Tampa Bay Vipers positional grades vs. Seattle Dragons (week two)

Vipers quarterback Taylor Cornelius

QB: D: Starter Aaron Murray was out with a foot injury, though it was at times hard to tell. Backup Taylor Cornelius shared many of the same struggles Murray experienced the previous week. The rainy conditions in Seattle didn’t help. Cornelius floated a few passes, and his first interception came when he was hit on the throw. Quinton Flowers played for the first time on the third drive, taking the entire series. The Dragons appeared more prepared for Flowers and his runs than the Guardians last week. Flowers and Cornelius both took 4th down sacks during the game. A Flowers screen pass attempt was gifted right into the arms of Marcell Frazier, who gained one yard for a touchdown. Overall, Cornelius had the look of a player who hadn’t played a meaningful snap in 1 ½ years, which is exactly who he is. Flowers also didn’t look like a legitimate option to start and play the entirety of the game.

RB: A-: While the passing game struggles to get untracked, the Vipers running game has shown to be in midseason form based on the first two games. Jacques Patrick out-touched starter De’Veon Smith 15-12, and bested Smith’s per-carry average by a full yard. Smith ran well on their scoring drive just before the end of the first half. They continued to run hard, with Patrick giving out a highlight reel steamroll over DB Jordan Martin on the first play of the fourth quarter. Patrick was open for a 3rd down TD but the quarterback misfired; it may behoove the Vipers to get the backs more involved in the pass game going forward. The one mistake was a crackback block called on Smith, costing Tampa 15 yards as they were driving for a potential tie with less than a minute to go. TE Colin Thompson played three snaps at fullback.

WR/TE: B-: Opportunities down the field were missed because of quarterback play. Cornelius averaged just 5.7 yards per attempt; at times it felt the Vipers were throwing short either because they didn’t trust their QB or they didn’t trust their offensive line to pass protect. TE Nick Truesdell showed impressive physicality and balance on a short catch-and-run to get inside the red zone late in the first half. The Vipers moved him all around the formation in an effort to scheme him open and allow their first round skill phase pick to make plays. All four tight ends were active and played. Reece Horn led the team in targets and receptions. Dan Williams caught a TD pass with :04 left but was called for offensive pass interference.

OL: C-: Dragons defenders accumulated five sacks and 11 tackles for loss, showing how successful they were in penetrating the Tampa offensive line. Run blocking was again the strength, though Smith and Patrick are numbers one and three respectively in the league in yards gained after contact, showing they’re doing a lot of the work themselves. Seattle blitzed effectively, a smart play as offensive lines have had little time to gel during the truncated preseason. Goal-line blocking was an issue in the fourth quarter. Tampa’s philosophy to build the line from the inside-out during the draft hasn’t quite paid off yet.

DL: B-: Ricky Walker and Nikita Whitlock were both banged up at various times during the game as Seattle largely relied on the run. Dragons QB Brandon Silvers dropped back 20 times compared to 31 runs. Walker and Whitlock both made splash plays: Walker blew up a run early and Whitlock showed good speed to cover a running back in the flat and drop him for a loss. Given the number of runs and the ineffectiveness of the Tampa offense at times, it’s worth wondering how much getting worn down played a part in the line’s play. The ends did a lot of standing up on the edge of the line. DEs Jason Neill and Deiontrez Mount each had a QB hurry. Bobby Richardson missed a tackle in the backfield resulting in a 19-yard gain in the third quarter.

LB: C+: Terrance Plummer had four tackles and a roughing the passer penalty. Seattle didn’t target the backs out of the backfield or challenge the linebackers in coverage much at all. The Dragons were able to find more running room as the game progressed, wearing down the Vipers defense with 31 runs. In particular, there were too many cutback opportunities for the backs. Lucas Wacha had three tackles and a QB hurry. Reggie Northrup, cut during training camp but re-signed before the season began, had a tackle on defense and special teams.

DB: A: Seattle threw for just 91 yards and Brandon Silvers completed less than 50% of his passes, but it was just as much Silvers’ inaccuracy as it was Tampa’s sticky coverage. There were numerous receivers open that Silvers simply missed. That’s not to say the Vipers played poorly in the defensive backfield. Marcelis Branch was active early in both the run and pass game. His big error was a crown of the helmet penalty with under 2:00 left in the fourth that allowed Seattle to further bleed the clock. Defensive backs were credited with six passes defensed, including one at the goal line by Micah Hannemann in the third. Tarvarus McFadden scored Tampa’s first touchdown of the year, bringing an interception back 78 yards while in zone coverage (as noted by McFadden himself on the broadcast). Silvers’ TD pass was when a safety jumped a short route, leaving Jalen Collins to get beaten one-on-one on a throw to deep centerfield.

