1-week issue. The Defenders are going to have to win this game to keep any home game playoff scenarios a reality. They are finally back playing on ABC and on Saturday afternoon.

WEEK 9- AT THE NEW YORK GUARDIANS- SATURDAY APRIL 4TH, 2 PM ET, METLIFE STADIUM, ABC

Huge divisional matchup. The Defenders close out their season with two straight divisional games on the road. If DC makes the playoffs, they will have earned it.

WEEK 10- AT THE ST. LOUIS BATTLEHAWKS- SUNDAY APRIL 12TH, GAME TIME TBD, THE DOME AT AMERICA’S CENTER, ABC/FS1

The time and channel that this game will air are yet to be determined. Disney and Fox are supposed to make that decision in March. The western division playoff teams could  be decided on Saturday. It’s all about the East on Sunday. Depending on where the Defenders and BattleHawks stand by seasons end. This could end be the toughest road game for any team in the XFL. If the playoffs are on the line in this game. St. Louis is going to be electric. New York and Tampa play on this final day of the regular season as well. So all 4 division teams play each other in the final weekend. Only two of them are going to the playoffs. There’s a chance that DC could be headed right back here in the following week or that St. Louis could be headed to play DC. Rather fitting that DC could be in the position of starting and finishing the XFL regular season.

DC Defenders XFL Draft Recap

NFL teams have an entire year to prep for an upcoming draft class. Countless resources and hours are spent scouting and dissecting potential draft eligible prospects. All of this is done to draft 7 players. Some teams stockpile picks and end up drafting 10, 12 or maybe even 14 players. Now imagine if you will, having to draft 70 players. That’s quite the task for any pro football franchise, let alone eight of them. The coaching staffs and front offices in the XFL had their work cut out for them.

The process of scouting players was a collaborative effort between the league’s football operations department and it’s in house scouting department in ‘Optimum’, led by Eric Galko. The league conducted eight separate combine style showcases this past summer, where nearly 900 players worked out in front of coaches and team executives. Very late in the draft preparation process, the XFL added 295 players into their 1,000 plus player draft pool. 209 of those players that just missed the cut in the NFL in late August, ended up being drafted by XFL teams.

One of the areas that XFL teams leaned on with their player personnel departments, is having members of those offices, who were just recently in the AAF earlier this year. There’s Daryl Johnston (San Antonio to Dallas), Tony Softli (AAF Director of Scouting to Seattle), Josh Hinch (Orlando to Tampa), Randy Mueller (Salt Lake to Houston), Trip MacCracken (Arizona to NY), Dave Boller (San Diego to Dallas), Chris Thompson (Atlanta to NY), Robert Morris (San Antonio to Dallas), Will Lewis (Memphis to Houston), John Peterson (San Antonio to NY) and Trey Brown (Birmingham to St. Louis). This also extended to the individual coaching staffs. The experience of building a team in a spring pro football league, and the insider knowledge of the AAF’s 400 plus players was helpful.

The DC Defenders like the LA Wildcats, went a different route with their Director of Player Personnel positions. The Wildcats hired highly respected NFL personnel evaluator Joey Clinkscales, who was just recently with the Oakland Raiders. The Defenders GM/Head Coach Pep Hamilton leaned on one of his past connections in Greg Gabriel, from Hamilton’s time  coaching with The Chicago Bears. Greg Gabriel brings to the Defenders, three decades of NFL scouting experience, including a decade as the Chicago Bears Director of College Scouting and most recently with the Philadelphia Eagles. Prior to working in Chicago, Gabriel spent two seasons scouting for his hometown Buffalo Bills and then 16 seasons in the New York Giants personnel department. Like most of the team personnel people in the XFL. Gabriel hit the trail, going to NFL camps this summer to scout players. One of the players that was heavily scouted by all XFL teams, in the NFL preseason this summer, ended up being the DC Defenders assigned quarterback.

 

Cardell Jones Drafted to the DC Defenders

QUARTERBACK ASSIGNMENT: CARDALE JONES- OHIO STATE

Can you win the day before the draft has even started? It sure felt that way when just hours before the XFL began their five phase player draft, Cardale Jones was officially announced as being the Defenders assigned quarterback. From day one, Cardale always seemed like the type of Quarterback that the league would be interested in. Jones recently revealed in an interview , that the XFL had  been in contact with him for quite some time.  Last year,  XFL Executive VP Doug Whaley reached out to Cardale, a player he drafted in Buffalo, to let him know that the XFL has a spot waiting for him,  if he were to become available. Cardale was scouted heavily by several XFL teams this summer. Tampa’s Marc Trestman and LA’s Norm Chow were in Chargers camp watching Cardale Jones. Why the heavy interest in a player that only started 11 games in college, and has just 11 career pass attempts in his NFL career?

At 6’5 250 pounds, with a strong arm and good mobility in the pocket, it’s never been a question of physical talent with Cardale Jones. He’s always had elite physical traits. What has really stood out the last two years is how well he has developed and matured as a Quarterback.  You’d have to be looking very closely to notice that, since Cardale’s best work has been during the summer in the NFL the last two years. Cardale finally started to mature as a quarterback and make real strides in his development. Jones completed 68 percent of his passes this past summer, and earned the praise of his coaches in Los Angeles. Ultimately, Jones lost out to the numbers game in LA. His time had run out. With Phillip Rivers, Tyrod Taylor and draft pick Easton Stick in the mix at QB for the Chargers. There was no more room for Cardale. A month ago, Jones was signed to the Seahawks practice squad. A familiar place for him, a spot he held for the entire season last year with The Chargers.

Not ready and too much too soon would be the best way to describe Cardale’s career thus far. He started out as a backup for the Buckeyes, was thrust into a starting role, and became an instant superstar at Ohio State. He sprung onto the scene, lit the college football world on fire and won a National Championship. He was so great, right out the gate, that many people were discussing the possibility of him being a surefire top 5 pick in the NFL draft. Cardale decided to go back to school. The following year, Cardale ended up being a co-starter with the player he replaced due to injury the prior campaign, JT Barrett. The expectation level was through the roof for Jones but he didn’t live up to it. A year after potentially being earmarked as a first round pick, Cardale surprised many by declaring for the draft. His stock had taken a hit but Jones decision ultimately came down to supporting his family. Jones ended up being drafted in the 4th round of the 2106 NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills. Cardale’s immense talent and upside, got him drafted,  and he was put into the role of being a third string developmental quarterback. Cardale only saw the field for Buffalo in relief duty. The Chargers ended up trading for Jones and his upside. Cardale spent 2017 as a backup, never seeing the field. 2018 is where Cardale started to show signs of his potential. It earned him another full season with LA. Jones credits being on the same team as Phillip Rivers, as one of the reasons for his growth as a Quarterback.  Cardale’s improvement during this past summer, made it appear, as if he wouldn’t be a realistic target for any of the XFL teams…..  However, Cardale ran out of room in LA, and the Seahawks signed him briefly as insurance for Russell Wilson and Geno Smith. Cardale looked as if he’d always be arrested in development. That’s ultimately the reason, he chose the XFL, despite having teams like the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars  show interest in signing him to their practice squads.

Cardale’s dream is to one day be a starting Quarterback in the NFL, but he is at a cross roads in his career, only 27 years old, but stuck in neutral.  With the XFL, Cardale finally gets a shot to play, start and lead his own team in DC. This has the potential to be the type of story that Kurt Warner, Jon Kitna, Jake Delhomme, Brad Johnson and Tommy Maddox were, when being given an opportunity to shine in another pro football league.

 

PHASE 1- SKILL POSITION PLAYERS

WR Rashard Davis has the distinction of being the first pick overall in the XFL Draft.  Would he have been the first pick overall if the draft format had every position involved?  Did the Defenders reach for him? They could have gone with someone who has more of an established pro resume with their first pick. Taking Davis sends a clear message. The Defenders not only project Davis to be their #1 target in their passing game, but potentially the best receiver/weapon in the entire league.  Davis was a superstar on the FCS level, but what got him that distinction was his electrifying open field skills as a returner. As a former dual threat quarterback in high school, The 5’9 Rashard Davis started out his college career as a gadget player. It wasn’t until his final year at JMU, that Davis broke out and was a game changer. As a senior he played in all 15 games, making 12 starts. He set a JMU and CAA single-season record with an FCS-best four punt returns for  touchdowns. Davis had 15 punt returns for a JMU single-season record 426 yards and four scores. He also tallied 42 receptions for 530 yards and three touchdowns. Davis was named the CAA Special Teams Player of the year. Rashard went undrafted but was signed by The Philadelphia Eagles.  He spent the entire 2017 season, on and off the Eagles practice squad. Davis earned himself a Superbowl ring as a member of the Eagles in his rookie season, to go along with his FCS championship, that he won in 2016. Davis would end up making the Eagles practice squad in his second season, only to be cut and then signed by Oakland. Davis would finish the year on the Raiders practice squad. This past April, he was cut by the Raiders, then claimed by the Chiefs, only to be released on cutdown day in late August. The fact that an FCS player was taken first overall sends a strong statement. Cardale Jones was there in the DC draft room and announced Davis as the first  pick. Hopefully it’s a sign of many more connections to come between the two.

Tre McBride was the Defenders second selection in this phase. McBride is yet another player on the Defenders who was released at cutdown day by an NFL team (Jaguars). McBride is a small school product out of William & Mary, a track star, who ran a 4.3 at 6’0 and 210 pounds. It got him drafted in the 7th round by The Titans in 2015.  Despite his skillset as a potentially dynamic receiver and returner. McBride at just 26 years old,  has been on 5 NFL teams, but has never been able to break through.  The Defenders also drafted former Penn State speedster DeAndre Thompkins at the receiver position in this phase. Thompkins is an undrafted rookie signed by the Eagles, who ran a 4.33 40 at PSU’s Pro Day.  The Eagles obviously saw something they liked in him,  because they reportedly paid him $85,000 guaranteed to sign, which was the third-most paid out  among the NFL’s undrafted free agents. He  was cut by the Eagles this summer, after battling a shoulder injury.  In his Penn State career, Thompkins caught 83 passes for 1,245 yards and six touchdowns. He was also a factor in the return game, where he averaged 10.2 yards on 66 punt returns and scored two touchdowns. This is another projection pick by the Defenders, as Thompkins wasn’t a big receiving  star in college but he is loaded with upside. Rounding out the receiver group in this phase is the son of former NFL great, WR Ed McCaffrey, and the brother of currently off the charts great running back, Christian McCaffrey. Max McCaffrey, only 26, has been on 5 different teams in the NFL, and has only 1 career catch. A heady player with good size and football smarts, McCaffrey could be headed to a potential slot role in the Defenders offense.

It can be argued that DC has the best running back duo in the entire league. Jhurell Pressley is another example of a talented runner, who hasn’t been able to rise up the depth chart in the NFL. Despite being a star in college at New Mexico, and running a 4.40 in the 40 yard dash coming out. Pressley went undrafted,  and has been on 5 different NFL teams, but has never carried the rock  in the regular season. It wasn’t until Jhurell Pressley joined the AAF and was allocated  to the Arizona Hotshots, that he would finally get his chance to shine. The Defenders Offensive Line Coach & Run Game Coordinator Chris Scelfo, had one of the AAF’s best three headed backfield attacks with Pressley, Tim Cook and Justin Stockton. All three were drafted into the XFL. No surprise that Jhurell would be high on DC’s board. Teaming up with Jhurell will be the NCAA’s Division I all-time leading rusher in Donnel Pumphrey. The 5’8 176 Pumphrey, was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 4th round of the 2017 NFL Draft. It was considered a disappointment that he “only” ran a 4.48 coming out of college. Pumphrey ended up tearing his hamstring as a rookie, and missing the entire season. He did earn a superbowl ring with fellow teammate Rashard Davis. The following season, Pumphrey was released on cutdown day, claimed by the Lions on their practice squad, only to be cut again and return to Philly on their practice squad. Pumphrey didn’t make the Eagles roster at cutdown day over a month ago. If Pumphrey can stay healthy at his size, he can finally have the opportunity to display his talents on the field.

The Defenders drafted three tight ends in this phase. Khari Lee, Orson Charles and Adrien Robinson. Lee is a small school receiving star out of Bowie State in Maryland. Lee has spent  time with 4 different NFL teams. Lee’s upside is such that he was actually traded for by the Bears, which is very rare for an undrafted free agent. While Lee at 6’4 and 235, is strictly a receiving talent. Orson Charles is an excellent in-line blocker, who has played fullback in the NFL. A former 4th round pick and John Mackey award finalist out of Georgia. Charles has been on six NFL teams as a role player. He spent the entire season last year with The Browns, lead blocking for Nick Chubb. This past summer, he was released by Denver at final cuts.  Adrien Robinson is also a former 4th round pick. He has been with the Giants, Jets and Memphis in the AAF. Robinson’s end in the AAF made headlines, when he was charged $2,500 dollars  for his own lodging on his credit card.

