St. Louis BattleHawks: A Team for the Fans

St. Louis BattleHawks

Missouri, a state celebrating arguably the biggest trophy in all of sports with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs bringing home the Lombardi Trophy winning Super Bowl 54. The best way to continue this historic feeling of peak football is obviously more football. Cue the St. Louis BattleHawks. For 21 years, fans packed The Dome and supported their Rams, that is the Super Bowl Champion St. Louis Rams. The team was not able to sustain The Greatest Show on Turf later falling into a 10-year playoff drought and subsequent relocation spurred by, his name who should only be used in vain, new team owner Stan Kroenke. Just like that, the magic of the Rams was ripped from the fans and the city. 

The St. Louis BattleHawks are not a replacement for the Rams. They are an addition to the city and the passionate fan base supporting the true hometown teams. This is the only current XFL franchise not sharing a city with an NFL team. The BattleHawks aren’t just for the hometown crowd. It’s open season to pick an XFL team; this fan base is passionate, committed, and growing rapidly. 

Take a look at the online footprint each team has on Twitter (parentheses represent growth in followers over the last 7 days).

  1. St. Louis BattleHawks: 77.3K (+31.3K)
  2. DC Defenders: 62.8K (+30.7K)
  3. Dallas Renegades 61.4K (+22.3K)
  4. Houston Roughnecks: 53K (+20.9K)
  5. New York Guardians: 49.3K (+21.3K)
  6. Seattle Dragons: 45K (+15.1K) 
  7. Tampa Bay Vipers: 44.6K (+15.4K)
  8. LA Wildcats: 34.2K (+11.9K)

What the fans are saying

The best way to see how people view the XFL and the BattleHawks is to hear it directly from them. I did just that and got folks reaction to the new league and team.

Rob from Olathe thinks the XFL has staying power. The authentic approach of the XFL this time around shows they mean business.

Media companies and TV deals are significant. The two major networks contracted are Disney, with games on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN 2; and Fox, with games on Fox, FS1, and FS2. Like Saturday and Sunday during the NCAA and NFL season, fans will be amongst familiar channels and crews supporting these games giving it that authentic football. 

Rob also talked about the innovation the league is embracing and trying out. While he doesn’t think every single change will stick, he is all for trying. The XFL has made every indication that they will continue to evolve and adapt the game. Feedback given the NFL has not incorporated has been listened to by the XFL. A tip of the hat to fans from the XFL catering the product to the consumer. 

BattleHawk Mafia (Kyle) from St. Louis talked about how this city is poised to take off as a fan base and as a team. The social media presence has been a great start to engage fans prior to the season kicking off. St. Louis is a football city and this is a chance for everyone out there to show the NFL what they’re missing. He’s ready for game day with the crew, some drinks in The Dome, and BattleHawk football. He reflected about how going to games creates lifelong bonds between parents and children along with friends.

Ryan from St. Louis joins the city as a transplant but has no doubts about the fan base in the city making this an easy choice for him to root for the BattleHawks. He shared thoughts on what this league can become. First, he’s happy to see former NFL guys get second chances. While the XFL and NFL aren’t affiliated, most guys share the goal to make it to the NFL. Channeling his soccer fandom, Ryan said once the league is built up and established he’d like to see a Premier League-esque system where XFL teams change places with poor-performing NFL teams. 

Cory from Nashville shares Ryan’s excitement to see the talent in the league have a chance to succeed. One guy in particular is Jordan Ta’amu, the BattleHawks QB who produced a ton at Ole Miss. He highlights Ta’amu’s ability to move around the pocket and keep plays alive (something we saw a lot of week 1). He’s excited about Will Hill, former Safety in the NFL, to patrol the backfield (Hill notched an interception week 1 against the Dallas Renegades). It’s guys like Hill and others who show the league as a whole has high caliber talent on the rosters. Fun note, Cory gave these answers before these guys put up stellar first games.

The sense I got from the fans I talked with is that they are ready, the city is ready, and nation is ready for BattleHawk football.

Getting Over the Hurdle

It is fair to acknowledge this league and team don’t come without risk. The UFL, AAF, and even a previous version of the XFL closed their doors after brief stints of existence, the AAF not even making it through their first season. There may be some former Rams fans who are hesitant to jump on board risking another heartbreak and even additional people not wanting to waste their time due to new league fatigue.

The barriers for a successful league exist and are no small feat. The sports world has seen leagues come in go, and heck, the first version of the XFL has been used as a gold standard of what not to do this time around. And that’s the beauty of it. This XFL is not the XFL of 2001 and the only resemblances the two share are the name and the man up top, Vince McMahon. 

A good reminder is that the XFL is a work in progress. The league is stepping in to help evolve the game of football fans know today. Some changes will be great and some changes wont be, but expect a product that will continue to develop to meet and exceed expectations.

Having seen a successful week one in the league, hopefully some of the hesitation has been put to rest. Buzz in the news is increasing week over week, fan bases are growing, and now more than ever is a great time to support the league.

To those XFL fans undecided on a team to follow and those interested seeing what the league is about, there is no wrong choice when picking a team. But I know one fan base who knows there is a right choice. 

And hey, America doesn’t have a team yet in this league…just saying.

Fight and Fly On, BattleHawk Nation.

Did you miss some of the action week one of BattleHawk football? Check out this game recap.