ST: F: This was not one for the highlight reel. Donteea Dye slipped and fell on his first punt return attempt, then had another for no gain. Andrew Franks hit a 36-yard field goal, but had a kickoff go too short, penalizing the Vipers and allowing the Dragons to start their drive at the Tampa 45 yard-line. Kickoff coverage gave up a long return for the second week in a row. Mack Brown fumbled a kickoff into the end zone and brought it out to the 10 yard-line; he was replaced by Rannell Hall on the next return and was then released a few days ago. A high snap by Nick Moore resulted in a bobble by Jake Schum, scrapping a short field goal try.

XFL Week 3 Power Rankings

Well, that’s 2 weeks now officially in the history books. We saw all different kinds of games this weekend. We saw defensive battles, slow building dramas, back and forth thrillers, and total domination, in what was another exciting week of XFL Football. This week’s Power Rankings are the most confident I have felt thus far, but of course, with the nature of football, that can all change week to week. So let’s see where we stand heading into week 3.

8. Tampa Bay Vipers (0-2) Last Week (8)

XFL fans, allow me to introduce to you your “Homecoming” team of the XFL 2020, the Tampa Bay Vipers. They are such a mess. Marc Trestman can’t decide on a quarterback. Whoever he decides will be playing quarterback that day, absolutely stinks. The defense gives up too many big plays. I have lost all confidence in this team, and it’s a shame, because they are talented in their skill positions. But in the sport of football, the quarterback position is the most important. And when you don’t have good quarterback play, you will struggle mightily. The Vipers will be playing their first home game this Saturday, but unfortunately for them, it will be against the Houston Roughnecks, and it will probably be a long day in Tampa for the Vipers. They are still at no. 8, and I expect them to remain there. Houston, congratulations, it’s “Homecoming Week”.

7. New York Guardians (1-1) Last Week (4)

Matt McGloin is leading this team. And after Saturday afternoon, that’s all you need to know to know why they are ranked no. 7. If Tampa had a decent quarterback, they would be ranked 8th. Once again, it’s a real shame. Because just like with Tampa Bay, they are talented. They got some good receivers. They got some decent running backs. They have an elite defense. They have a great Head Coach. But their “leader” is Matt McGloin. And if Saturday is any indication, he is not the right guy to be leading a locker room. If you can’t take ownership for your own mistakes, and you just throw your teammates and coaches under the bus, you don’t DESERVE to lead a team. Yes, he has some talent, but working together, as a team, goes far more than talent ever will. Until McGloin can buy into the concept of “TEAM”, they will sit at no. 7, and possibly fall to no. 8.

6. Seattle Dragons (1-1) Last Week (7)

Seattle, you have impressed me. By no means am I picking you to win the Championship, but you guys will be competitive in every game, and that is “For the Love of Football”. Brandon Silvers is not an elite XFL quarterback, but he has had his moments, and his play makers have made plays when they needed to. But the strength of this team is the defense, which is no unfamiliar territory for Seattle. Their defense has impressed me the past few weeks against DC and Tampa Bay, and if they can keep that up, I think they have the potential to pull off some real upsets. Especially when they play at home, with that raucous crowd. The key for their offense is to get the running game going, and take that pressure off of Brandon Silvers. If he can just limit the turnovers and make the key throws, this team should be fine, and at least be in most of their games til the end. They are my no. 6 team.

5. Los Angeles Wildcats (0-2) Last Week (6)

Some people are probably going to be surprised that I have LA ranked 5, especially since they haven’t gotten a win yet. But honestly, in their 25-18 loss to Dallas, they looked pretty good. Especially in the 4th quarter once Josh Johnson started getting that chemistry with Nelson Spruce. You have to remember, Johnson hasn’t even been able to really practice with his team much, due to him signing late, then getting injured. I believe that this team has enough talent to start racking up some wins. And don’t be surprised if that starts this Sunday against DC at home. I believe people are looking at that 0-2 record and really underestimating what this Wildcats team is capable of. If Johnson and Spruce can build that connection, this can become a scary team in the West. I have not counted the Wildcats out yet, and I think they might surprise the league here the next few weeks. For now, they sit at no. 5.