One of the best picks in the skill player draft was undrafted rookie Quarterback out of Buffalo, Tyree Jackson. The Defenders took him in the 9th round of this phase. Jackson was the MVP and Most Outstanding Offensive Player in the MAC.  The 21 year old, 6’7 248 pound Jackson, declared early for the NFL draft. He was voted team MVP at the Senior Bowl, but went undrafted and then signed with The Buffalo Bills. Jackson spent the entire preseason with Buffalo,  but did not make the final cut. Surprisingly despite his size and mobility, Tyree is not on an NFL roster. That might still change, but there’s no questioning the upside or quality of this pick.

 

PHASE TWO- OFFENSIVE LINEMAN

There are now 7 XFL Draft picks and counting, that have been signed by NFL teams since the draft. The Defenders top draft pick, Kyle Murphy was signed to the Texans practice squad a day after being drafted. A clear example that the DC front office valued a player that is NFL worthy.  DC retains Murphy’s rights, should he become available again. Logan Tulley-Tillman has never been lacking for talent. The 6’7 former 4 star recruit that landed at the University of Michigan, had off field issues as Wolverine, and  ending up transferring in college. His pro aspirations have been sidetracked as a result. Tillman is still fairly young and coming off of a season of development in the AAF. De’Ondre Wesley is a career NFL practice squader. The mammoth 6’7 330 pound tackle, has had some injury issues since coming out of BYU. Jon Toth is a former All SEC Center, who has also had stints in the NFL as a backup. Former UAB/Colts undrafted rookie Rishard Cook follows along a theme of summer NFL cuts on the Defenders. The 340 pound rookie helped the lead the way for one of the nation’s best rushing attacks. Chris Brown is a former 4 star recruit from USC, and another UDFA, that played with The Chargers this summer. Undrafted out of LSU, Toby Weathersby has spent time in the NFL with the Eagles and Pats, and was most recently with the Express in the AAF. According to Pro Football Focus, Center James O’Hagan earned the No. 1 pass blocking grade among all draft-eligible centers during the 2016 and 2017 seasons before returning to finish his career at Buffalo during the 2018 season.  In 2018, O’Hagan took a slight step back in as a pass blocker (No. 4) but finished as the No. 1 overall center in college football thanks to his No. 1 run blocking grade. The New York Giants signed O’Hagan as an undrafted rookie free agent following the conclusion of the 2019 NFL Draft,  as most teams passed over him solely due to his size. O’Hagan is a former teammate of Defenders Quarterback Tyree Jackson. Cardale Jones former Ohio State teammate Chase Farris, can play guard or tackle, after originally starting his college career as a defensive lineman. Casey Tucker also provides the same type of versatility. He played both tackle spots and guard at Arizona State.

 

PHASE 3- DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN

James Vaughters was a surprise 1st round pick, much in the same way that Rashard Davis was in the skill position draft. Vaughters has been a journeyman edge rusher since coming out of school at Stanford. Vaughters was at Stanford, when his now Head Coach  Pep Hamilton was there, as was his former teammate, current XFL Director of Football Operations, Sam Schwartzstein. Vaughters has been with 4 NFL teams but his best  gameday production has come in the CFL, where he won a Grey Cup Championship with the Calgary Stampeders. It led to Vaughters signing a contract with The Chicago Bears. Vaughters impressed during  the  2019 NFL preseason with three sacks and two forced fumbles. Not only did his performances get the attention of Bears coach Matt Nagy, but they drew some pretty lofty comparisons too. Matt Nagy compared Vaughters pass rush ability and propensity for causing fumbles to Khalil Mack.  Vaughters initially made the Bears practice squad to only be released in mid September. A month later, Vaughters is drafted onto an XFL team.

Charles Harris is another tweener edge rushing type who was also in Bears camp this summer. Elijah Qualls, a former 6th round pick of The Eagles in 2017, has prototypical Nose Tackle size at 320 plus pounds, but enough natural agility to be more than just a two down run stuffer. Leading the linebacking corps in the center of the Defenders defense should be Scooby Wright. A former 7th round pick and star linebacker in college, Scooby Wright was just recently released off of the Patriots practice squad on October 1st. Tracy Sprinkle, who had a five-year career at Ohio State, ran into many, many obstacles in his path to the NFL. Dealing with injuries throughout his career, Sprinkle went undrafted in the 2018 NFL Draft. He has since spent time in the AAF and with The Browns.  Sam Montgomery is one of the better veterans, that is slated to play in the XFL. The former 3rd round pick out of LSU, has had a unique journey to say the least. He has played in multiple leagues, including 3 different NFL teams. Montgomery has always been stout against the run and dependable.  Undersized Linebacker Jonathan Celestin has been a fringe player in the NFL for a few teams and has spent time on practice squads. His measurables and athletic ability have held him back, despite playing well and showing good instincts on the field. The XFL could be the perfect place for him to finally get a chance to prove himself. Keshun Freeman has had a similar path as Celestin. He’s an extremely high character player with leadership traits, who just hasn’t been able to stick in the NFL. He played in the Alliance with the Atlanta Legends. Daryle Banfield is an all Ivy league player, who also has the same character traits as Freeman. Banfield can play inside or outside, depending on the scheme used.

 

PHASE 4- DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD

The Defenders went Cornerback with their first 6 picks in this phase. Starting with former Browns DB Elijah Campbell, who  ran one of the fastest 40 times (4.34),  of the nearly 900 players who worked out for XFL teams at their eight Summer Showcases.  From Campbell’s playing days  at UNI, he has always had a nose for the football and is a good open field tackler. CB Des Lawrence has the prototypical size and length at 6’1, to project to be a good press and zone corner. A late bloomer in college,  Lawrence has spent time with the Lions and in the Alliance. The Defender DB picks all leaned on physical traits and that’s no more evident that the selection of Cornerback Jalen Myrick. One of the fastest players in the XFL, the former 7th round pick of the Jaguars in 2017, ran a 4.28 40 at the combine. DC won’t be lacking for speed at corner. That’s for sure. Myrick was most recently with the Falcons, where he was cut on 8/31.  Doran Grant is a young veteran corner, who can play the slot. Grant is a former 4th round pick of the Steelers. Former Alabama DB Bradley Sylve is a 6 foot corner with 4.3 speed with  a highly decorated track background. He has spent time with the Bills, Saints and earlier this year with the Birmingham iron. Sylve came into football late in college,  and is still developing. Reggie Cole has only two years experience playing Corner, after initially playing receiver. He was a standout player at UMHB, but is very raw.

Some football players are notoriously known for one play during their careers. Despite being a quality veteran safety his entire career, and a quality pick by DC. Rahim Moore is known for one moment in time.  In the 2012-2013 NFL playoffs. Denver was leading Baltimore 35-28 with less than a minute left in the game. Baltimore lined up for what was essentially a Hail Mary towards the end zone. Joe Flacco unloaded a bomb to Jacoby Jones. Moore was well-positioned to make a play on the ball but misjudged the trajectory and the pass was completed to Jones for the game-tying touchdown. Baltimore would go on to win the game 38-35 in double overtime and eventually win Super Bowl XLVII. Here’s hoping that one day, Rahim plays the hero in his next playoff setting.

Safety Tyree Kinnel was a 4 star recruit and 3 year starter/team captain for Pep Hamilton’s former team  at Michigan. Despite that, he went undrafted. Kinnel had a good preseason with The Bengals but did not make the roster in September. Carlos Merritt is a ballhawking cover safety from small school Campbell University. Ladarius Gunter has 18 NFL starts in his career, all with the Green Bay Packers. Despite being undrafted and  having less than ideal 4.6 speed. . He’s still only 27 years old and has always gotten by being a physical corner. Gunter last played for the Orlando Apollos.

 

PHASE 5- OPEN DRAFT

There are some notable names in this group of 30 players, and some real sleepers. Since the Defenders went with 7 corners in their DB phase. It stood to reason that the safety position would be addressed again, and the most notable name in the group is former NFL 1st round pick, Matt Elam. He was an electrifying player in college. Elam never lived up to his billing in the NFL. A combination of injures, immaturity and off field legal troubles ended his NFL run after 4 seasons in the league. At 28 years old, Elam  hasn’t played pro football since 2016. That’s why despite his talent and pedigree. Elam wasn’t drafted in the DB phase of the league. If he’s got his head on straight. He can rewrite his legacy.

The Defenders drafted a lot of players from NFL roster cuts, and from specific teams. The Bears and Eagles were heavily scouted. Two former stomping grounds for Greg Gabriel. One of the universities that is highly represented in this class is the University of Buffalo. Greg Gabriel’s home town. One of the best open draft picks who was also from Buffalo, is Defensive Lineman Kristjan Sokoli. A former 6th round pick of the Seattle Seahawks. Sokoli has had a strange journey in the NFL. He was a very good player in college playing next to Khalil Mack. Seattle drafted him, and tried to convert to be a center, a position that he never played before. Based on his great agility at 300 pounds, and his absurd strength. Sokoli was mis-cast and ended up being released a year after he was drafted. From the Colts to the Saints and to The Giants roster. Sokoli went back and forth playing on both sides of the football. In the summer of 2018, he appeared to be making real progress with The Giants. Sokoli unfortunately tore his ACL and has been out of pro football for over a year. It’s nice to see a player like him come back from that and  get another shot.

Measurables were a big factor in the Defenders Draft and that extended to the pick of former Arizona Hotshots WR Deion Holliman, who has an absurd 65 inch vertical leap. LB AJ Tarpley from Stanford has good cover skills and can run and hit. He could be a starter on this team. At 6’4 335 pounds, 22 year old Former Oklahoma NT Du’Vonta Lampkin has untapped potential but he had characters issues in college. Lampkin prematurely came out for the NFL draft as a redshirt sophomore, and went undrafted.  Every NFL draft season, there are countless numbers of players who declare early and don’t make into the league. The numbers game is difficult to begin with, but some “unfinished” players have no place to go if the NFL door closes on them.

Conclusion

DC’s draft stood out from the rest of the league’s other seven teams. That’s not to state that it was the best or worst. Much like Dallas and Houston, the Defenders draft had it’s own individual style and personality. The majority of the XFL teams had a specific formula for  the types of players they drafted. The Defenders leaned more towards player upside and measurables, more so than any other team in the league. The offense under Pep Hamilton, Tanner Engstrand and Chris Scelfo, should be very good. Look for the Defenders to play power football and throw the ball down the field. The team has two big strong armed mobile quarterbacks who are built for outdoor football. On defense, it appears to me that DC may be leaning towards playing a 3-4 defense. Defensive Coordinator Jeffrey Fitzgerald has history coaching in both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive systems. One of the coaches he worked under is Chuck Pagano. No shock to see defensive players who spent time with the Chicago Bears this summer on the DC defense. Pagano is running his 3-4 base with the Bears, and there’s no doubt that Fitzgerald leaned on his mentor for some intel on players. Two of the more important players on the entire roster are Rashard Davis and James Vaughters. They were drafted in positions that suggest that they will be elite players in the league. Vaughters as a pass rusher and Davis as a game changer. If DC hits on these two, like they did with their Quarterback, the team will be a serious contender.

Analyzing the St. Louis BattleHawks 2020 XFL Season Schedule

St. Louis BattleHawks Schedule

It was the fall of 2018, nearly an entire calendar year had passed since Vince McMahon made public, his intention of relaunching the XFL in February of 2020.  Another spring pro football league in the AAF,  jumped out in front of the field for a February 2019 launch. The Alliance had secured it’s eight locations for the start of their season. The XFL had yet to announce where their proposed eight teams would end up playing. Then finally after months of speculation, the league announced that it would reveal it’s eight team cities and stadiums on December 5th, but prior to the big reveal, word leaked out that St. Louis would be one of the league’s team cities, and that their games would be played at The Dome at America’s Center. The XFL’s first big score was the hiring of Oliver Luck as it’s CEO and Commissioner, but it felt like it’s first big victory came, the day St. Louis was revealed to be one of the league’s cities.

Here we are, nearly a year later and St. Louis has become the BattleHawks. The front office and coaching staff has been put in place and the team just conducted a 70 player draft. The league and its teams have been built from scratch, brick by brick, building momentum towards the moment when the league finally gets on the field in February. With team uniforms, the league rules and training camps on the horizon, the league has unveiled it’s 2020 Season Schedule. The BattleHawks are now open for business.