XFL Week 2 Power Rankings

Now that we got our first look at all 8 teams in action, I feel a little more confident in my Power Rankings this week. Unfortunately, there are still a few teams I’m unsure about, especially because teams like LA and Dallas didn’t have their starting quarterbacks. But I can at least say, with a hundred percent certainty, that I feel a lot more confident in my picks this week than I did last week. A few I nailed, a few I whiffed, but these things change week to week, so let’s talk about it.

8. Tampa Bay Vipers (0-1)
Oh boy. If you read my Power Rankings last week, you’ll know that I had really high hopes for this team. A talented roster, a proven Head Coach, and a good vibe coming out of Training Camp, I thought had this team poised to make a run. Well, either they thought this was still the pre-season, or they really are this bad. I know New York’s secondary is the real deal, but Tampa could not do ANYTHING offensively. Aaron Murray was off, sometimes way off, on too many throws. When his throws were on target, they either dropped the ball or fumbled it. What could go wrong for the Vipers, did go wrong, and it was a complete nightmare. They are glad that there is a running play clock in the XFL, because this thing could have been much worse. Not prepared, not focused, not in sync. A lot of issues for the Vipers in Week 1, and I am really hoping that they can get it together for Week 2. For right now, I am willing to still hold out, because it was Week 1. But with a performance like that, you deserve the no. 8 spot.

7. Seattle Dragons (0-1)
I will start with this. Better than I thought…..just not by much. Brandon Silvers was decent enough. They ran the ball alright with Farrow and Gardner. But they were just simply outmatched. They hung in there with DC, but once DC started getting in a groove, it was evident who the better team was. I think Seattle got lucky with it being Week 1, and the Defenders were still working out some kinks. I think Seattle’s offense will be ok, but their defense just won’t have a chance against teams like DC and Houston. Unless Silvers and company, on the offensive side of the ball, start really getting creative, I think this team can be competitive, but ultimately come out on the losing end of a lot of games. I think Seattle fits perfectly in the no. 7 spot.

6. Los Angeles Wildcats (0-1)
Hmm…this is the most puzzling team to me. On the one hand, we still haven’t seen them at full strength with Josh Johnson under center. But now, reports are coming out that he may not be ready for Game 2, so who knows how long this injury is going to last. And in a 10 Week season, you can be out of the Playoff race fast. But even when Johnson gets back, i’m not sure about what kind of team we are going to get on the field. Nelson Spruce looked amazing, which did not come as a surprise, but I also think part of that was just the fact that Houston’s defense is suspect in between the numbers. As far as the rest of the team, they kind of disappointed me. Now, perhaps it was just the fact that they were playing the best offense in the league, so maybe their defense will bounce back, but their offense definitely left a lot to be desired. Yes, they were in it in the first half, but I think that had more to do with the fact that Houston didn’t really have a good feel on Chad Kanoff yet. Because in that second half, they completely shut him down. When Josh Johnson gets back, they will definitely be better. The question is, just how much better. For right now, I think the no. 6 spot is the perfect spot for them.

5. Dallas Renegades (0-1)
Now, this might be the biggest surprise of these rankings, but I saw something in their game against St. Louis that concerned me. Even with Landry Jones, who should be back next week, I think this might be the most overrated team in the league. Yes, Landry Jones is good, but i’m starting to think he might be the 4th best quarterback in the league. Now, come next week, I could be proven wrong, but we shall see. However, the reason I bring that up, is because based off of what we saw this weekend from Dallas, he is going to have to be a top 2 quarterback in this league if they want to get where many project them to be. Dallas, you should feel lucky that St. Louis didn’t figure it out until the 2nd half, because you got owned in this game. St. Louis controlled this game on the ground, and their defense completely shut down anything you wanted to do offensively. But we will get to St. Louis’ defense later, first we need to talk about Dallas’ game plan. Bob Stoops and Hal Mumme have the name recognition, and perhaps in their heyday they were ahead of the curb. But perhaps, they might be behind the curb here, because this “Air Raid” offense, at least the one we saw Saturday with Phil Nelson, ain’t gonna cut it against teams like DC and Houston. The “Air Raid” is an offense that builds over time in the game, but DC and Houston can have you down by 20 before you know it. Look, i’m still willing to give Dallas a chance, because we still have to see how Landry Jones will do in this offense. But, even the running game and receiving core underwhelmed in this game. Hopefully, it’s just those Week 1 tweaks that need to be worked out, but this game did not show me enough to think Landry Jones is the only solution to fix this. For now, they sit at no. 5.

4. New York Guardians (1-0)
I told you guys. I told you. New York’s secondary is the real deal. Jammar Summers, Bryce Jones, and company will make life hard for any quarterback. And that’s exactly what they did to Aaron Murray Sunday afternoon. 5 sacks, 3 takeaways is what lead the Guardians to victory. Their offense was run really well too on the backs of Victor and Cook, and McGloin threw the ball well to put them in scoring position often. But, as strong as their defense is, and it is definitely top 2, if not the best defense in the league, I think their offense is going to have to get a bit more creative with their passing game to move on up in these rankings. Matt McGloin is very capable, but due to his lack of mobility, he will need to get the ball out quick to his playmakers, which he has with his receiving core. McKay, Pearson, and company can add yards after the catch, which will only help this New York offense as they progress throughout the season. For now, I have them at no. 4.