4. Dallas Renegades (1-1) Last Week (5)

This team is good. Yes, it took them a while to get going, but once they did, I don’t think they’re looking back. This might be the most well balanced offense in the league. They can run it with Artis-Payne and Dunbar. They can sure throw it with Landry Jones. And I believe they have play makers at the wide receiver position that can make plays in the open field. All of this was on display Sunday afternoon, once Landry Jones settled in the offense. Much like Johnson, he has not had a lot of reps with his team, so that chemistry will only build and get better. Their defense is good, not great, but if they can keep their running game strong, long drives will keep their defense on the sideline. The Renegades are threat in the West, and Houston better be looking over its shoulder. Dallas sits at no. 4.

3. St. Louis Battlehawks (1-1) Last Week (3)

St. Louis showed Sunday night, they are for real. They can compete with the big dogs, and they have a legitimate shot at winning the East and taking home the XFL Championship. Jordan Ta’amu is the real deal, and man is he fun to watch. He can do it with his arm, he can do it with his legs, and he has a strong running game backing him up. Matt Jones is a beast, and Christine Michael finally came alive in this game. Keith Ford will be back, and their receivers are really underrated. Pierson-El is a stud, and Washington can ball as well. But man, the defense is LEGIT. I’m confident in saying, this is the best defense in the XFL. All around, they can stop the run, protect against the pass, and they can cause turnovers. I think this team has a fight that can carry them a long way, and their Head Coach brings an energy that can motivate this team to a title. It’s why they are my 3rd ranked team.

2. DC Defenders (2-0) Last Week (2)

Total domination is what this team did to the New York Guardians Saturday afternoon. Cardale Jones is just that good. Rashad Ross is just that good. Eli Rogers is just that good. And oh yeah, DeAndre Thompkins made his return, and yep, he is just that good. Add that with a running game that seemed to be finding life in the 4th quarter, and a defense that has a pick six in each game so far, and you have the best team in the East. The DC Defenders are great, and Pep Hamilton is the main reason why. His play calling has been outstanding, and his willingness to take risk has paid off tremendously. This team has an identity, and it sticks to that. Have Cardale Jones make plays on the move, give the ball to their play makers, and let their defense have its opportunities. Drop in their some trick plays, and you have a recipe for success. But, they are still no. 2.

1. Houston Roughnecks (2-0) Last Week (1)

Because the Houston Roughnecks are still the best team in the XFL. PJ Walker is hands down, right now, at this moment, not just the best quarterback in the league, he is the best player in the league. He has looked unstoppable through the first 2 weeks, and I don’t see him slowing down anytime soon. But he ain’t by himself. Cam Phillips, who was named the Star of the Week this week, is an absolute beast. He can route run, he can turn on the gas, and he can catch with the best of them. Khalil Lewis, Nick Holley, Sammie Coates, James Butler, who do you try and stop? Good luck to any defense that has to play this Houston offense this season. But what’s scary for the league, is this defense is coming alive week by week. They get to the quarterback, and I mean they GET TO THE QUARTERBACK. Not to mention, they capitalize on every opportunity they get with takeaways, and they do not break easily. This is the clear favorite right now to win the West, and my current favorite to win it all. The Houston Roughnecks are the XFL’s best team until somebody proves otherwise.

Vipers look to stop undefeated Roughnecks in home opener

The Tampa Bay Vipers have struggled scoring as they invite the undefeated 2-0 Houston Roughnecks into Raymond James Stadium for week three this Saturday. The Vipers are 0-2 and have yet to show what they’re made of as they dropped their first two games. If Tampa Bay wants to pick up their first win they need a game plan to stop the talented Roughneck offense ran by dual threat quarterback PJ Walker.

The Roughnecks are ranked No.1 in the XFL averaging 32.5 points a game and Walker has a lot to do with Houston’s success so far. Walker has a lot of different targets to throw to, as he’s connected with nine different receivers in two games. When Walker doesn’t have any receivers open, he has the ability to scramble outside of the pocket and run. Walker has a total of 53 rushing yards and 442 passing yards (ranked #3 in the XFL in passing yards). So far PJ Walker and Roughnecks head coach June Jones have dominated the first two games of the season and are making a name for the Houston organization in the XFL.

The Vipers will need to figure out their quarterback controversy and focus on their passing game if they want a shot at taking down the 2-0 Houston Roughnecks. Tampa Bay has a steady defense with former FSU alumni Tarvarus McFadden at cornerback. McFadden intercepted Seattle’s quarterback Brandon Silvers thrown pass and ran it back for the Vipers first ever touchdown.

YouTube video

 

Along with McFadden at CB, Tampa Bay has FS Marcelis Branch with 17 tackles going into week three.

Although the Vipers offense has struggled, they’ve got a running back duo like no other. Jaques Patrick and De’veon Smith both have 100+ yards. Both RB are in the top 5 in yards rushed in the XFL and hope to explode throughout the season.