WEEK 1-  AT THE DALLAS RENEGADES- SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 9TH/ 4PM CT/5PM ET/ GLOBE LIFE PARK/ESPN

This week, the XFL is saving their best game for last. This always seemed like potentially the marquee game for week one of the season. The who and what is a perfect fit. The when and where is certainly not what was expected. The feeling was that St. Louis would be kicking off the season for the league at home. Dallas with Bob Stoops at the helm, certainly seemed like a strong contender to be playing in the league’s premiere game. The XFL’s two most interesting teams are playing each other in week one, but they are not kicking off the season, and they are not playing in Saint Louis. Instead, the game is being played in a stadium that is currently being renovated and retrofitted for football. Dallas playing at home in week one is a surprise, beyond the location of the game itself. There are so many built in storylines for this game. From Bob Stoops returning to the sidelines and coaching pro football for the first time, to St. Louis making it’s return to Pro Football. Then there’s the  Stoops-Jonathan Hayes connection dating back to their days together at Iowa and Oklahoma. You also have, Daryl ‘Moose’ Johnston leading another Texas spring pro football team, except this time back in Dallas. There’s the battle of two Air-Raid offensive coordinators in the legendary Hal Mumme and Doug Meacham. Another key storyline is, All Big 12 West Virginia Safety Kenny Robinson turning pro, before he is draft eligible for the NFL. The oddsmakers haven’t set a line for this game yet, but you have to figure that Dallas is the heavy favorite. St. Louis is potentially starting a rookie quarterback in Jordan Ta’amu, on the road. While Dallas trots an NFL veteran quarterback in Landry Jones, who reunites with Stoops, and gets to run Hal Mumme’s lethal passing attack. This is a big spot for St. Louis. A statement game if you will. Winning this game could set the team on course for big things the rest of the way.

WEEK 2-  AT THE HOUSTON ROUGHNECKS- SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 16TH/ 5PM CT/6PM ET/ TDECU STADIUM/FS1

You have to wonder if BattleHawks Head Coach and General Manager Jonathan Hayes will consider staying in Texas during these first two  weeks. The league-wide training camp will take place in Houston in January. So the BattleHawks will be spending a lot of time in the state during the early part of 2020. This is a tough two game stretch. The BattleHawks defense will be tested in these opening two weeks. First with Hal Mumme in week one, and then followed up by June Jones and the Roughnecks offense. Despite these first two weeks being non-divisional opponents. The BattleHawks would love to come out of Texas 2-0, heading into their home opener. No team in the league has a tougher task than St. Louis to start the season.

WEEK 3-  HOME VS THE NEW YORK GUARDIANS- SUNDAY,  FEBRUARY 23RD/ 2PM CT/3PM ET/ THE DOME/ ESPN

The most intriguing home opening game of the entire league comes in week 3. This is a historic game for the city and it should be a very emotional setting. In a 10 game season, every game is important, specifically divisional games. If the BattleHawks come in flying high at 2 and 0. They will be unstoppable in this setting. If they come into this game at 0 and 2. This might be just what the doctor ordered to save their season.

WEEK 4-  HOME VS THE SEATTLE DRAGONS- SATURDAY,  FEBRUARY29TH/ 4PM CT/5PM ET/ THE DOME/ FOX

After 3 straight Sunday games, St. Louis finally plays on Saturday, and finally on broadcast network television for the first time this season. This will be their third non divisional game in the first quarter of their season. It’s usually at this point of the season where the teams begin to hit their stride and have their on field identities established. In a new league with eight newly formed teams. There is going to be a growing process early on. The game has two former longtime NFL players, coaching against one another in Jonathan Hayes and Jim Zorn. St. Louis and Seattle have had plenty of history against each other in a previous pro football life.

WEEK 5-  AT THE DC DEFENDERS- SUNDAY, MARCH 9TH/ 2PM CT/3PM ET/ AUDI FIELD/ FS1

The BattleHawks begin another two game road stretch, both of the games are against division opponents. In any football league, stealing road games against division foes can pay huge dividends for later in the season. St. Louis will have eight days to get ready for Cardale Jones and Pep Hamilton’s DC offense.

WEEK 6-  AT THE TAMPA BAY VIPERS- SATURDAY, MARCH 15TH/ 4PM CT/ 5PM ET/RAYMOND JAMES STADIUM/  FS2

The 3rd straight Fox Sports airing of the BattleHawks. First game on FS2. St. Louis plays 4 of their first 6 games on the road. These games are very important, if the team can come out of this stretch at 3 and 3 or better. They will be in good shape. With 3 of their last 4 games at home.

WEEK 7-  HOME VS THE LOS ANGELES WILDCATS- SATURDAY, MARCH 21ST/ 4PM CT/ 5PM ET/THE DOME/ FOX

Another Fox Sports airing, but this time on network television. Many XFL supporters were hoping for this game to take place in week one. Being that both these teams are in separate divisions. This game could have been at LA, but the league’s schedule makers did the fans a great service, by putting this game in St. Louis. The history between LA and STL in pro football is well known. There’s bad blood between both of these markets, and this is a natural rivalry because of it.  The bad blood spills onto the sidelines, as former on field rivals Winston Moss and Jonathan Hayes, also have history with one another, dating back to their on field clashes. Winston Moss made a point to playfully call out Hayes during his introductory press conference in LA earlier this year. The buildup to this game should be a lot of fun.

WEEK 8- AT THE NEW YORK GUARDIANS- SATURDAY, MARCH 28TH/ 4PM CT/5PM ET/METLIFE STADIUM/  FOX

You would think that St. Louis was back in the NFC West, with all these Fox games on the schedule. This is a make or break stretch for the BattleHawks. They play three straight divisional games. This is their final road game of the regular season. They close out the year at home in the last two weeks. Because of the league’s brilliant scheduling of all divisional games in the final three weeks. The majority of the league’s teams will still be in contention for a playoff spot, regardless of record. How teams fare in this stretch will determine, who competes for a chance to get to the league championship. Depending on what transpired in week 3, this could be St. Louis looking to exact revenge on New York for spoiling their homecoming, or St. Louis looking to complete a season sweep on New York.

WEEK 9- HOME VS THE TAMPA BAY VIPERS- SUNDAY, APRIL 5TH/ 11AM CT/ 12PM ET/ THE DOME/ ESPN

The earliest game of the season for St. Louis. With  New York and DC playing on Saturday, The BattleHawks will have a good idea where they stand, if they are in the division or playoff chase. You have reached the point of must win territory. This is the Vipers and BattleHawks second meeting in 4 weeks. One of the scheduling quirks that happens in smaller leagues. The AAF experienced this last year when San Antonio played San Diego in weeks one and three, and when Arizona also played Salt Lake in weeks one and three as well.

WEEK 10- HOME VS THE DC DEFENDERS- SUNDAY, APRIL 12TH/ 2PM CT/3PM ET/ THE DOME/ ABC*

The BattleHawks finally make their debut on ABC…. maybe. The start time and network that this game airs on is still tentative. Both Disney and Fox have reserved the option to switch this game with the New York-DC game, which is currently slated to be on FS1 at 6pm eastern. Naturally, the assumption is that this weekend’s games are being flexed depending on which divisional matchup has better playoff implications. However, the network press releases for the league schedule, has a decision date for the potential switch of this game set for a month earlier in March. So the game may be switched due to network programming changes. St. Louis could be in a prime position on the final Sunday of the season to clinch a playoff berth or division at home. This would be a great way to cap off St. Louis’s return to Pro Football.

St. Louis BattleHawks XFL Draft Recap

St. Louis has had a long and intriguing history in Pro Football.  Four pro teams in total. Two of them, the All-Stars and Gunners, played briefly in the NFL in the 20’s and 30’s and folded. The other two teams were relocated franchises in the Cardinals (1960-1987), and the Rams (1995-2015). In between it all,  as a failed expansion bid in the early 90’s for a team to be called ‘The Stallions’, and in the biggest what if scenario. The purchase of the New England Patriots in 1992 by St. Louis native James Orthwein, who planned to move the Patriots after the 1993 season to St. Louis, only to have the teams stadium owner, Robert Kraft pull a power play to wrestle away ownership and keep the Pats in New England. The rest as they say is history, and the history of pro football in St. Louis can be best described as bittersweet.

The BattleHawks are looking to become the first pro football team in St. Louis, to be born in the market and stand the test of time. The truth is, if the XFL suffers the same fate as other pro football leagues have before it.  Seven of the league’s eight team markets will be disappointed but ultimately and eventually, they will move on. St. Louis is a different story altogether. There’s a lot at stake here for the city. There may come a time again, where the River City finds another gateway into the NFL, but it may hinge on how well STL does with the XFL.  The success of San Antonio in the AAF opened eyes for the NFL, and that city will certainly be on the radar if the 100 year league ever expands again. Jacksonville’s great success in the USFL, where they would routinely sell out the Gator Bowl, led to multiple NFL teams looking to relocate there, before the city ended up outbidding St. Louis for an NFL team of their own. How well the BattleHawks are embraced by the city, will go along way in changing the perception that Saint Louis is not really suited or meant for Pro Football. The XFL and St. Louis share the same goal and mindset, they are both out to prove that they belong on the pro football landscape.

The St. Louis BattleHawks are cleared for take off after last week’s 70 player five-phase draft. Before we take an in depth look at the Quarterback, who was assigned to St. Louis,  and the players they drafted.  It’s important to note the person who is running St. Louis’s player personnel department. Trey Brown, only 34 years old, the former player turned executive, has risen quickly up the pro football ranks in such a short period of  time.   Brown started out as a scout for the New England Patriots, he then moved on to the Philadelphia Eagles, where he rode up the ranks to become the team’s Director of College Scouting. Trey Brown barely in his 30’s, interviewed for the GM jobs of the Buffalo Bills in 2017, and the Oakland Raiders in 2018. Earlier this year in the AAF, Brown was the Executive Vice President of Football Operations for the Birmingham Iron. There’s been plenty of debate among XFL followers about the BattleHawks draft.

One thing that can’t be overlooked is the fact, that three of the players drafted by St. Louis, have already  been signed by NFL teams. Corbin Kaufusi signed on to The New York Jets practice squad. Wes Saxton signed onto the Washington practice squad, and Tyler Gauthier signed onto the New England Patriots practice squad as well. Another draft pick, Center James Murray has also worked out for NFL teams recently. This is a clear indicator that the BattleHawks front office values players, that the NFL and it’s teams also covet. Keep that in mind when dissecting the BattleHawks roster. Specifically when it comes to the Quarterback they earmarked and signed to be their projected starter.

 

QUARTERBACK ASSIGNMENT: JORDAN TA’AMU- OLE MISS

This is the equivalent of a team drafting a Quarterback for the future, except in this case, the future might be right now.  The 21 year old Jordan Ta’amu is an undrafted rookie quarterback, who spent the summer backing up Deshaun Watson in Houston. The ‘Throwin Samoan’ doesn’t have the track record that the other seven XFL Quarterbacks have, but it can be argued that no other quarterback has more talent or upside than Ta’amu. He is as raw as it gets.

A true developmental quarterback, who only has two years of big time college football experience under his belt, the 6’3 gunslinger with impressive mobility, started out at the New Mexico Military Institute for two seasons before transferring to Ole Miss in 2017. Jordan started out as a backup behind Shea Patterson, but took over as the teams starter for the final five games, when Patterson went down to Injury.  Ta’amu threw for over 1,600 yards in that brief stretch, completed 66 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. He also proved to be quite the mobile threat with 4 touchdowns on the ground. Patterson transferred to Michigan, while Jordan took over as the full time starter in 2018.

Ta’amu had a fantastic senior season, finishing second in the SEC in passing yards, behind only Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.  Ta’amu completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,918 yards with 19 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He also rushed for 342 yards and 6 touchdowns.

The knock on Ta’amu, and the reason he went undrafted is two-fold. He’s not a polished product. Ta’amu has a big arm and great mobility, but his lack of experience and overall consistency with his mechanics show up on film. He’s still a maturing Quarterback, that needs more seasoning to work on his accuracy and timing. The other knock against Ta’amu, was the passing targets that he worked with at Ole Miss, and the lack of variety in his throws. Three of Ta’amu’s top passing targets with the Rebels, are all in the NFL in DK Metcalf, AJ Brown and Dawson Knox. BattleHawks Offensive Coordinator Doug Meacham has quite the task at hand to develop and work with Jordan’s skillset. Part of Meacham’s mode of attack is to do just that, attack down the field frequently. That is one of Jordan’s strengths.

The team may end up addressing this position again somewhere before or after minicamp in December. Perhaps with a veteran. However, there’s no denying that the sky is the limit for Ta’amu. The question is, will he be ready for take off come February.

