Notable performances from XFL players in NFL preseason, week three

The following are notable performances from XFL alumni in the third and final week of NFL preseason games:

*The battle of Pittsburgh’s long snappers has been decided, and the incumbent LS Christian Kuntz (Renegades) managed to hold off LS Rex Sunahara (Brahmas). In the final preseason game, Kuntz snapped in the first half with the starting kicker and punter, while Sunahara and the other backups had the second half. That was the big clue that the competition had ended. S Kenny Robinson (Battlehawks) continued his push for a roster spot with the Steelers. He recovered a fumble near the goal line in the third quarter and finished the game with three tackles on defense as well as one on special teams.

*Though he’ll back up Desmond Ridder in Atlanta, QB Taylor Heinicke (Battlehawks) started the final exhibition game. Unfortunately for him, Atlanta’s backups were matched up against Pittsburgh’s starters on defense. It very much looked like it, with Heinicke playing the first few drives, going 0-for-2 passing with a sack. Also starting was RB Godwin Igwebuike (Dragons), who played into the fourth quarter. He attempted just four rushes for four yards and also had a special teams tackle.

The first defensive lineman up in the rotation of former XFL players was DT LaCale London (Battlehawks). He began his in-game stint on the third drive. London managed three tackles and a tackle for loss. DT Caeveon Patton (Guardians) wore a club on his left hand indicating an injury of some kind. DE Delontae Scott (Brahmas) had three tackles and two QB hurries. Former Sea Dragons played on the left side of the line with C Michal Menet (Sea Dragons) and OT Barry Wesley (Sea Dragons) lining up at left guard and left tackle respectively in the second half. Wesley was beaten for a sack/fumble in which the defender seemed to injure QB Logan Woodside’s arm; Woodside later returned to the game.

WR Matthew Sexton (Vipers) made an impression, largely on special teams. He was on the opening kickoff coverage unit and also returned the first kickoff. He played gunner on punt returns, though was called for a penalty for not getting back in bounds quickly enough. He returned three kicks for 63 yards. On offense, he converted a 3rd-and-10 early in the third quarter and made a sliding catch later on the same drive.

*Heading into game three of the preseason, Detroit’s kicker job seemed settled. Riley Patterson took all the kicks while K Parker Romo (Brahmas) did not play at all. But as Lee Corso would say, “not so fast, my friend”: Patterson missed a 53-yarder and while he made two short field goals, he erred on an extra point attempt. It’s entirely possible – even likely – Detroit’s opening day kicker isn’t yet on the roster.

*Leading Carolina receivers with nine targets was WR Gary Jennings (Battlehawks). He finished with four receptions for 52 yards. He made a nice first down catch on 2nd-and-14, reaching back to snag an Andy Dalton pass that was behind him. On the downside, he committed a fourth quarter drop. LB Jordan Thomas (Guardians) did not play in any of the three preseason games for Carolina. At least one of the absences may have been injury related, but not all of them – he was not announced with the list of players who would not play prior to game three. He moved from tight end to linebacker in camp so the Panthers may not have believed his development was at the point that he was ready for game action. We’ll see if they saw enough in him to keep developing him at that position on the practice squad.

*Two former San Antonio players have made noise in Tennessee. The Titans aren’t carrying a true fullback this year under new offensive coordinator Tim Kelly, but TE Alize Mack (Brahmas) has been utilized in that role. This past weekend, Mack frequently lined up as an H-Back/FB in the backfield. If the Titans want that option on game days, they may choose to keep Mack on the roster. RB Jacques Patrick (Brahmas) had a big game. On his second team this summer after being released by Denver, Patrick ran 15 times for 76 yards (5.1 avg), running hard and lowering his shoulder into defenders. New Titans General Manager Ran Carthon was familiar with Patrick from their time together in San Francisco: Patrick on the practice squad when Carthon served as the team’s Director of Player Personnel.

*Notable in Los Angeles was that WR Darrius Shepherd (Battlehawks) had more carries than he did receptions against the Rams: He took two jet sweeps for 10 yards and caught one pass for -1 yard. He also returned a punt for three yards.

*Injuries can happen any time in football but they can be incredibly frustrating for those on the doorstep of making the team. S Elijah Campbell (Dolphins) was a bubble player for Miami when he got hurt on a kick return late in the second quarter against Jacksonville. Attention was paid to his left knee and he had to be helped off the field. It had the look of a serious injury.

*The first NFL sack of his career slipped right out of the hands of LB Willie Taylor (Renegades): He had Miami’s Skylar Thompson in his grasp but failed to bring him down. Thompson ended up scampering for a nine-yard gain.