As we head into week three at home, the Vipers will look to score the first offensive touchdown of the season and hopefully determine a set starting quarterback.

Kick-off is Saturday at 2 p.m. EST and coverage is on ABC.

Future XFL expansion: Rooted in talent before TV

A picture-perfect Saturday afternoon at Dignity Health Sports Park was the backdrop of the LA Wildcats’ XFL home opener. (Credit: XFL.com)

Two weeks into the season and discussions are running rampant on how successful (or not) the XFL has been so far in its infancy. Media engagement, TV rating analysis, and comparison to previous spring football leagues is swirling about.

Expansion is an exciting and engaging topic. The back and forth between media and fans about why city A would be better than B is fun conversation and shows the excitement the league is generating. But expansion may be farther away than conversations lead on.  While there are plenty of encouraging signs for this league compared to leagues past, the overall approach from the XFL has been focused around pacing itself and getting things right.

The XFL Approach

From the announcement of the reincarnated XFL, January 25, 2018, to the kickoff in game one, February 8, 2020, there was over a two-year lead time.

The short-lived Alliance of American Football, or AAF, was announced more than two months after the XFL and kicked off their league less than 11 months after that. The AAF infamously closed its doors mid-way through its first season and the league in total only lasted for 13 months.

True to their approach, the XFL stuck with their timeline not succumbing to the pressure of a rival league.

During the more than two years the XFL spent establishing the foundation of the league, they strategically navigated the sporting industry to anchor themselves with prominent industry names. A key move by the league, at that point in time mostly by XFL founder Vince McMahon, is the hiring of Oliver Luck. Luck made his mark in the college football scene where he was part of the first playoff selection committee and was an executive vice president for regulatory affairs. With Luck, the XFL have themselves an experienced executive leading and navigating this venture.

One of the biggest praises and early successes for the XFL is the TV deal they signed with ABC/ESPN and Fox. These two widely recognized sport broadcasting names bring football onto cable and popular sports channels. Their background in NFL/NCAA coverage is a welcomed experienced partner.

Viewership through two weeks has benefited from all the above. The XFL is a more established product on two widely recognizable networks.

XFL

AAF

Week 1

3.118

2.900

Week 2

2.057

0.622

*numbers in millions of viewers

In the XFL, teams are well distributed geographically in major metropolitan areas. In contrast to the AAF where teams were more condensed and questionably excluded the populated Midwest and East Coast. All but one of the XFL teams, the St. Louis BattleHawks, share a city with a current NFL team. It is no coincidence the eight selected XFL cities already have strong professional football fan bases. This move highlights their strategy to garner support in planning for success.

We’re reaching the point where the XFL and AAF can [finally] stopped being compared. The XFL continues to differentiate itself from other spring leagues. Viewership is bound to fluctuate. Remember those critical of support now, they aren’t helping the league grow but let’s see if they want in on the action when it does.

Expansion in Due Time

A common talking point for an XFL expansion timeline is at the expiration of the current TV deal (estimated around 2021 or 2022). The XFL isn’t making money on the current deal but also isn’t spending any either; this allows them to focus capital resources more towards the product itself. If you’re not already familiar, TV deals are a substantial source of revenue in sports. Until the XFL can start making money across the board, especially on the TV side, expansion is unlikely.

While this argument is certainly a factor, I don’t see it as the end-all-be-all.

More importantly, the quality of football the league can produce will be the quintessential factor in determining the fate of the XFL; whether the league will be a long-term success or another failed attempt at a spring football league.  The league seems to have the approach of ensuring a stable foundation before advancing to the next step. Seen with the paced approach from the announcement of the league to first kick, the XFL cares about the quality of the product.

Viewers want to watch good football, good football means more viewers, more viewers mean more TV network interest, more TV interest means more revenue for the league, and more revenue means an opportunity for growth.

Again, the XFL’s preparation indicates the league is interested about the quality of the product.

Through two weeks, players across the league are starting to establish themselves as top talent. Should this talent find success in the NFL, football players around the nation will take note. There is talent out there that could play for the XFL but is currently is not for a variety of reasons. Since the start of the season, three notable CFL players have signed with the XFL. Seeing the opportunity this league could create may entice fringe NFL players and overlooked guys from college to consider joining to league to try and get in on the action.

The pool of potential talent is only moderately tapped. If the XFL can open the flood gates of talent, then this is when the league will truly be poised for expansion. Without a nine team talent surplus, expansion risks putting a lower quality product on the field that would seemingly damage the brand currently being built.

Until then, keep on having fun with speculating potential expansion cities, I know I will.