 

PHASE 1- SKILL PLAYER DRAFT

It’s time to speculate. It’s what football fans do. There’s a reason to believe that the BattleHawks were targeting Connor Cook in the skill position draft. The Brogan Roback selection in this round strongly suggests that Quarterback was high on the teams list of priorities. As is customary, in sports league drafts. A team will take a player that you coveted off of your board, which may lead you into a different direction. For example, the Dallas Renegades recently stated that one of the players they targeted in Phase 2 of the draft, was taken ahead of them by The New York Guardians. In true team-speak fashion, Dallas says that their  first 17 selections were all the #1 players on their board when their pick came up. Another piece of evidence that Connor Cook may have been on the BattleHawks radar before Houston picked him second, is the fact that Connor Cook worked out at the St. Louis Summer Showcase in front of Jonathan Hayes and his entire staff. Exhibit B, Connor Cook was on the Bengals roster, when Jonathan Hayes was coaching on that offensive staff. Am I reaching perhaps? Maybe, but the fact that STL took a QB with their second pick suggests to me that this was a position they were targeting, to hedge their bets on their talented assigned rookie Quarterback.

If RB was Plan B, The BattleHawks knocked this position out of the park. There was a time where Christine Michael and Matt Jones were projected to be feature backs in the National Football League. Both players are relatively young, and do not have the usual thread on their tires, that running backs, their age usually have. Michael is supremely gifted. A former track star and five star recruit. Coming out of Texas, he won the Walter Payton award for being the best high school player in the entire nation. A former 2nd round pick, who never really broke through to become a feature back in the pros. A career 4.3 yards per carry, on only 254 career carries, he didn’t start in the pros until his 3rd year in the league, and has only 9 career starts under his belt. His career stat line reads like a single season, 1,080 rushing yards with 7 touchdowns. Jones is a former 5th round pick. A bruising 6’2 231 pound back with good movement skills. Jones was thrust into a starting role in the NFL, but was never able to stay healthy. He’s still only 26 years old, and is the perfect compliment to Michael.

BattleHawks receivers coach, Az Hakim will have a lot of talent to work with.  Six receivers were taken by the BattleHawks in this phase. Standing out from this group is De’Mornay Pierson El and local Missouri product L’Damian Washington. Pierson El had an impressive stint in the AAF, and with the Raiders this past summer. He has great open field ability and can be a lethal punt returner. Washington is 6’4 with long speed. Trey Brown has familiarity with him from his time in Birmingham. What a journey it has been for L’Damian as a pro. He’s 28 years old, but has been on count ’em, 7 NFL teams, 2 CFL teams and an AAF team. He’s never been able to stick anywhere or break through despite his immense talent. Doug Meacham’s Air Raid offense is ideally suited for these two potential starters.

Marcus Lucas is another Missouri player. A jumbo sized WR at 6’4 250 lbs, who can also play TE if need be. Lucas like Washington has been on several NFL teams since going undrafted in 2014. Nine different NFL teams, Lucas has bounced back and forth from practice squads and futures contracts.

Alonzo Russell spent time with Jonathan Hayes in Cincinnati.

The final pick in this phase, Jordan Lasley is a former 5th round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2018. As a Junior, he led the Pac-12 in receiving yards. Lasley’s issues have been off the field. He was suspended in his junior season for 3 games, for undisclosed reasons. Then as a pro, this past summer. He was waived by Baltimore after getting into a fight with multiple teammates. The Raiders claimed him off waivers but he was subsequently cut weeks later. There was a stretch there at UCLA, where he was a dominant player, that led to him being drafted despite his off field issues. It’s possible that Lasley never sees the field in the XFL, but that’s up to him.

 

PHASE 2- OFFENSIVE LINEMAN

Solid group all around. Matt McCants stands out as the senior offensive lineman in this phase. The 30-year old former NFL draft pick, has spent most of his career as a swing lineman in the NFL. He really shined last season with the Birmingham Iron in the AAF. Another Trey Brown tie in. Coincidentally, the Iron’s head coach Tim Lewis, is STL’s DB’s coach. So there is direct knowledge of this player in the front office and on this staff.

When talking about tie-ins to St. Louis, there’s former St. Louis Ram, Brian Folkerts. He is another veteran offensive lineman, who can play guard and center. He has 28 NFL games under his belt, but like McCants, he’s been mostly a swing lineman in the pros.

Dallas Thomas may end up being one of the league’s better guards. He’s a former 3rd round pick of the Miami Dolphins, has 26 career starts under his belt.

In secondary football leagues, the hardest area to find quality players is on the offensive line. Sometimes coaches lean on connections, and that is spelled out throughout this entire draft. Trent Perkins from Texas, spent two years with The Cincinnati Bengals. He was coached by BattleHawks line coach Brian Braswell, who came over with Jonathan Hayes to STL. Perkins has been shifted back and forth off the Bengals practice squad since 2017. In August of this year, he decided to retire and was subsequently waived by Cincy. Two months later, he came out of retirement to finally get a chance to start,  and rejoins his former Bengals coaches, who certainly had a hand in him restarting his career.

Jake Campos spent an entire season on the Cowboys practice squad in 2018. A very good player at Iowa State, Campos, a college OT projects inside to guard. A transition he has been making since turning pro.

This is a strong group from 1 to 10. Murray is being worked out by NFL teams. Gauthier is on the Patriots. Dejon Allen was an all conference player at Hawaii, and Juwann Bushell-Beatty is a monster tackle with tons of upside. A late bloomer at Michigan, who needs to control his weight.

 

PHASE 3- DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN

Another strong group from top to bottom. While many of these players are not household names. Once you start digging deep, it’s hard not to see the upside in the majority of these players.

The most notable players selected here are Marcus Hardison, Khyri Thornton and Casey Sayles. All three have good college pedigrees and NFL backgrounds. Defensive Coordinator Jay Hayes, who has made a living coaching up defensive lineman in the NFL for years, has some experienced  D-Lineman to work with.

Channing Ward is a player that Hayes coached up in Tampa with The Buccaneers. Ward is an undersized 279 pound DT with pass rushing skills, who hasn’t been able to stay healthy as a pro.

Andrew Ankrah was a big time defensive star in the FCS for James Madison. He also flashed in the AAF with Orlando.

Another Apollo, Terrance Garvin was arguably the best all around linebacker in the AAF. Where Garvin stands out is his ability to play sideline to sideline.

Nicholas Grigsby is a similar type player. Grigbsy has been on and off 6 separate NFL team practice squads. A 6’2 230 pound linebacker with 4.50 speed. Grigsby is also a hard hitter, who could end up being a tone setter on this defense.

The biggest sleeper in this entire phase is Jamell Garcia-Williams. He might not make it to the roster come February. The 6’7 255-pound edge rusher from UAB, had 9.5 sacks last season and 15 tackles for loss in his senior season.  He went undrafted and was signed by the Niners, before being waived at final cuts. NFL teams including the Raiders have worked him out, and JGW is on NFL teams radars. No shame in not making the Niners roster, who currently boast the NFL’s best pass rush and pass defense.

Another player that was part of NFL roster cutdown day is Gimel President. The versatile edge rusher can play at DE and has stood up as well at outside linebacker.

 

PHASE 4- DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD

The BattleHawks took a very unique approach in this phase of the draft. While every other team seemed to go CB heavy with their first few picks. The BattleHawks decided to attack the safety position, and boy, did they ever, using four of their first five picks at Safety. There is a caveat to that. Herb Miller, who is listed at safety, can also play corner. Miller is a long player with great open field tackling skills, who has experience playing in the nickel and at safety. He’s not a traditional outside corner because of his lack of speed, but he can be a very effective cover safety who can exclusively play in the slot and jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. Miller tried out for the Chiefs this summer, and impressed enough to earn himself a contract. He didn’t make it at final cuts, but I doubt that his playing days in the NFL are over.

The biggest story coming out of this phase for St. Louis is Kenny Robinson. The All Big-12 safety who is projected to be a day two NFL draft pick, has decided to turn pro now, as a way of getting prepared for the NFL draft when he is draft eligible. Robinson was highly rated by Pro Football Focus for his coverage skills at West Virginia. He’s coming into the perfect situation. Playing alongside two quality veteran safeties in Will Hill and Dexter McCoil.

Cornerback D’Montre Wade is very similar to Herb Miller, a strong press corner who plays very physical. You get the sense that Tim Lewis, who will be coaching up the defensive backs, is going to be playing a lot of zone and press coverage.

Marquez White is a real sleeper in this group at corner. Former 6th round pick of the Dallas Cowboys from Florida State. He played opposite Jalen Ramsey in college and played shutdown corner opposite him, only allowing two touchdowns in two seasons as a starter. If you are the other corner opposite Ramsey, teams are going to throw your way. White held up his end of the bargain.  Puzzling that he hasn’t stuck in the NFL after being with Dallas for two seasons as a deep reserve. White started at corner for the Orlando Apollos earlier this year and received high grades.

Trey Caldwell is a former 5th round pick by The Browns, out of ULM. He has 4.34 speed but stands at only 5’9. Another player at the bottom end of NFL rosters that never broke through.

Ryan White is yet another player who can play safety and corner on this roster.

The theme continues from picks 1 through 10.

 

PHASE 5- OPEN DRAFT

With the first pick in the open phase of the draft, St. Louis went kicker with Elliott Fry. Just days prior, the New England Patriots worked him out. Fry was perfect in the AAF for Orlando, going 14 for 14 in his 8 weeks of play. That landed him with the Bears in a kicking competition with Eddy Pinero, who ultimately won out. Fry then finished up with Baltimore before being let go. No way, he was replacing Justin Tucker. Despite Fry’s quality as a kicker, many have questioned STL’s decision to draft a kicker so early in a 30 round phase.

The one area that was surprisingly not addressed was the Quarterback position. The feeling was with two very young signal callers on the roster in Ta’amu and Roback, that Saint Louis would consider taking one of the veteran Quarterbacks remaining in the draft pool. Players like Joe Callahan and BJ Daniels were drafted in this phase, and a  veteran like a Zach Mettenberger was also available.

The BattleHawks continued to address their offensive line depth by taking capable lineman who could have easily gone in Phase 2, in Andrew McDonald, Avery Young and Korren Kirven. The majority of the XFL teams are carrying up to as many as 15 offensive lineman going into mini-camp in December.

One of the biggest sleeper picks in the entire draft is TE Connor Davis, out of Stony Brook. I watched him first hand impress at the New York Summer Showcase at Montclair State. He sticks out like a sore thumb at 6’8 270 plus pounds. A great athlete at that size as well with a 10-foot broad jump. He has untapped potential, and with Phase 1 TE Wes Saxton, currently in the NFL, and with Jonathan Hayes, a former NFL tight end, and former tight ends coach. This is the team you want to be on if you are a tight end looking to develop.

 

Conclusion

The team is well built upfront on the offensive line and on the back end of their defense. OL, DT, S and RB are the teams strongest position groups.  What will make or break the BattleHawks this season is their Quarterback play. Despite Ta’amu’s upside, he’s a question mark as a rookie pro quarterback. On the plus side, It really pays to have a Director of Player Personnel like Trey Brown,  that has just gone through the experience of being in a spring pro football league earlier this year. There’s a strong AAF imprint on the entire roster.  Trey Brown also has NFL experience of scouting players for two great organizations in Philly and New England.  It also helps to have a head coach like Jonathan Hayes and Jay Hayes, who both were in the NFL last season, and have been quality assistants in the NFL for a long time.  Their knowledge and experience helped them land quality players that were on the back end of NFL rosters in 2018, and this summer… players with upside who haven’t had the chance to be starters. That’s really what the XFL is all about.

Analyzing the New York Guardians 2020 XFL Schedule

NY Guardians Schedule

When it comes to secondary football leagues, the prevailing thought process by some is that big markets and big venues should be avoided at all costs. The idea is that a pro football league should go into places that do not have any pro football teams. Despite the fact that there is no Pro or College Football taking place in the spring whatsoever, people tend to hang on to this narrative. As if a team playing football during March in Dallas is somehow competing with the Cowboys.

There is another thought process that says that northeast teams should be avoided as well, in the months of February and March, because of weather concerns. The New York Guardians check off all these boxes. Biggest market, large venue and winter weather.  The original XFL’s top two drawing teams in attendance and ratings were New York and San Francisco… two NFL cities. The current XFL has 8 of the top 21 TV markets in their league. Two of the top five drawing teams in the NFL are the Jets and Giants. While a lot of that has to do with the resale market for tickets, it might shock some that a team like the Jets,  that has been out of the playoff mix for almost a decade, is ranked second in attendance behind only Dallas. The Jets were second last year in attendance as well. The Tri-State area loves football, but earning it’s respect and admiration is no simple task. The NY/NJ market is the kind of place where people will give you a bouquet of flowers, with a note attached that says “You better be worth it.”

Being in a big market is not just about attendance and ratings. It’s about partnerships, sponsorships and business opportunities. Why does someone rob a bank?…. because that’s where all the money is. Is it any surprise that the New York Guardians are scheduled to have 8 of their 10 regular season games on network television. Eight games split up on ABC and Fox with ESPN and FS1 tentatively scheduled to air a game a piece. When it’s all said and done. 9 of their ten games may end up airing on broadcast television.