3. St. Louis Battlehawks (1-0)
Now, I said Dallas being ranked no. 5 might be the biggest surprise on this list. But, perhaps an even bigger surprise is the fact that the team I had as no. 7 last week, is now my no. 3 team. The St. Louis Battlehawks are better, in fact, a lot better, than I thought, and I couldn’t be happier. First off, yes, I understand, they only beat a Dallas team, which was missing Landry Jones, by six points (15-9). I get it. Sal, you’re over reacting! Well, allow me to explain. In the 2nd half of that game, towards the end of the 3rd and in the 4th, Jonathan Hayes and Chuck Long figured out what kind of team they are. And let me tell you rest of XFL, you better be ready. Yes, they are going to lose to Houston next week, but that’s nothing to hang your head about. Chuck Long is going to put Jordan Ta’amu on the verge of success, and possibly in contender-ship for the MVP award at the end of the season. XFL fans, I give you the Baltimore Ravens of the XFL. Yes, if you watched that second half, Ta’amu, Jones, Michael, and Ford ran all over Dallas’ defense, and they are fixing to run all over the league. Now that they are letting Jordan Ta’amu be who he is, which is not a passer, but another threat in the running game, not only will that open up the passing game, but defenders are going to have to decide whether to bite on the run or not. Matt Jones and Keith Ford, plus you can’t forget about Christine Michael, are going to be effective in the running game. But now with Jordan Ta’amu playing to his strengths, that running game might be near unstoppable. And if Ta’amu can make just enough throws, this team might win the East. But that’s not all. Their defense might be the best in the league. It is going to be hard to find openings anywhere against this defense, who are big in size and stature, but can also ball hawk like New York. Now, I don’t think they will have as many takeaways as New York, but they might prevent less points on the board. This St. Louis team is for real, and while I do expect them to lose next week, they might not lose very often after that. They are my no. 3 team.

2. DC Defenders (1-0)
Cardale Jones was awesome Saturday afternoon. He would never go down. Even when you thought they had him, he refused to give in. He showed off his spectacular arm strength and mobility, but really he showed the absolute force that he is at the quarterback position. Good luck sacking Cardale, because it ain’t gonna be easy to get him down on the ground. He spread the ball across numerous receivers, and made the correct reads when he had to. Rashad Ross was who we thought he was going to be, and Eli Rogers made you sure you took notice. But who really opened the field up for DC was their Tight End, Khari Lee, who was terrific Saturday. Don’t forget, DeAndre Thompkins will be joining them soon, who was sidelined with an injury, and at that point, you can’t double team anyone. Their running game didn’t show much Saturday, but I still believe they will be fine. Their defense is what surprised me the most. They aren’t great, but I do believe that they are good enough to win the Championship. This isn’t Old School Football. Defense doesn’t win championships, offense wins championships. If you have an elite offense, you will be there. But, you still need a good defense to get the job done. This team is excellent in all phases, and I wouldn’t argue if you had them no. 1. But there is another team that I believe is currently better than them, so for now they are my no. 2 team.

1. Houston Roughnecks (1-0)
Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce you to “The Firework Show!”. The highest scoring offense in the league, and the best team in the XFL! The Houston Roughnecks are the real deal, and it took me by surprise just how good this offense is. They scored 37 points, scoring 5 offensive touchdowns, 4 of which came from the electric arm of PJ Walker. Walker was absolutely sensational in his debut, and while it was only one game, if he continues at this rate, he will be a runaway MVP. But as great as PJ Walker was, it wasn’t just him out there making plays. Cam Phillips, Khalil Lewis, James Butler, Nick Holley, and Sammie Coates all made impactful plays on the field. De’Angelo Henderson went out of the game with a injury early in the 1st quarter, but when he comes back, it will be near impossible to stop the plethora of weapons this Houston offense has. But what surprised me the most was the defense. Now, I do want to proceed with caution, because they were playing against a Wildcats team lead by Chad Kanoff instead of Josh Johnson, but we can only go by the one game we have. And the one game we have, this defense was quick and decisive for the most part. They were getting to Chad Kanoff frequently and in the second half, they completely shut him down. Their weakness though, is in between the numbers. Nelson Spruce was having a field day in the middle of the defense, so that is something that we will have to monitor as the season progresses. But for now, I don’t see any team, besides maybe DC, that can stop the Houston Roughnecks, the best team in the XFL.

XFL BattleHawks Take Down Renegades to Secure First Win

BattleHawks QB Jordan Ta’amu impressed with almost every aspect of his game. (Photo: XFL.com)

The St. Louis BattleHawks marched into Dallas as the biggest underdog in the league week 1. Undeterred, St. Louis played team football taking down the Renegades 15-6. St. Louis secured two big firsts this game: the first win in franchise history and the first XFL team to win on the road. They move to 1-0 on the year. 

While not a high scoring affair, the BattleHawks and Renegades provided an action packed event the XFL has been promising. 

Offense Begins to Mesh

St. Louis established the run game early and leaned on it throughout the game. Running back Matt Jones shouldered the largest load, carrying the ball 21 times for 85 yards. Jones was able to chip away medium gains most runs then setting up good yardage for second and third downs. Keith Ford added a 16 yard run for the BattleHawks first touchdown late in the first half. The surprise of the day was Jones getting the start over Christine Michael who was slotted first on the depth chart. Jones took advantage of this opportunity while Michael struggled all game; 0 yards on 7 attempts and losing a yard on his lone reception. 