Note from the writer: There currently is no indication from the XFL about expansion. There are publications from 2018 with potential cities and nothing points to these actively being considered at. As with all news, try to find the source of a claim before believing it as true.

Collective Wisdom – XFL Week 3

It’s been 19 years, but we are now back with XFLBoard.com collective wisdom! The place where the collective provides the wisdom.

 Last Week
4-0

 Overall Record
7-1

Last week our collective went 4-0 in their prediction of the week’s games.

Overall this season the collective is 7-1. Very wise!

Here is how it works

  1. You predict the week’s games by filling out the form below.
  2. After entries close on Saturday, we will crunch the data and post the “Collective Wisdom,” i.e., which teams the collective predicts will win the week’s games.
  3. We watch the games and see how wise the collective really was.
  4. After all games have ended, we will reveal which entrant was closest to the real scores, and proclaim that person the “Genius of the Week.” In case of a tie, the first entrant will be deemed the winner.
  5. Prize? Of course! The “Genius of the Week” receives a tee-shirt proclaiming them the XFLBoard.com Collective Wisdom “Genius of the Week.” The perfect item for impressing your friends, family, and your high-school gym teacher.

Here are this week’s games

Entries close at Noon Eastern on Saturday 22 February, 2020.

Submissions are closed

Enter once, not multiple times. Please note that extra entries from the same email, or IP address will be deleted.

 

Suddenly the “Belles of the Ball” the St. Louis BattleHawks are turning them away

Jordan Ta'amu
Jordan Ta’amu and the BattleHawks are eyeing down their home opener in Week 3. (Credit XFL.com)

ST. LOUIS – The BattleHawks are living the high life in the city of St. Louis, and popularity of the team seems to have risen to a level that is too much to handle.

The team’s first home game to be played in The Dome is now a sellout at 28,000 fans. The sellout is for the entire lower bowl, and BattleHawks president Kurt Hunzeker says they aren’t going to open the upper bowl.

In essence, the BattleHawks will turn away paying fans, even though there are perfectly good seats available. However, the BattleHawks front office feels there are good reasons, mainly logistical, but also aesthetics.

“The upper deck, logistical issues involved there. A lot of it is customer service, a lot of it is manpower, a lot from an aesthetic standpoint,” Hunzeker explained.  “We’re going to dim out the upstairs. People will see an intimate environment, which is what the XFL wanted. A great game experience and having 28,000 fans on top of the action.”

Last week, Seattle set the XFL 2020 attendance record with just over 29,000 fans in CenturyLink Field. Now, with St. Louis capping their attendance at 28,000, Seattle’s record is safe.

Other than missing a chance for a statistical win, you would think the BattleHawks front office must feel they are missing an opportunity to introduce additional St. Louis fans to  their special “fan friendly” game day experience.

Limiting media

In addition to limiting the amount of fans that can take in the opening game, the BattleHawks are also limiting the number of media representatives that are being credentialed for the game.

“We had our only St. Louis reporter denied credentials because we were told that the media demand was far greater than they could manage,” XFLBoard.com senior editor Mark Nelson said. “We understand the limitations they have, but this makes it hard for us to cultivate a good relationship with St. Louis. In fact, we have noticed all along that they seem to be too busy to deal with even the smallest request.”

Nelson also said that XFLBoard.com, which features a large number of player stories, is having trouble arranging interviews through the St. Louis team.

“Our requests are wholly unfulfilled,” Nelson said. “We simply stopped asking. This is mainly why you don’t see a lot of BattleHawks players on our podcast, or featured in stories on our pages. We can’t connect with them effectively.”

Apparently, the “Belle of the Ball” St. Louis BattleHawks has such a full dance card that they can’t make time for  everyone.

More missed opportunities.

XFL Fans: Don’t Forget the Special Teams

Marquette King, St. Louis BattleHawks

In the past few years, punters and kickers have had a renaissance, with former Colts All-Pro Pat MacAfee at the helm.

MacAfee, who is unofficially retired from football, has become a media personality over the past few years. With the Pat MacAfee Show, broadcasting in the NFL and XFL, and guest appearances on national television, his influence has spread plenty far. With his focus on representing his brand, the catchphrase “For The Brand” has caught fire.

For The Brand can be interpreted as someone doing something to better their reputation. MacAfee wanted to break the stereotypes of kickers, punters, and long snappers being of little to no value and not being actual football players.

The XFL perfectly represents everything Pat MacAfee is about. Straight to the point, fast, fun, and mainly exciting. While the league’s efforts to eliminate point-after attempts and touchbacks has been viewed to hurt special teams, there are some ways it actually benefits it. The new rules have cut out all the fluff in football that’s hurt the game.