Let’s take an in-depth weekly look at the New York Guardians regular season schedule.

Week 1- The Guardians open their season at MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon February 9th on Fox, 2pm eastern against the Tampa Bay Vipers. New York starts and finishes their season with three straight division opponents. New York and Tampa start and end their regular seasons against one another. On paper, this matchup features two of the league’s most experienced signal callers in Matt McGloin and Aaron Murray. That could change by opening day, but it’s an advantage both teams have, in terms of quality of play right out the gate. The weather for this one could be tricky. A 2pm start time helps, but all bets are off this time of the year. The Guardians experienced and accomplished coaching staff led by Kevin Gilbride, knows this venue and the elements attached to it like the back of their hands. Marc Trestman, despite leading a Florida team this go around, is no stranger to coaching in winter weather, having won multiple championships up north in Canada.

Week 2- The Guardians travel to the Nation’s capital to play the Defenders, in what could be the league’s best overall venue and atmosphere in Audi Field. This game will take place six days after the opener, and is another 2pm game, this time on ABC. The Defenders boast one of the league’s best rosters, led by Cardale Jones at quarterback. Weather could also play a factor in this game as well.

Week 3- Pro Football returns to St. Louis, as the Guardians face off with the BattleHawks on Sunday February 23rd, 3pm on ESPN. New York should have a good idea of where they stand after this game. This can be a very difficult place to play, especially if the BattleHawks come in flying high with a 2 and 0 start. It should be an emotional scene regardless, and it wouldn’t shock me if some old STL greats end up being a part of the ceremonies for the BattleHawks opener.  New York will be playing the spoiler role and attempt to ruin the homecoming  party.

Week 4- This starts a stretch of four straight non-divisional games. New York is back home, playing LA at 2pm eastern on ABC. This is the lone game on their schedule, where the Wildcats play at 11am pacific time on the road. LA Defensive Coordinator Pepper Johnson returns home, where he starred for the Giants and Jets many moons ago. This game features the countries two biggest markets in LA and New York.

Week 5- New York travels to Dallas, to take on what will be argued as the prohibitive favorite in the entire league, with Bob Stoops, Hal Mumme and the Renegades. The game will air on Fox at 5pm. By week five, the teams in the league should be hitting their stride, a scary thought if you are facing Dallas. Yes this is Bob Stoops first rodeo as a pro football coach, but his track record speaks for itself, and once he gets his feet wet, there could be some serious hell raising going on in Big D. Tough spot for the Guardians.

Week 6- New York is back home, playing their third straight Saturday game, this time against The Houston Roughnecks on ABC. Kevin Gilbride and June Jones have an interesting history between one another. Crossing paths on more than one  occasion. Both coaches spent time in Houston coordinating the Run and Shoot offense for The Oilers. Gilbride has always run a variation of that offense. Oddly enough, Gilbride replaced a departing June in Houston, and then years later, Gilbride was fired mid season as the Chargers Head Coach, only to be replaced by Jones. This will make for an interesting reunion when both coaches cross paths once again.

Week 7- The Guardians travel to CenturyLink Field to face the Dragons, in what will be their final non divisional regular season game. The game will air on Sunday 3pm on ABC. If Seattle is in strong contention by this point. This could be one of the toughest places to play in the entire league.

Week 8- Here’s where the playoff push starts for every team in the league. For three straight weeks, every team in the XFL will finish their seasons with three straight divisional games.  With two teams making the playoffs in each division. The final three weeks will decide who gets in and who doesn’t. Barring an 0 and 7 or 1 and 6 start. Teams with 3 and 4 or even 2 and 5 records will still be alive in the playoff hunt. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a 5 and 5 team could make the playoffs. Two teams in the original XFL did exactly just that, in the Demons and Enforcers, who both finished their seasons at 5 and 5. New York kicks off this crucial stretch at home against St. Louis. This game will air on Fox.

Week 9- The regular season home finale for The Guardians. This time with DC traveling to MetLife Stadium, for a Saturday 2pm game on ABC. This will be either both teams fighting for their playoff lives or potentially a game that could ultimately decide the division in the end.

Week 10- The final week of the regular season lands with The Guardians in Tampa.  It also lands on Easter Sunday. The game is tentatively scheduled for a 6pm Sunday starting time on FS1. However, both Disney and Fox have an asterisk attached to this game, and the other divisional matchup between STL and DC. The latter is scheduled for a 3pm start on ABC but both games may flip positions and channels prior to week ten taking place. The date set for that decision is March 10th.

Final Thoughts/Notes

The biggest surprise on the schedule is that New York is playing at home in Week 1. Some experts expected New York to have a back loaded home schedule for weather purposes. The Guardians won’t be kicking off the league on Saturday, but the concern has always been of not leaving a good first impression. Not so much in terms of the end result, but more so when it pertains to the quality of play. Weather can play a factor in the style of game presented in week one. If the goal for the league is to have a high scoring, wide open and fast paced game, Mother Nature might have a say in that. The Guardians would love to make a good first impression, something that unfortunately the original XFL New York team was unable to do. In that case, nearly 19 years ago, weather wasn’t an issue in the opener, it was the quality of the team and how ill prepared the league was right out the gate. The Guardians are on the big stage all season, but not under the big lights. The latest start time for any of their home games is 5pm in late March against St. Louis. The Guardians didn’t get the primetime network  nods on Fox that Dallas did in back to back weeks late in the season.  The league and the teams will all be under pressure to produce a quality product right out the gate. However, New York may have the most pressure to get off to a good start. While some markets will have some leeway in the early going, the Tri-State area can be pretty rough on a team, if it’s not up to snuff. Especially a new team in a new league.

New York Guardians Draft Recap

The XFL’s one-of-a-kind football league draft has officially ended, with 8 teams drafting 70 players, and one signed quarterback being added to each of their rosters.

The teams themselves all adopted their identities nearly two months ago, with logos, names and colors, but it was actually the last two days of drafting players, where the teams true football identities were formed.

For the New York Guardians Head Coach/GM Kevin Gilbride, his coaching staff and the front office, the two days of drafting on Tuesday and Wednesday brought an infusion of talent they hope can accomplish their vision of the type of team they want on the field.

Let’s take an in-depth look at The New York Guardians football team, and the draft which formed it. Before we recap all five phases of their draft. The first step taken in initially setting the tone for the franchise was the assignment of it’s projected starting signal caller.

Quarterback Assignment – QB Matt McGloin, Penn State/Raiders/Eagles/Texans/Chiefs

Matt McGloin (Wikipedia)

McGloin will be 30 when the XFL season starts in February. He gives the Guardians a steady veteran hand to lead the newly formed team right out the gate. If anyone fits the mold of a player playing in, what amounts to some, as a league for underdogs, it’s Matt McGloin. He knows how to battle and fight from underneath. McGloin knows what it’s like when no one thinks you are worthy enough of being on the field. He was a walk on who started out as a third string QB for the Nittany Lions, but through grit and determination, and some adversity along the way, McGloin ended up winning over his teammates and the university. In 2012, McGloin won the Burlsworth Trophy, an award and honor given annually to the most outstanding FBS college football player who started out their career as a walk on. McGloin ended his playing days at Penn State with 46 touchdowns, which is ranked 2nd in school history.

McGloin’s path into professional football went the same way it started for him in college. McGloin was an undrafted backup quarterback for the Raiders, the pro football equivalent of being a walk on. McGloin started out as a third stringer, only to somehow find his way onto the field in his rookie season. He ended up winning over the Raiders fan base and his teammates with the same grit he showed at Penn State. The team was in turmoil and transition but McGloin led them to victory, throwing three touchdowns in his first ever start. He battled all the way through his rookie season, throwing for the 2nd most yards per game by an undrafted rookie in NFL history. Before year two for him began, McGloin was back to being a third stringer, a role he would mostly hold for the rest of his time in the NFL. It wasn’t always pretty but whenever he was called into action. McGloin held his own. He was never cast as the lead actor but always seemed to play his part well when called upon.

Kevin Gilbride’s offense will be a mix of his own experience and philosophies, and that of his assistants, GA Mangus (QB’s) and Mike Miller (WR’s). Gilbride will be his own offensive coordinator and will initially call the plays. Gilbride has run and shoot roots, but his offenses over the years have been a mix of spreading teams out and playing in power run heavy sets. McGloin has the ability to adapt on the fly and improvise if need be, but he can also stay within a game plan if called upon. It’s why teams trusted him to come out of the bullpen in the NFL. McGloin always seemed to operate his best when things broke down around him, which unfortunately was often. McGloin’s teammates in the draft will help dictate the style of offense that he operates within. Every one of the 70 players drafted have varying levels of experience in the NFL.

PHASE 1 (SKILL PLAYERS)

RD1. DeAngelo Yancey, WR, Purdue (3)
RD2. Mekale McKay, WR, Cincinnati (14)
RD3. Tanner Gentry, WR, Wyoming (19)
RD4. Tim Cook, RB, Oregon State (30)
RD5. Demarcus Ayers, WR, Houston (35)
RD6. EJ Bibbs, TE, Iowa State (46)
RD7. Keith Towbridge, TE, Louisville (51)
RD8. Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech (62)
RD9. Darius Victor, RB, Towson (67)
RD10. Marquise Williams, QB, North Carolina (78)

The Guardians strategy for their offensive skill players was a unique one, and fit with Kevin Gilbride’s hybrid offensive style. New York attacked the WR position early, picking 4 WR’s in their first 5 selections, just in case you thought Gilbride was going back to his old run and shoot days. The second half of the draft was focused mostly on the ground game, and a two tight end set with Bibbs and Towbridge. Gilbride even added a big strong armed mobile QB in Marquise Williams, who can be an asset during games if needed, in specific short yardage or conversion situations. Williams is talented enough to lead the entire offense if need be.

This is going to be a versatile offense that shifts personality in game. The three backs, Tim Cook, Justin Stockton and Darius Victor are all different style runners. Cook is a powerful no nonsense inside runner. Stockton has playmaking ability in the run and pass game. Victor is a shifty back who can make people miss. This backfield harkens back to Gilbride’s championship offenses in New York that featured a commitee backfield with the likes of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. That backfield’s position coach was Jerald Ingram, who is now back with Gilbride with the Guardians.

Mekale McKay is a big 6’4 target who can win in the red zone. Very similar to what Plaxico Burress was for Gilbride. It’s hard not to see hints of the Giants offense here with the types of players selected. Gentry is an ideal slot receiver who can also work on the oustide. DeAngelo Yancey can be the centerpiece of this passing game. He has always had the physical tools. He’s going to get a real shot to be the featured receiver in this offense, but I expect a lot of different players to be utilized. It’s going to be a multiple style offense.

PHASE 2 (OFFENSIVE LINEMAN)

RD1. Jarron Jones, T, Notre Dame (6)
RD2. Cyrus Kouandjio, T, Alabama (11)
RD3. Parker Collins, C, Appalachian State (22)
RD4. Anthony Coyle, G, Fordham (27)
RD5. Zac Kerin, G, Toledo (38)
RD6. Brian Fineanganofo, T, Idaho State (43)
RD7. John Kling, T, Buffalo (54)
RD8. Ian Silberman, G, Boston College (59)
RD9. Nate Theaker, T, Wayne State (70)
RD10. Arie Kouandjio, G, Alabama (75)

When your team is named The Guardians. You better have good protectors up front. This is a textbook, by the numbers, drafting of a potential starting offensive line, from one through five. A left tackle in Jarron Jones. right tackle Cyrus Kouandijo, the center Parker Collins, and the two guards Coyle and Kerin on the interior at guard. Jones is a former college defensive lineman who has converted to the offensive line since becoming a pro in 2017. He has freakishly long arms (35 1/2 inches) and is a mauler when he gets his hands on you. It’s not uncommon for players to transition successfully from the defensive line to the offensive line, and former Jets All Pro Brandon Moore comes to mind. Where the Guardians really did well was drafting lineman six through ten. Kling and Silberman really stand out as quality lineman who can be starters. Brian Fineanganofo is an undrated Tackle from Idaho State, who tested off the charts. He was with the Browns this past summer. It’s a great story that Arie Kouandjio is joining his brother on this team. The “Bama” brothers have had rocky careers since turning pro, but they have never been lacking for talent. Being on the same team may be great for the both of them.