BattleHawks QB Jordan Ta’amu impressed with almost every aspect of his game. Through the air, Ta’amu was 20/27 with 183 yards and a TD, on the ground he added 77 yards on nine carries. Ta’amu said he had nerves starting out but throughout the game, you could see him settle in. Coach Hayes said he was impressed by the young quarterback’s poise. Access to in-game audio let us in on a conversation between the two after Ta’amu took a 12-yard sack on third down, leaving a long 48-yard field goal attempt Taylor Russolino nailed, Hayes stressed the importance of throwing the ball away.   

Ta’amu started a drive halfway through the third quarter by hitting receivers on three straight attempts for 10, 11, and 13 yards. A couple plays later Ta’amu tore down the field for a 37-yard run. He capped off the drive by connecting with Alonzo Russell in the back of the endzone, both party’s first touchdowns of the season.

Eight receivers got in on the action today. Wideout turned tight end Marcus Lucas hauled in 4 catches. L’Damian Washington pulled in a team-high 5 receptions. Alonzo Russel showed off his hands in the endzone for 1 of his 3. And De’Mornay Pierson-El had the longest play for the offense after a speedy catch-and-run for 41 yards. 

Offensive game ball: QB Jordan Ta’amu

Lockdown Defense

The BattleHawks don’t win this game without the defense showing up the way it did. Drive after drive the front seven kept the pressure on Renegades QB Philip Nelson. Four BattleHawks picked up a sack on the day, linebackers Terence Garvin and Dexter McCoil, then Dewayne Hendrix and Jake Payne from the line.

Dallas could not get their run game going all night, as a team they only had 12 attempts for 58 yards. With nothing working on the ground, the Renegades went pass-heavy with Nelson going 33/42 for 199 yards. The backfield was put to the test and they passed. Most completions were for short yardage only. Former NFL safety Will Hill sealed the game for St. Louis picking off Nelson with less than 30 seconds left in the game. All around, the BattleHawk defense played as one cohesive unit avoiding the big play and shutting the Renegades out of the endzone. 

Defensive game ball: S Will Hill

The major blemish on the day was all the penalities, 9 for 78 yards (though the final penalty was intentional to give punter Marquette King more room to kick). Several drives stalled out as a result keeping Dallas in the game all night. St. Louis was the most penalized team through week 1, something that will need to be addressed moving forward. 

If you tuned in to the game this week, you saw the great new fan features the XFL rolled out this season. In-game interviews, listening in on play calls, and hearing the refs deliberate and most importantly get calls right highlighted the changes in the broadcast. 

St. Louis keeps their Texas road trip going as they head down to Houston next Sunday to take on the 1-0 Roughnecks. 

Fly and Fight on, St. Louis.

St. Louis BattleHawks vs. Dallas Renegades Week 1 Preview

St. Louis BattleHawks vs. Dallas Renegades

Sunday features the first game of the existent of the St. Louis BattleHawks and the Dallas Renegades. Both teams will be facing off at the Texas Rangers’ old ball park Globe Life Park in its debut as a football/soccer stadium. There are plenty of storylines with both teams in terms of offensive productivity and who will step up on defense. Let’s examine the top storylines between both teams.

Big Game Bob Stoops is Back

Fans haven’t seen Bob Stoops on the sidelines since the 2016 college football season. It will be odd seeing him coach professional athletics, but he seems to be up to the challenge. The goal of the XFL is to help develop players and Stoops is one of the best at it. He’s got a talented roster around him and built the team on pure speed. He may be rusty at the beginning with his coaching since the rules are different from college, but he shouldn’t lose a beat once he gets used to the flow of the game.

Landry Jones’ Injury Status

The knee injury occurred last month during the first week of training camp and we haven’t seen Landry Jones on the field until this week. He has been wearing a knee brace to protect it from further damage. No starter has been named at quarterback for Sunday’s game yet. He seemed to be moving around well in practice and threw the ball well too. He has been limited for most of the week so his status is still up in the air.

Jordan Ta’amu’s Professional Debut

We saw a glimpse of Jordan Ta’amu during preseason with the Houston Texans that did not end as well. The upside is that he is athletic. He can run for a first when he needs to and has a powerful arm. He may have to rely on his running game in Christine Michael and Matt Jones until he can ease his nerves into the game. There is plenty of upside to the young quarterback. He’ll need time and patience as he could eventually be one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the league.

Renegades Receivers vs. BattleHawks Secondary

This was one of the most intriguing matchups of training camp seeing the BattleHawks secondary try to stop the Renegades’ speedy receivers. On shorter routes, the Renegades usually had the advantage as receivers like Jeff Badet and Flynn Nagel are so good in open space to create extra yards with their speed. Freddie Martino could have a big day in short routes as well should Jazz Ferguson not be able to recover from his hand injury. When there were deeper routes, the BattleHawks had the advantage. Corners like Darius Hillary, David Rivers, and D’Montre Wade were able to play well in one-on-one coverage. Not to mention whoever plays quarterback for the Renegades will have to go up against Kenny Robinson and Will Hill at the two safety positions.

BattleHawks Will Ground and Pound the Defense

The combination of Christine Michael and Matt Jones should make for an interesting pairing. Michael is a pure power back who will be tough to take down on the initial contact. Jones will have fun running to the outside to utilize his speed. The Renegades’ linebackers will have to step up and make plays. If they are not able to contain the two backs, it could open up the offense for Jordan Ta’amu to sling the ball around the field or create running opportunities for the quarterback.

