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.
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.
As a former morning sports anchor at KGNC 710 AM in Amarillo, TX and a former TV news reporter at KFDX in Wichita Falls, TX and KXII in Sherman, TX, I have a passion for all things sports (specifically football and basketball). The new look XFL got my attention as a spring football league that can work. I look forward to writing about all things XFL Dallas and covering it for the upcoming 2020 season.