PHASE 3 (DEFENSIVE FRONT 7)

RD1. Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas (7)
RD2. Joey Mbu, DT, Houston (10)
RD3. Austin Larkin, DE, Purdue (23)
RD4. TJ Barnes, DT, Georgia Tech (26)
RD5. Nick DeLuca, LB, North Dakota State (39)
RD6. D’Juan Hines, LB, Houston (42)
RD7. Jarrell Owens, DE, Oklahoma State (55)
RD8. Cavon Walker, DT, Maryland (58)
RD9. Garrison Smith, DT, Georgia (71)
RD10. Rykeem Yates, DE, Nevada (74)

No surprise here that a Jim Herrmann coordinated defense would draft a linebacker first. After all, he played inside linebacker for legendary coach Bo Schembechler’s Michigan Wolverines. Herrmann would go on to be the defensive coordinator of his alma-mater, winning a national championship in 1997, and receiving the Frank Broyles award as the top asssistant coach in the nation. He’s coached linebackers his whole career, including stints in New York with the Jets and winning a SuperBowl with the Giants. Ben Heeney fits the bill of getting the nod as the quarterback of the defense. The issue with Heeney has always been his ability to stay healthy. The Guardians went heavy on the defensive line, literally and figuratively, drafting 7 lineman including experienced space eaters in TJ Barnes and Joey Mbu early. D’Juan Hines at linebacker could be the steal of this group. He’s very athletic and extremely intelligent. A four-time Academic All American at Houston, Hines originally started out as a QB and WR before transitioning to safety and then settling in at linebacker. He was a late bloomer in college, was All-AAC. Hines has been on 3 different NFL teams in the last year. He was cut by the Chiefs last month at cutdown day. There is untapped potential here and a lot of talent in this player. Hines could be emerge as one of the better 3-down backers in the league.

PHASE 4 (DEFENSIVE BACKS)

RD1. Jamar Summers, CB, UConn (2)
RD2. Lorenzo Doss, CB, Tulane (15)
RD3. David Rivers, CB, Youngstown State (18)
RD4. Dravon Askew-Henry, S, West Virginia (31)
RD5. Demetrious Cox, S, Michigan State (34)
RD6. Andrew Soroh, S, FAU (47)
RD7. Jeremiah McKinnon, CB, FAU (50)
RD8. Terrence Alexander, CB, LSU (63)
RD9. Nydair Rouse, CB, West Chester (66)
RD10. Ranthony Texada, CB, TCU (79)

New York drafted 7 corners in this phase. You could argue that the best draft pick New York had in their entire draft was Jamar Summers, as he was one of the top cover corners in the AAF earlier this year. He surprisingly missed the cut in the NFL,  despite being ranked so highly by Pro Football Focus. Summers will be an NFL corner in 2020 if he plays as well or better in the XFL’s wide open passing league. New York then followed up the Summers pick nicely with a true ballhawk in Lorenzo Doss. This corner tandem should be one of the league’s better ones. Much like how New York did at WR in the skill draft. The team drafted 3 straight corners each with distinctive roles. David Rivers is a small school player with big talent. He could very well play inside, or outside, and move Doss into the nickel position.

PHASE 5 OPEN DRAFT

QB- Garrett Fugate, Central Missouri State
RB- Matthew Colburn, Wake Forest
FB- Tommy Bohanon, Wake Forest
RB- Lawrence Pittman, Wingate
WR- J-Shun Harris, Indiana
WR- Quadree Henderson, Pittsburgh
WR- Colby Pearson, BYU
WR- Justice Liggins, Stephen F. Austin
WR- Octayvius Miles, Alabama A & M
WR- Keevan Lucas, Tulsa
TE- Jake Powell, Monmouth
TE- Jake Sutherland, Morehead State
C- Garrett Brumfield, Louisiana State
OT- Thomas Doles, Northwestern
OT- Adrian Bellard, Texas State
DT- Toby Johnson, Georgia
DT- Bunmi Rotini, Old Dominion
DE- Victor Ochi, Stony Brook
DE- Malik Harris, Incarnate Word
DE- George Johnson, Rutgers
DE- Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
LB- Darnell Leslie, Monmouth
LB- Frank Ginda, San Jose State
LB- Robert McCray, Indiana
LB- Jawuan Johnson, TCU
CB- Dejuan Neal, Shepherd
S- Max Lyons, SE Louisiana
S- Wes Sutton, Northern Arizona
LS- Scott Daly, Notre Dame

In theory, this group is supposed to fill out the bottom end of a roster, players 41 through 71 in camp. The Guardians drafted 30 players in this phase, 15 on offense, 14 on defense, and a quality long snapper in Notre Dame’s Scott Daly. The issue for this brief moment in time is that Daly has no one to snap the ball to. Even if The Guardians plan on reimagining 4th down and never punting or kicking field goal, they still need to kick the ball off. Looks like New York took advantage of the openness of this phase of the draft. There were no rules in place for specific position drafting in this portion of the draft. So New York decided to load up on as many offensive and defensive players as they wanted. Mini-camp does not begin until December, so technical New York doesn’t have to add a kicker or punter till then. The league is expected to have a supplemental draft before mini-camps begin, so it will all resolve itself.

As for the non-kickers in this group. Two of the better open draft players selected in the entire league were Fullback Tommy Bohanon and WR/KR Quadree Henderson. The position of fullback has been deemphasized somewhat in the pro and college game, but the few teams that do utlize it well, benefit. Bohanon is one of the better fullbacks out there and he was last seen prominently paving the way for Leonard Fournette during his great rookie season. Henderson is a game breaker and a useful gadget player that could be an X-factor in the league’s new proposed kickoff.

Conclusion

A lot can change on this roster between now and the start of The XFL season on February 8th, when the games air every week on ABC, Fox and ESPN.

These types of leagues are supported by fans, scouts and coaches for one single reason… the players. It’s the sole reason to start a pro football league to begin with.

The New York Guardians were a team in name only prior to this draft. The players have finally arrived. They are now officially a real football team.

The inspiring story of an abandoned child who refuses to abandon his football dreams

Jerimiah Spicer’s persistence got him an invite to the XFL Showcase in Los Angeles, and a feature video on the XFL web site. Now he waits to see if his persistence has paid off by getting an XFL player contract.

Jerimiah Spicer is the sports equivalent of DC’s Shazam. A lifelong orphan who was abandoned as a child, he grew up without a mother and father, and lost his grandmother as well. He was forced at a very young age to face this world all alone. Somehow, Jerimiah Spicer made his way from being homeless in Downtown LA, to skid row, to foster and group homes, and then somehow, some way, magically making his way onto a football field. Sometimes the true inspirations in life do not come from the desired destination but from the journey itself. Jerimiah Spicer’s story is an inspiration already because of his journey, more so than where the dream eventually takes him. Jerimiah’s dream is to one day be playing pro football. The football field to him has always been his one true home.

It all started out as a nightmare. Jerimiah Spicer has had to do everything the hard way. It’s been a struggle every step of the way. Spicer attended eight different high schools. Football was his salvation, but his road has had many potholes along the way. No four year college programs for him. The 6’1″ 240-pound linebacker made his way onto Riverside City College, before transferring to Bethesda University. The struggle to survive and find a purpose in his life continued for Jerimiah, as he never saw the field for Bethesda. Undrafted and unsigned after his college days ended, things looked as bleak as ever.

Thousands of college football players from good programs don’t make the NFL every year, let alone someone who has the limited playing background that Spicer had. Finally, he was able to be drafted by “Major League Football,” a fledgling upstart league that failed to launch. Jerimiah finally caught a break in 2018 and ended up playing and starring in the American Arena League with the Cape Fear Heroes. Spicer led the league in tackles and was all first team. NFL teams took notice and Spicer landed tryouts with a few NFL teams, the Chargers, Browns, Rams, Bucs, among others. Just getting to that point from where he started is magical in, and of itself.

Pro football prospect Jerimiah Spicer is the shining example of where social media can be a positive. In this day and age, there are so many college and pro football hopefuls that get overlooked and fade away into darkness. Spicer has put on his social media shoulder pads and has been playing hard from sunrise to sunrise, just to get his name out there and to realize his dream. Players from rough upbringings like Jerimiah Spicer have a hard time getting ahead and getting noticed. There are thousands of pro and college football hopefuls that simply do not have the support to get a break.

Players like Jerimiah Spicer and others have to make their own breaks and end up using the tools of social media for self promotion. It’s a long shot for most, but sometimes lightning strikes and you get lucky. Take Oakland Raiders first round running back Josh Jacobs as an example. Jacobs spent his high school years without a home and spent time sleeping in the backseat of his father’s car. A zero star recruit, Jacobs sent college football programs his game films from high school, and Alabama, of all places, took a chance on him.   If it wasn’t for Jacobs persistence, he wouldn’t have made it. He promoted himself as hard as he could,  and with a whole lot of talent, a boat load of drive and some luck, Jacobs is now in the NFL, getting ready to be a feature back for one of the most historic franchises in all of sports, the Oakland Raiders.

Despite having an agent, Jerimiah Spicer has been his own best advocate. With the XFL exclusively inviting close to 900 players at eight different player showcases. Jerimiah Spicer wasn’t one of the original invites. It didn’t slow him down. When XFL Los Angeles Team President Heather Brooks Karatz had a meet and greet with the fans a few months back. Jerimiah Spicer showed up and made his presence and support known. Within days, he had received an invite to the LA showcase. With the XFL showcases now over. Hundreds of pro football hopefuls are sitting on the sidelines waiting to see if they will be getting league contracts from the XFL. Jerimiah Spicer and his story has been featured by the XFL on social media in recent weeks. His story, drive and persistence has made everyone take notice.

I caught up with Spicer and was able to ask him some questions about his future. As he patiently waits to see if he will signed by the XFL, and added to their pool for the league’s upcoming draft in October.

Has the XFL been in touch with you or your agent since you worked out for them at The LA Summer Showcase?

Yes, the XFL has been in contact and I ‘ve been hearing that every coach in the league likes me & wants to see what I got to bring to the table just like the rest of the world. XFL did a small documentary on my life story. The XFL has been nothing but good to me. President Heather Karatz & Coach Moss showed instant love and told me it won’t be handed to me . I still got to put in that work. Just be myself and everything will workout.

Did you ever find out or ask what your test numbers at the LA Showcase were?

No, I never asked my test numbers . I really didn’t care because they don’t make me. I just do them because I have to. Those tests don’t show my instincts or the adversity I went through in life , nor my heart nor my tackling ability. Only I can beat myself in a game. The man who makes the least amount of mistakes and plays through 4 quarters relentlessly wins . It’s an attitude you have to have. I went through hell in life , can’t nothing stop me.

From your experience at The LA Showcase, How would you compare it to the NFL workouts you have received in the past?

XFL showcase was pretty much like an NFL COMBINE . 40s , 3 cone , Shuttle , broad jumps , more cone drills , then 7 on 7 and one on ones . It was very busy with over 100 athletes . That’s my first Real Combine with the XFL. I never got invited to the NFL COMBINE but I watched them all. I was at NFL facilities , and with the Chargers ,we only did Position drills it was 4 or 5 Linebackers . We didn’t run 40s or Shuttle etc,  they wanted to see if you can move Side to side , front to back and how fast can you get to the ball . Play recognition instincts and locating the ball stuff like that.

Were you able to spend some time with any of XFL LA’s coaching staff? Like Defensive Coordinator and Multiple Time Super Bowl Champion Pepper Johnson?

Yes , talked to Coach Pepper Johnson . He is a very serious person, you better be listening and not talking when he is speaking. I watched a lot of film on him before I met him so when he spoke, I knew a lot of what he was saying , when he was speaking from his experience. I have a lot to prove to the coaches cause I’m basically a NOBODY who was persistent enough to survive the storm. It still ain’t coast as clear but I see the Sun peeking through.

Speaking of former great NFL players like Pepper Johnson. Who are some of your favorite players either watching as a fan, or are there any players that you have modeled your game after?

I play like Junior Seau , Derrick Thomas, Thomas Davis , Ray Lewis and  Luke Kuechly.  I’m a ball hawk . I find the ball and get there,  and when I get there , I get there with a bad attitude.

Who would you consider the best teammate you ever played with and the best player you ever played against?

My best Teammate ever was ZAIRE ANDERSON Linebacker , Active with Denver Broncos. We played at Riverside City College together in California . Derron Smith Safety Active with the Minnesota Vikings, we played at Banning high school together in California. Best Player I played against was Kenjon Barner . Active Running back for the Atlanta Falcons it was BANNING HIGH VS Notre Dame high school in Riverside California. That was my first time playing against a Legit Running back ,that was smart,  he would take one step instead of juking then going. It was one step go.

How would you describe yourself as a player?

I’m the hungriest dog a team can get.  I also live life with my fans.  I’m a game changer that can change a game at a moments notice. I have positive contagious energy that can help win games and fans. 

You’ve done a lot of motivational speaking and a lot of self promotion. Using social media as a tool to promote yourself and your story. Have you ever considered being a counselor or mentor in your post playing career?

I do motivational speaking ,spoke to over 25,000 kids , I train kids. I did my FIRST ANNUAL SPICE IT UP Skills Camp it was a success. Motivational speaking is something I want to do for the rest of my life. I want to make it a Profession one day. Yes I will go back to foster homes , group homes and juvenile halls. To Homeless streets and speak wisdom to the ones coming up.  So I’m ready for the challenge.