Final Outcome?

It really all comes down to two things: can Landry Jones play and can the BattleHawks corners stop the passing game. We all know what the Renegades can be capable of in Hal Mumme’s offense. We know what the secondary of St. Louis can do in man coverage. One or two turnovers can change the outcome of the game. Another injury to the Renegades offense could put them in a lot of trouble. While both teams have their strengths and weaknesses, this will be one of the more exciting games of the weekend.

XFL Week 1 Power Rankings

XFL Power Rankings

Well, here it is. Week 1 of the inaugural XFL season is here. Starting on February 8, at Audi Field, the brand new league kicks off to a lot of anticipation and fanfare. Brand new players, brand new coaches, brand new teams, and brand new fans are ready to take off and experience an exciting time in American Professional Football! Let’s be honest, we haven’t seen a single snap from any of these teams, so we don’t really know what we are in for when it comes to any eight of these teams. So I’m going into these power rankings with as much knowledge about these teams as you. After week 1 is officially in the books, we will have a little better feel about where we are, but until then, let’s just have fun with these week 1 power rankings.

WEEK 1 POWER RANKINGS

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8. Seattle Dragons

Okay Seattle fans. Before you get your pitch forks and start yelling from the rooftops, let me just say this. I am totally ready to accept and admit the fact that I’m wrong about the Seattle Dragons. I hope I am. I like Jim Zorn as a coach. Brandon Silvers is a good quarterback. Kenneth Farrow is a good running back. They have some decent pieces. But quite honestly, there is just not enough for me at this time. I think Brandon Silvers will have some decent stats, but I believe that’s because they will be playing from behind… A LOT. Their receiving core leaves a lot to be desired with Kasen Williams and Austin Proehl. Evan Rodriguez, their starting TE, is decent, but their offense is going to struggle, and their defense is nothing to write home about. It doesn’t help that they play in the Western Conference, which I believe is the best conference, and they will have to deal with Dallas, Houston, and LA all season long. Look, it’s a new league, there are only eight teams, so somebody had to be no. eight, and I think the Seattle Dragons are that eighth team at this time.

7. St. Louis Battlehawks

Pro football is back in St. Louis baybay! I’m so excited to see that first home game in the Dome. The crowd will be electric. The stadium will be rocking. And the players will be motivated. Mainly because they are going to be playing a must win game in that 3rd week against the New York Guardians after going 0-2 against Dallas and Houston. Talk about a brutal start to the season. Well, I guess when there’s only eight teams, you kind of have no choice. But man, this St. Louis Battlehawks team is a team that I can honestly see in the Eastern Conference Championship, or I can see being right here, exactly where I have them, as the 7th best team in the league. Jordan Ta’amu is going to be fascinating to watch. Mainly because how good is he going to be? He has the athleticism, but I’m not quite sold on the rest of him yet. He did win the starting job, so there is that, but I think that was more due to the lack of depth in the St. Louis QB room. Now I do respect Christine Michael, and Matt Jones is no slouch, but I believe they will have to be relied on so much that the D-lines will hone in on them, forcing Ta’amu to beat them with his arm. Their defense is big. Big bodies, good size, strong, athletic. And I do think that their defense might actually be able to carry them to a few surprise wins. But all in all, I think they will go as far as Jordan Ta’amu takes them. Just like with Seattle, I am totally prepared to be proven wrong, and I hope that I am., because St. Louis deserves a good football team. But for right now, I have them as no. 7.

(DARK HORSES)

6. New York Guardians

This team. I can’t quite get my finger on them. Are they pretenders? Are they contenders? I guess time will tell. But for right now, I have them as a dark horse to win the East. Matt McGloin, we all know what he brings, but it’s the other pieces that intrigue me the most. First off, Mekale McKay. If you’re a fantasy player, snatch him up, because he is going to be raking in the numbers. Matt McGloin is going to find life a lot easier being able to pass to McKay, who can really do it all at receiver. Then you got Tim Cook, who will be looking out for him, especially on those after TD conversions. Strong back, who will keep the chains moving and especially at home in that cold weather. But let’s be real. What really makes New York dark horse contenders? The secondary. Jamar Summers, Wes Sutton, Demetrious Cox, and company are going to lead the league in takeaways, I’m calling it now. These guys are going to be a “no fly zone”, and if the offense can run out the clock and put points on the board, this is a scary team. It’s why the New York Guardians are my no. 6 team.

5. Tampa Bay Vipers

Out of all the teams on this list, this is the team that terrifies me the most. Look, whenever I play Dallas, or Houston, or DC, or LA, I know what I’m getting. I’m playing one of the XFL’s elite teams, so I’m going into that game expecting a hard fought match. But when I play the Tampa Bay Vipers, I may be getting a mediocre team, or I may be playing the favorite to win it all. I’m serious. This team scares me…A LOT. Marc Trestman is a winner. Just look at what he has done in the CFL. He brings a lot to this team, but that’s just the Head Coach. Nick Truesdell might be the best TE in the league. Quinton Flowers might be the most lethal weapon on any team this season. But where it becomes a question mark for me is the QB Aaron Murray. If he can be the precise passer that he is capable of being, there might be no stopping this team. He is talented, and he brings a lot to the table. But he is inconsistent. That’s where it’s troublesome for me. But here’s the thing. If they can just get into the Eastern Conference Championship, and Aaron Murray can be “good” Aaron Murray for 2 straight games, I would not be surprised in the slightest if they go on and win the XFL Championship. It’s disappointing that Antonio Callaway had an injury, because I might have them higher on this list. But look out for the Tampa Bay Vipers, because they might be your worst nightmare. I have them no. 5.