*QB Ben DiNucci (Sea Dragons) had two fellow former XFL players as targets in WR Michael Bandy (Roughnecks) and WR Josh Hammond (Defenders). Bandy was thrown at four times by DiNucci, the first two being low and incomplete. On the next drive, he caught two. DiNucci started the second half for Denver, completing 11-of-15 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown, adding four carries for 22 yards. Included in those numbers was a touchdown to Hammond: It was a 4th-and-goal from the three where DiNucci used his legs to keep the play alive before hitting Hammond in the end zone.

*Former XFL defenders combined for three sacks in the Meadowlands. DT Bruce Hector (Renegades) made four tackles and had two of those sacks, both occurring when QB Tommy DeVito could find no one open downfield and in trying to escape the pocket, ran right into Hector’s arms. DE Pita Taumoepenu (Vipers) added a sack of his own, using his trademark skip-step to shrug off the right tackle and bring down DeVito. He played the most snaps of any Jet defender against the Giants.

*It was an up-and-down night for CB Darren Evans (Renegades). He made a great pass break-up on a 3rd-and-1 deep ball (noted on social media by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero when announcing Evans’s release on Sunday). While he had six tackles, playing 80% of the defensive snaps, he had two rough plays, one in which he gave up a touchdown to Alex Erickson of the Jets. On Erickson’s second TD, Evans failed to knock him out of bounds near the goal line as he was running by. DT Kobe Smith (Brahmas) continued seeing early snaps, including against the Aaron Rodgers-run Jets offense. However, the Giants sat many of their key defensive linemen in this game. Smith finished with two tackles.

*It was another start for QB Josh Johnson (Wildcats), who led the Ravens to a touchdown on the opening drive of the game, himself going 4-for-4 passing against many of Tampa Bay’s defensive starters. Johnson played the first three drives, compiling 95 yards on 6-of-9 passing.

*Though he didn’t make much of a mark as a receiver this spring, TE Brandon Dillon (Vipers) managed two catches for 23 yards and a touchdown for Washington against Cincinnati. Both catches came within a three-play span, and his seven-yard TD catch came from Jake Fromm. The television announcers mentioned that Commanders Head Coach Ron Rivera was “raving” about Dillon early in camp. LB Ferrod Gardner (Defenders) played on 73% of the special teams snaps, but just nine on defense. OT Jaryd Jones-Smith (Battlehawks) started the second half playing left tackle, then move to right tackle the next drive, where he played the rest of the game.

*The third preseason game was the first in which QB Reid Sinnett (Brahmas) saw game action. He entered the contest with 10:16 left in the fourth quarter. His biggest play was finding a wide-open Shedrick Jackson for 34 yards on a busted coverage for a touchdown. Sinnett went 6-for-11 passing for 77 yards.

*WR Marcell Ateman (Battlehawks) converted a 3rd-and-5 late with Buffalo trying to run out the clock. It was a good catch on a low throw with coverage draped all over him. It was one of two receptions he made on the day. OT Garrett McGhin (Renegades), signed recently when Buffalo placed OT Tommy Doyle on IR, took over at right tackle with about four minutes left in the game.

*Though he was signed in the off-season to a contract with $2 million guaranteed, QB PJ Walker (Roughnecks) was beaten out for the backup job by undrafted free-agent QB Tyson Bagent. Bagent relieved Fields in the week three game and Walker came in during the fourth quarter. He didn’t play poorly – he was 6-for-11 for 71 yards and a touchdown – but it wasn’t enough: Walker was reportedly released on Sunday night.

*Minnesota recently signed QB Jordan Ta’amu (Defenders) to be an extra arm in camp. He was supposed to play the second half against Arizona and even had his helmet on while on the sideline; however, Head Coach Kevin O’Connell made the decision to stick with rookie QB Jaren Hall for the entire game. RB Abram Smith (Defenders) made his first touch of the game count: It was a five-yard TD catch in the flat. Smith did not have a reputation as a strong pass-catcher so anytime he can show this part of his game it will be to his advantage. Smith also had five carries for 29 yards, a 5.8 average, with the longest run of the game for the Vikings at 11 yards. G Jack Snyder (Roughnecks) started at left guard and played every offensive snap.

*From his nose tackle position, NT Matthew Gotel (Brahmas) made five tackles, one for a loss, for Seattle in a game in which they were downed by Green Bay. Ballcarriers gained just 12 yards on the five stops Gotel made. The tackle number stands out in this case because nose tackles tend to be space-eaters and don’t always fill the stat sheets.

*Several former XFL players received extended action for New Orleans against Houston on Sunday evening. The Saints threw the ball 54 times and WR Jontre Kirklin (Roughnecks) was the target on 10 of them. He caught five passes for 63 yards. Kirklin also starred on special teams where he returned two punts and two kickoffs. On defense, DE Niko Lalos (Sea Dragons) followed up his three-sack performance last week by adding another one against Houston. DE Bryan Bresee created the pressure and Lalos cleaned up the play by bringing down the QB.

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