Thank you to Jerimiah Spicer for his time. He’s certainly been ready for all the challenges he has faced in his life. The truth is that those challenges weren’t ready for someone like him.

The XFL’s second chance to make a new first impression

The Las Vegas Outlaws was a great brand with the perfect combination of colors, logo and uniforms. The league would do just fine if they can recapture the perfection of that brand.

As the old saying goes, You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. The return of the XFL is flying against the face of that. The revival of this brand is one of the most improbable and unlikely in all of sports and entertainment.

A reboot is common, but it’s usually reserved for properties that have had some sort of initial success. While the original XFL made an impact and changed the way all football is broadcast and viewed today, there’s no denying that the original XFL was a flop. The branding played a part in it,  as did the quality of football,  which was rushed and poorly executed. It wasn’t just the substance of the league that failed,  the overall presentation of what it stood for, did as well.

The original XFL was NBC’s direct broadcasting replacement for the NFL, and the league bragged as if it was going to be better than the now 100 year old NFL.  In hindsight, that expectation level was absurd for what was a first year startup league. The league was thrust into weekly prime-time network television and was asked to come close to duplicating  what the NFL and other established sports leagues were already doing. The hype and marketing did just that for one week, but the quality of the product wasn’t ready for prime-time initially and it died on arrival for most of the viewing public.

In most cases with reboots, a once popular entity is updated for the modern era. The brand name of these reboots have name value, so producers think they can recapture old magic with these brands or maybe even make it better. The idea is bringing back classics for a whole new generation that may not be familiar with them, and take an old trusted formula and make it new again. It doesn’t always work out,  and here’s hoping that nearly perfect classics like Back to The Future, Scarface, Goodfellas or The Godfather never ever get the reboot treatment.

The XFL is the opposite of the traditional reboot. It may still borrow the method of innovation like the original XFL 1.0 had, but the idea is to get it right this time. Despite the football world and it’s players needing a second pro football league, outside of diehard football fans who love this concept, no one was clamoring for the return of the XFL. The 2020 version is supposed to be the complete opposite of the original. It’s supposed to be structured and presented in a more traditional and updated fashion, with the sole emphasis being football.

As we edge closer to the reveal of the XFL’s eight team identities. This is where the new impression of the league itself is shaped. The XFL has made all the right moves thus far in methodically building up their league brick by brick. The football hires have been a reflection of that. The front office hires for the league and the individual teams have been outstanding. The process of testing game rules and broadcast technologies with ABC, Fox and ESPN has been a measured one.   The latest phase of testing with The Spring League in California was just completed.  The XFL’s eight talent showcases were executed and organized so well by the league’s football operations department. The XFL  has full insurance and coverage for all of it’s players and a health advisory committee headed by famed Doctor Julian Bailes.  So far so good, but the team identities hold the key to helping change the league’s perception.

Look no further than social media for what people think of the XFL brand when it comes to team identities. If any pro or college sports team debuts a new look, the go to criticism of any new concept is that it “looks like an XFL team.” When the New York Jets debuted their new uniforms this past spring, this was one of the knocks against their new look. The XFL hasn’t had any new team names or uniforms since 2001. That’s 18 years ago, and yet any perceived failure at branding is still associated to them. If a uniform or logo is panned as being ugly or second rate, it is instantly pegged as an XFL concept.

There is great pressure on the current XFL brain trust to get the team branding right. Their eight team identities will still face criticism even if there are no offensive team names. Team branding is very subjective, so there will always be people opposed to, or who are critical of a team name, but the XFL will face harsher criticism than most due to it’s history. It’s all because of the negative reputation and perception attached to their original league.

The original XFL team names and logos flew against the face of traditional sports teams. It was a group mostly of anti-establishment brands that were purposely positioned as being against political correctness. Some people may expect the current XFL to adopt their original branding and go the “Meth Gators” route. With that being stated, while most of XFL 1.0’s brands were certainly out there, the Las Vegas Outlaws was a great brand with the perfect combination of colors, logo and uniforms. The league would do just fine if they can recapture the perfection of that brand. Lost in the fact that “He Hate Me” was written on the back of the jersey, was how good those jerseys actually looked.

Secondary football leagues have always been about redemption, but it’s usually been stories for the players mostly.  The overwhelming story arc of how no one else gave these players a chance, these leagues are usually about former high round draft picks trying to redeem themselves and resurrect their careers.  It’s also about the forgotten college football all stars who never got a chance to shine in the pros.   The stories then extend to the overlooked virtual unknowns who want to prove themselves worthy of being pro-football players.

Secondary pro-football leagues from the past, like the USFL, XFL and NFL Europe, have been a proving ground for the likes of Sam Mills, Tommy Maddox, Kurt Warner and many others. XFL 2020 will have those stories and then some, but what makes the current XFL different is that the league itself is sharing with the players the same exact story of redemption. The proving ground is not just for the players but for the league itself.

Outside of the actual founder and funder of the XFL in Vince McMahon, and a few assistant coaches who actually played in the original league, the 2020 version of the XFL has a whole new set of executives and coaches attached to the league. Even with a brand new cast, the league is still fighting the battles that the original XFL lost. The biggest battle is in how the overall league is viewed, treated and perceived. It’s a brand new league with a brand new vision trying to erase the mistakes of the old league’s branding.

The process leading into February 8th 2020, when the league premieres on ABC and Fox, will play a big part in changing the overall outlook of the league. Despite being a startup league, the XFL will have a short leash with the public. They have to make the right moves now in order to present a quality product right out the gate. These next six months will dictate how well the league’s second first impression goes. The league is giving itself a second chance.  There won’t be a third.

Imagining a reimagined game of football

The XFL’s goal is to make a great game even greater.  An ambitious mindset for sure, but everything about the league’s mission thus far has been just that.

The average amount of actual action in an entire NFL game has been calculated to be anywhere from eleven to fifteen minutes. This is what the viewer at home, and in the stadium, experiences over a three-hour span of watching an NFL game. Fifteen minutes or less of actual football.  A sixty-minute game that only produces a quarter of actual gameplay. More than three quarters of an actual NFL game clock is spent on camera shots, commentary and players huddling and regrouping before the next play from scrimmage. The average three-hours plus of an NFL game is dedicated to advertisements, replays, multiple breaks in the action, and then more advertisements. Fifteen minutes, at best, of actual football plays, and nearly three-hours of everything else. In defense of the NFL, after all these studies came out, in recent years they have to attempted reduce all the dead spots in their telecasts.

People will often point to advertisements eating up the three-hours plus of a football game. The NFL has taken steps, in recent years, to increase their in-game advertising through picture-in-picture technology, with quicker commercial breaks and on-field advertising.  The real issue is that it’s not just about how long a game or broadcast takes. It’s about what happens during the actual game. It’s about the amount of in-game action, and the lack of it, or the delays between plays.  It’s not just about the fans at home watching. It’s about the people watching live at the games. Oftentimes, the home viewer has a better experience than the fan seated in a stadium. TV Ratings have been up for the NFL, but attendance is down; simply because people would rather watch the games at home. Part of that is a financial decision, but a large part of it has to do with being able to better enjoy the game at home. The breaks in action and momentum throughout the course of a football game are way more noticeable when experiencing a game live in person, than they are from the comfort of your own home. The breaks in momentum also effect the players and the play on the field.

The XFL’s mantra of “less stall and more ball” is less about fitting a football game into a three-hour window, and more about increasing the importance of the action on the field.  It’s about minimizing the dead play time and meaningless plays, and maximizing the meaningful plays.  So, the number of plays and the overall time of the telecast is important, but not the main focus. It’s only part of the overall picture.  Actions speak louder than words, and for these words to matter they need to be put into action.  How exactly does the XFL plan on doing that?  The experimenting of this is still on-going, and will continue later this month with the league’s broadcast partners, ABC, Fox and ESPN, when the league partners again with the Spring League to continue their research, development, and testing of game rules and in-game technologies.

One way of speeding up and increasing the action is to shorten the play clock. Rather than the current 40-second play clock used in the NFL, the XFL is working towards having a 25-second play clock.  With a 40-second clock, two offensive plays can potentially take up to a minute and twenty seconds of game clock. The 25-second play clock will, in theory, add an extra play for every minute played on the field.  However, it doesn’t stop there. The XFL’s goal is to quickly run another play once a play has ended. The league is planning to speed up the process by having a designated official, whose sole job will be to line up the football immediately after a play has ended. The quicker the ball is spotted, the quicker the next play happens. In theory, a shorter play clock with a system in place to set and reset for the next play will help speed things up, but there is a reliance on human execution.  This is where modern technology comes into play to help boost the operation further.

The XFL is planning on using an “all-11” audio communication system, for both offense and defense. In modern day football, a play call is relayed from a coach to his quarterback, who then relays the play to his teammates before the next play can be run. Some NFL and college teams that implement a faster style of offense will often use signals and even drawings to speed up the process.  With an all-11 audio system,  every offensive player will immediately know the next play call. Once again, time is being saved before the next play happens. This will extend to the defense as well. What’s unknown at this point is if there will be a cut off time in the audio transmission to players.  In the NFL, the audio is cut off before the team is at the line of scrimmage. Will the XFL decide to keep the audio transmission going right up until the snap? It would be the equivalent of Tom Brady hearing Josh McDaniels instruct him at the line of scrimmage, while Brady is scanning the defense. Imagine if that audio exchange was also available to the audience. During NFL telecasts, Tony Romo has expertly surmised where the play should, and could go, right before the snap. Imagine a scenario where he was actually telling Jared Goff, where to throw the ball based on the defensive look.  An “all-11” audio system not only helps players know the play and line up quicker, but it can also help them execute their designed plays better. Using this type of technology will almost make the need for a huddle unnecessary.

Technology can also be a useful tool in other areas. Some of the dead spots in football telecasts are unavoidable, like injuries for example.  The one area where games do get dragged down, and the action gets slowed down to a halt, is with officiating delays and replays. The XFL plans on implementing a modified officiating protocol. They are looking to speed up the process in which penalties are called, and in how quickly replays and challenges are resolved. One of the nine game officials is going to be in the booth, with access to all angles and replays. This official’s job will not only to be to correct a call, but to communicate it quickly to the head referee on the field.

Simplifying the rules will also help cut down on penalties and game stoppages. The XFL’s proposed “multiple forward passes behind the line of scrimmage” rule, not only adds an extra layer to the offensive strategy, but it makes the referee’s job easier when it comes to determining where the ball is. The XFL’s proposed one foot in bounds catch rule also helps officials as well. So much time is spent on stoppages and replays determining what is, and what isn’t a catch. One foot in-bounds as a catch eliminates the referee conferences after a catch and the potential challenges that usually follow these types of plays.

Meaningful versus meaningless plays. Since taking multiple safety measures, the NFL has seen a big increase in touch-backs and fair catches over the last few seasons. Kickoff and punt returns, to a lesser extent have been reduced significantly. One of the bigger dead spots and lulls in action in the NFL, comes after a team scores. A break in the action is then followed by the next play, being yet another break in the action. No time is taken off the clock during this operation, but usually nothing happens. This really hurts the live in-game experience and the momentum and flow of the game, not to mention eliminating the excitement that was attached to kickoffs in the past. The now defunct AAF eliminated the kickoff altogether, and an offensive play followed a score. However, what that effectively did was to guarantee that no offensive team would have the ability to start a drive in good field position. Every team started their drives at the 25-yard line. Eliminating the kickoff also eliminated the excitement and shift in momentum that comes from big plays on kick returns.

The XFL is bringing the kickoff and kick return back, keeping safety in mind with a new alignment that reduces collisions but brings back the exciting aspect of a big return. This is one of the original “reimagine” concepts that the XFL has been tinkering with and testing for quite some time. This concept was heavily aided by the league’s health advisory committee members. One of the most recent proposals was for touch-backs to result in teams starting on offense at their own 35-yard line. An incentive to not kick the ball deep into the end zone and to ensure that a return happens. The punt return will also be different, but familiar to football fans. A 5-yard halo will be in place that allows the returner to set up and return the football. This is borrowed from the Canadian game. One of the more exciting plays in the CFL is the punt return, and CFL special teams coaches have a field day designing plays with reverses and all kinds of gadget plays stemming from the point of the return. Another reimagining that has safety and the big play in mind at the same time.