When a punter takes the field in the XFL, there are a few outcomes, and none of them have the ball being placed at the 25-yard line like it’s the NFL. The punting team cannot release past the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked. If the ball goes out of bounds inside the 35-yard line or lands in or out of the end zone it is considered a major touchback, resulting in the ball being spotted at the 35-yard line. These rules give reason to punt less, but field more.

Under the new rules, a star has been born in Marquette King. King, a former Oakland Raider, and Denver Bronco is the rocket leg behind the St. Louis BattleHawks red hot squad. The following punt went viral recently.

While it ended up being a touchback due to the fault of King’s teammate, the fact a punt went viral in week one of the XFL is astonishing. Marquette is known for his theatrics and swagger, and even though it was looked down upon in the NFL, the XFL seems to be a perfect fit for him. A flashy smooth-talking punter is what the XFL is all about.

DC Defenders kicker Ty Rausa missed a field goal and was immediately interviewed on the sideline. Rausa was visibly upset giving fans a rare insight into the hardships players face. The mentioned play is found below.

Rausa then went on to nail a 54-yard field goal. While the feel-good story can be the main take away, what should be mentioned is the fact punters and kickers are being put on a national spotlight for the first time ever. These players are only recognized when they screw up, or after doing something at a record-breaking level. For the first time in the history of football special teams players are making an impact beyond the field of play. And if this were to happen in any other league it might be bad for business. But the XFL has no issue providing an opportunity to all players.

Maybe in a few years, fans could be wearing jerseys of their favorite kicker or punter instead of running back.

Jones knocks “rust”off in 4th; Renegades separate in the second half

Landry Jones
The Renegades put together a solid win on the road, locked up their first win, and did it all when Landry Jones was in the lineup. 

Los Angeles, CA– The Renegades left Carson with a “W” beating the Wildcats 25-18, though they had a slow start.

Through the first half of play the game had a similar feel to last week’s matchup at home against the St.Louis BattleHawks. The game had a slow start with both teams being forced into 3 & outs and turnovers.

The Renegades offensive drives during the first half resulted in two punts, a interception, a fumble, and field goal.

Landry Jones was 17 for 26 and tallied 177 passing yards and 1 interception in the first half, and were 0/2 on third downs.

With 2:58 left on the clock, the Wildcats capped off a 9 play 38 yard drive with a Nick Novak field goal that split the uprights putting the first points on the board.

The following drive the Renegades returned the favor and scored on a 12 play 50 yard drive leaving with seconds remaining by way of a Austin MacGinnis 41 yard field goal to tie the game.

The Renegades through 6 quarters of football only scored (15) points, which at the time was league worst.

Landry Jones spoke several times during the game stating he needed to be the one to step up and lead his team to victory.

Going into the second half it was very noticeable that the Renegades emphasized at half time to get the ball to open receivers in space to move the ball.

The third quarter had its share of three and outs and turnovers just like the first half, but ultimately resulted in a 45-yard field goal from Austin MacGinnis to take the lead increasing the Renegades lead 6-3.

We all know in the sport of football how quickly things can change.

LA, after working the ball down field with seconds remaining in the third, started the fourth quarter with the ball on the Renegades 30-yard line, which placed them in a perfect position to take over the game.

Josh Johnson connected with Nelson Spruce on a 6 yard strike for a touchdown early, taking the lead 9-6 in a game that was clouded by uncertainty of either team scoring the football.

The Renegades began the ensuing drive at their own 32 yard line, and the drive started with a sack that placed Dallas in a second and long.

That hit had to have knocked the “rust” off Landry Jones.

Jones threw three consecutive passes and completed all of them. Tight end Donald Parham who was getting a ton of looks in the first half caught a 16-yard pass for a first down, then wide receiver Josh Crockett was on the receiving end of a pass that put the Renegades into plus territory.

The Renegades rushing attack which didn’t gain much traction in the first three quarters, came alive and Cameron Artis Payne capped the drive off with a 21 yard touchdown and converted the 1 point conversion giving them the lead 13-9.

The Wildcats got the ball back and quickly went three and out. A neutral zone infraction by LA, and a huge punt return by Flynn Nagel put the Renegades at the Wildcats 30 yard line.

On the next drive Jones was able to find Donald Parham on a quick out route in the flat for a 3 yard touchdown to cap off a short 5 play 25-yard drive. The Renegades took a commanding 19-9 lead with just a little over 5 minutes remaining.

As I said before, things change quickly in the sport of football, Josh Johnson connected with Nelson Spruce on a 44-yard touchdown making it a one possession game after a successful three point conversion.