(CONTENDERS)

4. Los Angeles Wildcats

Now we get into who I believe are the real contenders for the XFL Championship this year. First, we start off with the Los Angeles Wildcats. I think a lot of people would start with starting QB Josh Johnson, but I want to start with who might be my favorite Head Coach of the entire league, Winston Moss. This guy brings the energy, and in my opinion, that fits this team perfectly. Coach Moss has a winning attitude, and he is all over the Xs and Os and player personnel. I think the LA Wildcats set a record with how many moves they made this off-season. Trade after trade after trade, and some left you scratching your head. Rashad Ross??? But man, Moss’s attitude makes you truly believe that they have got this exactly how they want it. Now, who knows, maybe after a couple of games, some of those trades are going to look foolish. But as of right now, they have made a believer out of me. There defense has size and agility. Norm Chow, their OC, is a proven commodity. Elijah Hood is nothing to sneeze at. But their fire power lies in two areas. The passing game and the line backing core. Will Smith, Shawn Oakman, Taiwan Jones, Tre Williams, the list goes on. These guys are massive, and they aren’t going to be pushed around. Good luck running on these guys. And of course, Josh Johnson. What more can I say? The most proven quarterback in the league, and the fact that he is going to be throwing to guys like Tre McBride and Nelson Spruce, good luck. The Wildcats are legit, and that is why they are my no. 4 team.

3. Houston Roughnecks

Do you like offense? Do you like big plays? Do you like scoring? If you answered yes to all of these questions, let me introduce you to the Houston Roughnecks. The team, who I believe, will be the highest scoring offense in the league. Be prepared to AT LEAST score 30 points in order to be competitive in a game with the Roughnecks. June Jones, master of the “Run and Shoot” offense has weapons galore at his disposal. Let’s start with their quarterback, PJ Walker. Walker can sling it west coast, he can sling it downfield, he can run all over the field, and even if the pocket collapses, he can extend plays like it’s nobody’s business. His accuracy can sometimes be a problem, but so far in Training Camp and in the Scrimmages, he has looked as precise as ever. That should scare people, because if he can protect the football, his playmakers will do the rest. Sammy Coates, Kahlil Lewis, Sam Mobley and company will be running all over the place, and it is going to be difficult to cover them. Coach Jones’ offense is hard to prepare for, because it is predicated on makeshift plays and routes. And if you think the receivers are all you have to worry about, think again. De’Angelo Henderson and Andre Williams will be coming out of the backfield to balance out this offense, but not just to run the ball, to run and catch as well. These guys are scary. SCARY! If you aren’t catching up quick, you might be down 3 TDs before you know it. But the defense is where I’m still not so sure. Now, what I am sure about, is they will be getting to the quarterback. I know that. Kony Ealy is the truth. He will lead the league in sacks this year, mark it down. Especially, since I think a lot of teams will be having to play from behind against Houston, he is just going to be able to pin his ears back and get after it. But I’m just not sure yet on the rest of the defense. Time will tell, because if they have a good defense, just cancel the season, the Houston Roughnecks are XFL Champions. But until I see that defense, I will have them at no. 3.

2. Dallas Renegades

Bob Stoops. Hal Mumme. The best coaching staff in the league in my opinion. Coaching goes a long way, and that is why I have the Dallas Renegades winning the West this season. It sucks, because as a Roughnecks fan, I hope, I pray that I’m proven wrong. But I gotta be unbiased on these Power Rankings, and they have the goods. Landry Jones is a accurate quarterback with a strong arm, and he’s a proven winner at the highest level. Put along with that Jazz Ferguson and Jeff Badet, and you have one of the league’s most potent passing games. But it ain’t just passing. Their running back core is solid. Cameron Artis-Payne is the real deal, and every Cowboys fan remembers Lance Dunbar, he is legit. Dunbar can also be lethal in the passing game, which just gives Landry Jones another weapon to use. But what separates them from the Roughnecks for me right now, is I have a little more faith in their defense. So much so, I think they might be the most balanced team in the league. They don’t have names that are going to pop out at you, but they are solid and sound football players who will make the plays that are needed to be made in that moment. The moment isn’t too big for this team. That’s what Bob Stoops and Landry Jones brings to you. You will be seeing them in the XFL Championship later this spring. But against who?…

1. DC Defenders

Now we get to my favorite to not only win the East, but win the whole thing. The DC Defenders. Cardale Jones! Cardale Jones! A lot of people’s pick to win MVP this season. And rightfully so. He’s got a CANNON! He’s got the size to bulldoze you over. And he’s got the athleticism to extend plays. But if you think that’s it, think again. He’s got freakin’ Rashad Ross! Rashad Ross! LA gifted Cardale Jones and Pep Hamilton Rashad Ross! Why!? Who knows? Eli Rogers! Simmie Cobbs! I was talking about the Roughnecks scoring. Holy cow! How do you stop this offense!? And it doesn’t stop there. They might have the best running back group in the entire league. Jhurell Pressley, Donnel Pumphrey, Khalid Abdullah, are you kidding me? Now, just like with Houston, their defense does worry me a little bit. But that’s how much I trust Head Coach Pep Hamilton. I know he is going to make the proper adjustments necessary to win football games. He has proven time and time again, that he can succeed at a high level, and I think this time is no different. My pick to win the XFL Championship this season, my no. 1 team, the DC Defenders. Audi Field is going to be buzzing come late April.