There is no play that goes against the competitive nature of pro sports, and is more meaningless, than the kneel-down in football.  The NHL has its own form of clock killing during penalties, and it comes when a team is trying to run out the clock when they are facing the disadvantage of having one less player on the ice. However, this form of action requires skill and risk. It’s the boxing equivalent of being up against the ropes and trying to avoid being knocked out until the round ends. The kneel-down in football has no such skill involved. It’s always been a way of retreating and copping out. An extremely boring end to first halves and the end of games. Although things are still being ironed out, the XFL plans on reducing or eliminating the kneel down altogether by enforcing that teams have to attempt to gain yardage by moving forward. To further this rule, the clock automatically stops within two minutes. This forces teams to have to try and get first downs rather than attempt a series of quarterback sneaks and then punt. You are essentially waving the white flag and giving the ball back to your opponent inside of 15-20 seconds if you don’t try to maintain possession. To keep the ball, you have to keep moving it forward. The competitive action continues, and it doesn’t come to a screeching halt.  One of the sequences that almost always gets booed by a home team crowd is when a team decides to take a knee before a half, simply because they don’t have enough time or timeouts and don’t want to risk trying to advance the football.  Increasing the amount of meaningful plays and action actually extends to a few other different aspects as well. The first ties into the kneel-down and the final two minutes of each half, and what is being loosely referred to as the “comeback period”. The game clock is supposed to stop after every play within two minutes. This has been, and is still being tested by the XFL. If implemented, it will no doubt increase the amount of plays run in the game’s most crucial moments, but this type of “reimagining” may dramatically change the whole time honored aspect of game and clock management as we know it.

In the original and in the current XFL, the extra point kick is no more. This is another untimed play that is virtually meaningless. In recent years, it has been moved back to create drama but it’s still one of the more automatic and boring plays in football.  Replacing the extra-point kicks in the XFL are three tiered conversions: a one-point conversion from the 2-yard line, a two-point conversion from the 5-yard line, and a three-point conversion from the 10-yard line. After a team scores a touchdown, they will have one of these three options to choose from. What they choose will be based on strategy, and if they are ahead or trailing in the game. Teams that attempt a three-point conversion will be in desperation mode. Converting one play from the ten-yard line will be very difficult to pull off.  The premise of this concept is to create more scoring related plays that add drama to a game, and create the possibility of a late comeback.

Then there’s the XFL’s proposed overtime concept. This has safety and fairness in mind.  The safety aspect is to avoid having players play multiple series and quarters. Doing so increases the likelihood of injuries.  The fairness aspect is allowing both teams the opportunity to win the game on offense and defense, with no coin flips or kickers determining the outcome. A tie is broken when both teams get the opportunity to score in what has been loosely labeled as a “shootout”.  As presently proposed, both teams’ offenses get five scoring opportunities at the opposing teams five-yard line. Although similar “shootout” concepts exist in hockey and soccer, those shootouts come down to a version of their games that is not played during regulation. The XFL’s shootout is traditional 11-on-11, offense versus defense. No field goal kicks, “Oklahoma drills,” or 40-yard dashes. The concept is trying to resolve a tie quickly and fairly with the players health and safety in mind. Trying to accomplish all of this and still make it an exciting sequence for football fans to watch. The XFL is still working out the kinks and rules on this concept. The truth is that overtime games are very rare, especially in an 8-team league. The original XFL had 43 regular season and playoff games. Only one of those games resulted in overtime. The AAF played 8-weeks of play, resulting in 32 overall games. Only one of those games ended up in overtime. So, the likelihood is that the XFL could only have one or two games that would result in this overtime concept seeing the light of day.

The XFL is trying to walk a fine line of being different enough to get noticed, but still appear to be familiar. The idea is appealing to college and NFL fans, by trying to resemble the game of football that those groups love, while also trying to improve upon aspects of football that can be upgraded for the year 2020 and beyond, all the while using advanced technology to be the driving force behind all of it.  Change always produces resistance.  There was a time when people didn’t want 2-point conversions.  Many rule and presentation changes over the years were first met with skepticism and scrutiny.  While the XFL will be adopting ninety-percent of NFL rules, it’s the other ten-percent that could create hesitation for those who may consider following the league.

A lot of these concepts seem very exciting. When imagining the possibilities of what’s being reimagined, can the league pull it off? The attempt to increase action and plays and to make the game more exciting and evolved than it already is. The XFL’s goal is to make a great game even greater.  An ambitious mindset for sure, but everything about the league’s mission thus far has been just that.

The challenges that await the XFL

Will the XFL be able to survive and thrive in the long run, when so many other football leagues haven’t?

The biggest question surrounding the XFL, is will the league be able to survive and thrive in the long run, when so many other football leagues haven’t? A lot of that will hinge on what transpires from now until the start of it’s season in February.

In 2017, unbeknownst to many, a team of employees were hired in preparation for the relaunch of the XFL, before any announcement could be made of the XFL’s return. Vince McMahon needed to work extremely hard to secure risk insurance for his players and the league. Without it, the league wouldn’t be able to proceed. McMahon succeeded by obtaining the services of two of the countries leading sports risk and insurance companies in, The Berkley Group, as well as The Fairly Group. For over two decades, Berkley has insured more pro sports leagues, teams, and professional athletes than any other U.S. insurer. The Fairly group is also an industry leader in the field of risk consulting and management. It was this very action that helped Vince McMahon make his sales pitch to Oliver Luck, to become the CEO and Commissioner of the XFL. This showed Luck, how serious Vince McMahon was.

The first seeds planted in the growth of the XFL was a proactive plan to have the league prepared for adversity, something  most startup business don’t take account of in their early stages. Ninety percent of all startups fail, and they almost all fail in their first year, because they do not effectively factor in all the challenges and pitfalls that are guaranteed to come their way. Start-up companies need to be able to cover all their bases, have proper planning, and be resilient enough to recover from all the blows.

One need not look any further than what happened to the Alliance of American Football. Any business, particularly a start-up business, needs to have contingency plans for the challenges and problems that will inevitably come their way. The Alliance’s plan A was a disaster, and Plan B was an equal catastrophe. The glitch wasn’t in the payroll system, but in the entire plan. While the league presented a good front to the public, the AAF was dead on arrival. Its just that no one knew it publicly. Everything went wrong before the season even started. It makes most wonder how could the AAF could not have seen this coming, and why weren’t they prepared for all the adversity. There’s a reason for that. The concept of a football league has always been fun to imagine and plan, but not as fun once it is realized and set in motion.

Right now, the XFL is in the fun part of league building. Cities and stadiums have been announced, the coaching staffs and front offices are being put together. A TV deal has been announced with two of the very best sports networks, ABC and Fox. The XFL has actually started it’s first run of league events, by working out prospective players in all eight of their markets. They are testing innovative game rules and in-game technologies with the Spring League and their broadcast partners. Team identities will be revealed, players will be signed, teams will draft those players, and then off to training camp and eventually the season.

For all the fun in building a football league from scratch entails, the XFL is going to face many challenges in the lead up to year one. The league is going to have its fair share of doubters and naysayers. Everyone associated with the league needs to embody their founder and have thick skin. Start-ups tend to fail when there is the lack of a dedicated team, and when there is fear of being responsible or being blamed for failure.

Read any article or commentary about the XFL and you will see the same old arguments. The biggest being, whether there is really a market for another pro football league. The question is valid, but has been beaten to death. There are two areas where there really should be very little concern. The first is what ails most startups, a lack of financing. As documented, that’s not an issue with the XFL. The other area, that can be argued is the talent level of the players. This is where I depart from popular opinion. There’s no question in my mind, that there is so much football talent out there in 2019, that a second pro football league is necessary. This is really a result of the quality and evolution of college football programs. There are so many good football players out there,that can’t be fit into just one league.

There are some key areas where I do feel that the XFL will face difficulties. Of course, the big concerns down the road  are attendance, ratings and profitability. How well the leagues does in those areas may be determined by what transpires in the lead up to the February launch. These are what I consider the potential pitfalls of the league leading into year one.

TEAM NAMES/BRANDING

I wouldn’t classify this as an extinction level event, but it has the potential to make or break the league. You could argue that this is the most important and the most difficult decision that the league will make. The XFL can’t afford to get this wrong. The people out there, who have a negative perception of the XFL, expect the team names to reflect the in your face style of the original league. There are people out there who expect the teams to be called the “Dallas Dirtbags” or the “Seattle Psychos.” Those same people probably think that ABC is going to hire OJ Simpson to call the games.

XFL 2020 is certainly not going in that direction. But poor branding could kill the league before it gets off and running. Great branding can really be a difference maker, in not only how the league is viewed, but in how popular the league becomes. Once the names are revealed there’s no going back. How well the names and logos are received will go a long way towards having the league build fan bases in all eight of their markets.

FIRST IMPRESSION

It can be argued that the most important time period for the entire league will be in the months of November and December. For all the talk of how much time the league has in preparing for kickoff in February on ABC and Fox, the area where things will really need to be amped up is teams forming and practicing together in the fall. The XFL’s team rosters won’t be in place until Mid-October. Players are expected to be signed during the summer, and then more predominately after NFL cuts in September. This will be followed by the league’s drafting process. There will be close to 700 players signed and then drafted by the league’s teams. The talent will be there, but the most crucial element towards the league achieving a high quality of play is the time that the league’s eight teams have together in preparing for the season.

All indications thus far are that the fall practices for the XFL’s eight teams will be sort of similar to OTA’s. This will all lead into a league wide training camp, January in Houston. Roughly ninety percent of the XFL’s rules are supposed to follow the NFL, but there are areas of difference. Specifically when it comes to a faster 25 second play clock, a potential all 11 communication system, and some other rule tweaks, like the 3-point conversion, the new kickoffs, among other elements.

The eight teams in the XFL need to spend as much time as possible working together in order for the league to present quality football. It takes time for players and coaches to gel with one another. Everyone in a new league is new to another. This doesn’t only extend to the football teams. Prep time will also be needed for the officiating and broadcast teams. There will be several innovations introduced in those areas as well. You want all these elements to go off without a hitch.

The league can’t afford to struggle early on, with what is presented on the field. As is always the case, with new leagues, there will be a curiosity factor in the early going. If the league struggles early on to work out the kinks, they may lose potential viewers who are not impressed with what should be a ready made product come week one. Lack of preparation and planning could hurt all aspects of the teams and ultimately the league’s potential for success and growth.

KEEPING COACHES

One of the things that can disrupt the quality of a football team is losing players to injury. The quality of a team suffers as a result. The same can be said for coaches. Losing quality coaches can hurt a football team, especially if you are very close to the start of your season. The XFL is in a unique spot on the football calendar. As the league prepares to play it’s season in February of 2020, the 2019 NFL and College football seasons start winding down. Late December/January is firing and hiring season for NFL teams and NCAA programs.

As the XFL began the process of hiring coaches in February, they benefited from the fact that most coaching positions in the NFL and NCAA had been filled. So they didn’t have to compete for coaches services with NFL or NCAA teams.

While the XFL has language in player contracts that prevents them from going to the NFL once they are drafted in October (according to agents that were spoken to, on the condition of anonymity), there is no such language in the league’s coaching contracts.

The AAF ran into this issue last winter. Atlanta Legends Head Coach Brad Childress, stepped down right before the Alliance’s season started. He ended up taking a position on the Bears offensive staff. Michael Vick, the Legends coordinator, walked away from the job. Vick’s replacement, Rich Bartel, abruptly resigned two days before the teams opener. San Diego Fleet Offensive Coordinator Jon Kitna, left before the AAF season started to become the QB coach for the Dallas Cowboys. Cadillac Williams left the Birmingham Iron for Auburn. Hal Mumme, the current XFL Dallas offensive coordinator, resigned his position as the offensive coordinator of The Memphis Express, after only two weeks on the job.

Now, in the case of some of the AAF coaches, like Mumme and Vick, some left without a job in waiting. Brad Childress took a while before taking a senior position with Chicago under Matt Nagy. Some AAF coaches saw the writing on the wall and jumped ship. So it was more about the league showing bad warning signs, than better opportunities being presented.

However, what’s to stop an NFL team, from reaching out to Bob Stoops before the XFL season begins. Stoops may not be interested in coaching an NFL team in the fall come the 2020 season, because of family considerations, but if the Cowboys have a poor season in 2019 Jerry Jones might be tempted to make a play for Big Game Bob. It’s a mini doomsday scenario that most XFL supporters do not want to even consider.

There may very well be some XFL assistants that receive offers from NFL and college teams before the XFL season starts in February. It comes with the territory, but it would hurt the league if they were to lose any quality coaches, so close to the season starting. There needs to be contingency plans, in case any of the teams do lose coaches.

FINAL SUMMARY

When it comes to the history of football leagues like the USFL, UFL and NFL Europe, the question of “Where did it all go wrong?” usually has several answers to it. In the case of the AAF and the original XFL, the answer usually leads to the period before their seasons even started. If the current XFL truly plans to learn from the mistakes of the AAF, and their very own past, then, unlike the Alliance, the XFL has to be prepared for the difficulties and pitfalls that await them. If they are, they will make it to year two and beyond.