To start the final drive, Cameron Artis-Payne enforced his will rushing the ball twice for 20 yards, and then Landry Jones threw his final pass attempt of the game and made it count, finding Jeff Badet on a 16-yard completion setting up another Artis-Payne run which went for a touchdown.

Bob Stoops and Landry Jones locked up their first win in the XFL and extended their combined record as player and coach to 40-12.

Landry Jones finished the game 28/40 305 yards 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions, but completed 70% of his passes, which is a very encouraging stat for this team going forward.

If this offense can be efficient, it could cause opposing defenses headaches.

For the Renegades, this is just the beginning, and some people may think it was a so-so debut performance for Jones, but I believe as before when he and Bob Stoops were at the University of Oklahoma, he found a way to get it done and be one of the reasons why Renegades won the game.

The Renegades put together a solid win on the road, locked up their first win, and did it all when Landry Jones was in the lineup.

In my opinion, that’s not a bad day at the office.

Dontez “Speedy” Byrd is flying high in Seattle

Going into week one of the XFL, Seattle Dragons wide receiver Dontez “Speedy Byrd was fulfilling his topmost desire, and that was to play pro-football.

After his senior year at Tennessee Tech, where he had a stellar year catching 78 passes for 1,003 yards, and six TDs, Dontez could only imagine getting onto an NFL roster. After spending time with the Atlanta Falcons in the 2018 NFL pre-season, and with the Memphis Express of the AAF in 2019, he remained a free agent.

Being out of football, Dontez had expressed a desire to play in the XFL for a while. Finally the Seattle Dragons came calling in January 2020, and offered to fly him to Houston in the middle of a busy training camp.

Byrd did not hesitate to jump at the opportunity.

“Sometimes you never know when you’re going to be called, or when the opportunity is going to come, but when opportunity is given, you can’t leave any doubts,” Byrd said.

In other words, Dontez strongly feels that such an opportunity should not be taken lightly, and he has demonstrated this on the football field. After joining the Dragons, Byrd has proven he deserves a spot on the Dragons starting roster by his performance in game one of the XFL season, where he impressed by catching two passes for 34 yards, including a beautiful catch along the sidelines while he was being covered closely.

“I know when my number is called, I got to make that play,” Dontez said modestly. “Not only is my coach depending on me to make that play, but a lot of my teammates are depending on me to make plays as well.”

After a loss to the Defenders in the first week, Byrd claims the Dragons learned from their mistakes, which allowed them to beat the Tampa Bay Vipers in the next game.

“We went into DC for our first game. We learned a lot that game, and had some things we needed to get fixed in order to get the win against the Vipers,” Byrd explained. “We went back to practice the week after we played against DC and got better as a group and really just honed down on the details and got ready to go against the Vipers.”

It seemed to work. Now, the Dragons are focused on their next opponent, the Dallas Renegades. Dontez also pointed out that this next game is a divisional game, which makes it all the more important.

“It’s our first conference game. So, we need to take this game very serious and get a win.”

We will be watching for Dontez “Speedy” Byrd this Saturday 20 February, when the Dallas Renegades play the Seattle Dragons at 2PM PST at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

To hear the entire interview with Dontez Byrd, check out the XFL Xtra Podcast – Episode 25


Former WVU star Devine wants chance in the XFL

Noel Devine (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The segments are grainy, but a figure distinguishes himself. Dressed in red and white, he dekes, spins, and outraces hordes of defenders in a way that, if not for his size, would prompt parents from opposing high schools to demand a birth certificate be presented.

“The plays that I made and the way that I played the game in high school has still got people talking to this day,” Noel Devine, now 31, said proudly, referring to the YouTube cut-ups. “My biggest accomplishment would be my highlight reels. Everything else speaks for itself.”

Devine ranks third all-time in rushing at West Virginia University, behind only former teammate Pat White and Avon Cobourne. He’s second in all-purpose yards (5,761), trailing burner and seven-year NFL vet Tavon Austin, and has the most receptions (98) by a running back in Mountaineer history. He’s one of eight players from North Fort Myers high school to have his jersey retired, others including Deion Sanders and Jevon Kearse.

Devine grew up in Fort Myers, living between the homes of his grandmother, his mom and stepdad, and, later, the family of a former Pop Warner teammate. Playing football across the bridge from Fort Myers in Cape Coral provided Devine a sense of relief and a hope of making something of himself.

“[Football] was something I felt helped me get away from what I was going through with losing my mom,” he said, mentioning that his mother died due to AIDS when he was 12. “It was an escape and as soon as I put my hand on the ball, it was something I enjoyed doing and something I was good at doing.”