Dallas Renegades Training Camp Week Two Observations

Dallas Renegades

Saturday morning in Houston was gloomy, dark, rainy, and humid combined together. Some would say it’s a good day to stay indoors and enjoy the start of the weekend. For XFL teams, it was the perfect day to scrimmage each other and end the second full week of training camp on a high notes. The Dallas Renegades were looking to do the same from W.W. Throne Stadium against the St. Louis BattleHawks.

The Renegades have been in the headlines for the XFL with the major news involving quarterback Landry Jones, the trades they have been making, and the recent signing of quarterback Eric Dungey. They have been under the spotlight of training camp with the amount of big names within the franchise as they push for a West Division title and an XFL Title.

Eric Dungey Suffers Injury, Philip Nelson Leading Quarterback Battle

Eric Dungey made headlines when he joined the Renegades the day after the Landry Jones injury to serve as the backup quarterback to Philip Nelson. Things got interesting after Dungey’s first workout with the team in Houston. According to offensive coordinator Hal Mumme when speaking with XFL Board, Dungey pulled his hamstring after just one workout and has been working through the injury.

“He appears to be athletic and he’s got a strong arm in the little bit we have seen him I was impressed,” coach Mumme said. “We’ll have to get him well and be able to work with.”

During Saturday’s scrimmage practice with the BattleHawks, Dungey did not suit up only wearing his number seven red jersey. He did throw during seven-on-seven drills, but Nelson took all the snaps when the teams played full offense versus full defense. While spectators were not able to see his mobility, Dungey’s arm looked good. He had quite the rip on the ball as he displayed great velocity on his deep passes. There were times he overthrew his receivers, but that could have a lot to do with his hamstring and being limited on his movement. Nelson got off to a good start as he looked good on his deep passes and seems to be developing good chemistry with his receivers. Both coach Mumme and head coach Bob Stoops have been pleased with what they have saw out of the quarterback in Jones’ absence.

“I think he’s done great,” coach Mumme said. “He was like 90% for the day (Friday). He’s done a great job throwing competitions, keeping the game moving. He has gotten better and better each day in his leadership ability and stuff like that. He’s stepped up and I think the team has really rallied around him.”

“Philip’s (Nelson) has really done a great job. Especially in the last three-four practices, he’s really picked it up. You can tell he’s getting more and more comfortable with everything we’re doing and the added repetition, he’s continued to really improve. ”

Update on Landry Jones Injury

Landry Jones did not throw passes at camp on Saturday, but Bob Stoops told XFL Board that Jones has been making good progress in his rehab back onto the field.

“Seems to be healing fine,” coach Stoops said. “Still unsure how many more weeks it will be, but he’s feeling better and better everyday.”

In a post on Sunday by the Renegades team, Jones was seen on the field with the team throughout his time in Houston working with teammates and the quarterbacks helping them get accustomed to the air-raid offense. His leadership skills have been on display since he joined the team and continues to be the man running the show even if he is sidelined. No word yet as to whether the team expects him to start week one of the season against the BattleHawks.

Dallas running back Cameron Artis-Payne finds a crease against Los Angeles last Saturday.
Dallas running back Cameron Artis-Payne finds a crease against Los Angeles last Saturday. Credit: XFL.com

Running Back Competition is Fierce

One of the toughest battles to determine a winner of during training camp has been the running back competition as five running backs are going for the top spot. The battle is tight as the competition is between Cameron Artis-Payne, Lance Dunbar, Austin Walter, Marquis Young, and Darnell Holland. Renegades running back coach Bobby Blizzard and the rest of the coaching staff know they will have a difficult decision to make when all is said and done in Houston.

“They’re making it hard on me every day. I go to sleep thinking that if I lose any of these guys, I’ll be heartbroken,”coach Blizzard said to XFL.com in a recent interview. “Still, to this day and this moment, if it came down to cuts, I still wouldn’t know who to pick. I would need the whole staff to bounce ideas off them and see what they think of each kid.”

“It has truly been a competition,” coach Mumme told XFL Board. “You got two veterans guys in Lance Dunbar and Cam Artis-Payne who have really provided a lot of leadership. They play well, they know what to do. But they have helped bring along Marquis Young who really is a great competitor. Austin Walter has had a good camp. Darnell Holland is a guy who’s learning the running back position, but he played in an offense in college that was like a Flexbone deal as the wingback so he’s had to learn a lot of stuff, but has incredible speed. He’s really someone we’ve enjoyed working with.”

One thing that has been very apparent with the running backs has been their athletic abilities to catch the ball out of the backfield. Walter had a big day as he was able to catch a tough over the shoulder diving catch that wowed and fired up the sidelines. Young and Holland ran the ball hard as the three are all fighting for spots on the team. It seems as though Artis-Payne and Dunbar could find their ways onto the squad. It’s a matter of how many running backs will the team carry and which of them will make the cut.