Devine eventually began to notice how he was outracing defenders, oftentimes to the endzone. To say the least, he was good. But, come high school, some looked at his size and had their reservations.

“I remember nights being on the back porch at my grandmother’s house lifting weights after my 8th grade year, just trying to prepare myself,” Devine said. “People were like, ‘Oh he’s too small, he’s not going to play running back.’”

By his freshman year of high school at North High, Devine said, he was bench-pressing 315 pounds. He soon learned that his father and uncle attended the same high school in the 1980s.

“It was an amazing feeling to know that I was following the same footsteps and that there was a little family tradition there,” Devine said.

As a ninth-grader, he played on the varsity squad and, after an eye-popping run, many believed him not to be a freshman. His average carry was good for more than nine yards.

By his senior campaign, he was a five-star all-purpose back who ran scampered for 2,148 yards and 31 touchdowns. Devine was offered by Alabama, Florida, and USC, among others. He committed to play for offensive designer Rich Rodriguez and WVU in March of 2007.

However, he almost didn’t qualify academically. He thought of going through a prep school, visiting Milford Academy, the same seminary LeSean McCoy attended.

“I was going to come in and rep behind [McCoy],” Devine said. “I took the visit and thought ‘This place looks creepy.’ There was a graveyard right behind the football field, a shed as a weight room. In the middle of New York, it just looked haunted.”

Instead, Devine reworked his grades through computer courses and enrolled in Morgantown, where he finally graduated from in December.

“It was time-consuming and it was challenging, but it was definitely worth it,” Devine said. “Taking classes online is way different than being on campus and having hands-on and tutors and mentors to guide you through and kind of help out, but I got it done. Football mindset, no excuses, man.”

On the field, he was a two-time All-Big East honoree and one of four players in the history of the conference to surpass 4,000 career rushing yards.

Devine made a name for himself, becoming the quickest WVU player to ever rush for 100 yards in a game, reaching the mark in two carries at Maryland. He filled the shoes of an injured Steve Slaton in the Fiesta Bowl as a freshman, scoring a pair of touchdowns against Sam Bradford’s Oklahoma Sooners. In his junior year, he was one of 16 semifinalists for the Maxwell Award.

After moving on from West Virginia, Devine’s physical stature once again came into question as a detriment. He estimates he weighed 160 at the Senior Bowl and 20 pounds heavier by the Combine, where he didn’t run because of a toe injury.

He went unselected in that spring’s draft, but was picked up by the Philadelphia Eagles as an undrafted free agent. His time in the City of Brotherly Love last less than a week, as one of his best friends was killed and pressure weighed on Devine’s shoulders.

“My dreams turned to a nightmare,” Devine said. “I was devastated, basically walking out of Philly just in disbelief. I couldn’t compete for the job I needed to do. I felt like I just had anxiety, worrying about punt returns.”

Without football, he felt empty.

“This is something I worked for all my life. This is my dream. This is what I want to do. It’s what I’m happy doing. I turned my back on my dreams.”

Devine landed with the Omaha Nighthawks in the since-disbanded United Football League. He would later join a couple of teams in the Canadian Football League, but his playing time was limited by established league veterans.

“I never thought I would take those routes,” Devine said. “My biggest fear was to not make it in the NFL.”

Most recently, Devine made plays for the reigning American Arena League-champion West Virginia Roughriders, sporting colors almost as flashy as his highlight tapes. In Wheeling, Devine said, he was making sure that he still had the affection for the game.

“You’ve got to really ask yourself, ‘Do you love the game?’” Devine said. “It was a great experience to be back in West Virginia, to be around those fans that know me and see me in their eyes as a legend.”

Devine has his sights set on greater, however. He recognizes that, from critical and political standpoints, his window is closing.

“It felt great, man,” he said of his time in the AAL. “Just being back out there running around, I feel like I haven’t lost a step. My body really hasn’t taken a beating, so I feel fresh. I feel young.”

Last Monday, Devine participated with roughly 20 others in an invitational workout in Dallas. The scouts judged change-of-direction in footwork drills and route-running against air.

“I feel like there are always second chances and second opportunities. I feel like I should be able to have one and a lot of people want to see it […] I’m just trying to get a taste of it.”

Although he hasn’t had any contact with XFL clubs, Devine is willing to work his way up from Team Nine.

To whoever takes the chance on who many call the most exciting player in WVU lore, Devine said, “They’ll get a playmaker that can take the top off of a defense. Someone who’ll make big plays and that’s accountable. I’m what they’re looking for.”