Receivers Impressing the Coaching Staff

There has been a lot of movement at the receiver position, but there is no denying that there is a ton of speed and talent within the group. There have been several players that have stood out in the pack as the leaders. Jeff Badet has had a great training camp and that comes at no surprise with his knowledge of the offense and the strong chemistry he has been building with Landry Jones. The one player everyone has been talking about though: Jazz Ferguson. Ferguson is poised for big things this season as he has been known for making spectacular catches and being difficult to cover one-on-one. They have no doubt caught the attention of the offensive coaching staff along with the other receivers.

“Yeah there’s been some big play guys there definitely,” coach Stoops said. “Jazz is such a big target to make big plays. Jeff Badet has such speed to make big plays. A lot of others guys are really stepping up. Flynn Nagel inside is a really sure handed guy with great route running. It’s a good group.”

During Saturday’s camp, newcomer Freddie Martino is quickly making noise as he displayed some nice route running and great hands. Despite the fact that he is coming onto the team late after being traded, Martino has already shown that he is on his way to making the roster and could get playing time. The tough part as well for the coaches is the fact that several players have played well. Coach Mumme spoke very highly of the group and how they are performing.

“Overall, it’s been a task to try to sort out who’s going to make the club,” coach Mumme said. “Mainly because they’re all so even. Of course, we traded Stacy (Coley), brought in Freddie Martino who had a great day yesterday (Friday).”

Along with Badet, Ferguson, and Martino, we have seen several other receivers stepping up. Simmie Cobbs, Flynn Nagel, and Jerrod Heard had big days Saturday and have continued to play efficiently. Cobbs will provide some needed outside skills catching the ball while Nagel makes for a perfect Wes Welker-type in the slot. Not to mention Heard has proven to be a physical receiver who seem to have caught every ball thrown his way against the BattleHawks secondary. The coaching staff will have some tough decisions Wednesday when they start making cuts.

Defense Hitting Hard and Learning Harder

The defense had to have been excited once training camp started as they finally got to suit up and tackle for the first time since joining the XFL. Mini-camp for the defenders was learning the 3-4 system that defensive coordinator Chris Woods has implemented into the defense. A scheme that requires a lot of speed and a lot of thinking on their feet to react.

“They’re a smart group,” coach Woods told XFL Board. “The focus on this one was a little bit more of a technique and toughness and see who’s going to play ball the right way and learn the rules. You know you have a reimagined game and there are some things we have to work around defensively. That’s awesome. I think there’s some great, exciting additions, but it is a little bit how you coach it.”

Some of the rule changes that is more geared towards the offense includes the one foot inbounds, the double forward pass, and the new point after conversions. Despite the new changes, the challenge of a more offensive-friendly rules doesn’t seem to faze the defensive coaching staff.

“Our number one job is to be an extension of the offense and to keep us in the game,” coach Woods said. “We can’t control the rules. Wherever they spot the ball and whatever they tell us the rules are, we are going to try to go up and stop them. It’s more of just educating the guys. Certain things they are not used to from the NFL or going back to college.”

The defense is filled with veterans and big play players from their days in the NFL and some of the Alliance of American Football including guys like Frank Alexander, Jonathan Massaquoi, Derron Smith, and Josh Hawkins. The team as a unit has been too good to point out one guy who has played well. Woods talked a lot about the linebackers like Greer Martini and Ray Ray Davison have played well along with the strong play from Smith and the rest of the secondary. They were on full display going up against the BattleHawks stacked offense and will have something to say when the season starts.

Special Teams is Pretty Special

One of the questions after the team waived long snapper Owen Gilbert was who the Renegades were going to turn to in regards to handling long snapping duties. It appears that linebacker Christian Kuntz will be taking over those duties. Kuntz was brought onto the team late last month and has done work in the past as a long snapper so the team will turn to him to handle those duties and looks to go into the season as the man in the middle of the line on field goals and punts.

Austin MacGinnis was one of the sharpest looking players at camp with his performance on field goals. He was perfect during his time on the field as he is displaying a strong leg and every kick he made looked like he was hitting them right in-between the uprights. While special teams seems to be under-appreciated especially since they have eliminated kicks on extra points, MacGinnis will have to make the most of his time on the field.

The kickoff coverage did take a hit as they get used to the new alignment as they saw a familiar foe get through the line of defense easily for a big return. Former Renegades wide receiver Keith Mumphrey seems to be making the most of his time with the BattleHawks as he returned a kickoff without being touched on the Renegades as he got a small sense of revenge in practice. Most fans know it’ll be an adjustment period for teams to get used to the new kickoff rules so Renegade fans should be happy it’s happening now and not in real action.

Notable Players Sidelined on Saturday

There were some notable players that did not workout with the team on the field on Saturday as they could be seen running on the sidelines working their way back onto the field. Noteworthy players included wide receiver Floyd Allen, running back Lance Dunbar, defensive end Frank Alexander, and defensive tackle Winston Craig. It’s a tough break for Dunbar as he has had a history of fighting through injuries and is expected to play a factor in the offense on passing downs. Allen is battling for a spot in the receiver rotation as it continues to get deeper and deeper in the position on the depth chart. Alexander is a veteran presence that the Renegades need and Craig was looked at to be apart of the rotation of defensive tackles, but with the additions of Drew Bailey and Omarius Bryant, it will make competition tougher for everyone at the position.