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.

Dallas Renegades Training Camp Week One Recap

New rules for the upcoming XFL season dominated the news outlets this week as they brought many innovative ideas to the table, but the Dallas Renegades had an eventful week of their own that could have major implications to the start of the regular season.

Quarterback Landry Jones Injured

Besides the rule changes to the league, Landry Jones’ injury was one of the biggest stories of the new XFL season. During Monday’s practice, Jones suffered a knee injury that has resulted in him being off the field for 4-6 weeks. Some will see this as a major blow to the Renegades and the league in general as he was not only the first player to sign with the league, but he is considered one of the faces of the league. With this injury, it could result in him being inactive for the opening game of the season or even miss two to three games. It could also mean that he might bounce back before then and be ready to start with the team from game one. That decision will depend on how fast he can heal and how soon coach Bob Stoops wants to get him back into the lineup.

This leads to the team turning to backup QB Philip Nelson to be the next man up. He has shown great ability in both mini-camp and training camp that he has great deep ball accuracy and high football IQ with his extensive knowledge of offensive coordinator Hal Mumme’s offense. He’s been working closely with Jones on getting the terminology down so he can go out and play without overthinking it. He went into the season as one of the better backups in the league and he might have a chance to showcase it in the opener against the St. Louis BattleHawks. With the injury comes big concerns about the depth of the quarterback position, which resulted in the team acting quick and finding a new quarterback to fill in.

Eric Dungey Signed, Jerrod Heard Plays at QB

Former Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey was called upon to join the quarterback conversation as the Renegades brought him in to be the new backup quarterback. This week though, he has had more time just learning the offense and get comfortable with the play calls. Wide receiver and former Texas Longhorns quarterback Jerrod Heard was moved back into his old position as he took snaps at quarterback to help with depth until Dungey can get back up to speed. Stoops didn’t seem phased by his new quarterback situation though when discussing their play.

“[Philip Nelson] looks really strong, doing a great job with more reps that he’s getting,” Stoops said in an article on xfl.com. “Eric Dungey came in and filled in well today, and Jerrod Heard also is getting some snaps and he’s looked better the more reps he gets. So they’re all doing a good job.”

If Dungey is able to learn quickly and get in some reps, this could present a quarterback controversy that was not anticipated for training camp. Dungey displays good arm strength and accuracy along with his experience with spread offense. He’s comfortable in the pocket in shotgun formations and has pin point accuracy on short yardage passes. His only real big knock is his inability of staying healthy. In his first three seasons at Syracuse, he suffered injuries in all, but was able to make ever start in his senior season which is a plus. Week two will be a defining point in Dungey’s young XFL career to determine if he can take the job away from Nelson.

New Helmet Radio Communication

The XFL did announce new rules when it came down to how radio communication is handled with all skill players getting radios inserted into their helmets for the league to promote quicker play calls and more of a chance to not huddle up. The Dallas Renegades were the first ones to test it out earlier in the week to see how it would work. Hal Mumme spoke about how it was going learning how to adjust to the new communication system in the league.

“Speed is obviously the biggest difference because I can get the play out to six guys at a time,” Mumme said on an article on xfl.com. “I think it’s pretty cool. I always hated headsets until now.”

This radio system works perfectly with the style of offense that the Renegades are going to be running. The Air Raid offense is almost exclusively run in the shotgun which should help the quarterbacks make the calls easier and this should help all the skill players to line up correctly without any issues of misplacement in where they are on the field. It will be an adjustment for all eight of the XFL teams, but one that could benefit teams that might want to move up the tempo offensively and help avoid delay of game penalties with the new 25 second play clock.

Long Snapper Owen Gilbert Waived

The Renegades will be faced with an interesting situation in regards to what they will do at the long snapper position. Owen Gilbert was announced as being waived from the team on Thursday. His story was interesting in the fact that former Indianapolis Colts long snapper Matt Overton was originally offered a spot on the team as their long snapper, but he couldn’t commit to it. Instead, he recommended Gilbert to them and Dallas ended up signing him. Now the team may either look on their roster or somewhere in free agency for a new long snapper.

Camp Standouts: Jazz Ferguson & Josh Hawkins

Jazz Ferguson has to be looked at as a potential sleeper to make this team and probably get significant playing time. Time and time again on social media, we have witnessed Ferguson making some spectacular catches in the end zone. He has obviously proven to be a deep threat to this team and has gained the confidence of his quarterbacks. In a time where the team may not have their starting quarterback at the beginning of the season, having a player like Ferguson will give them more confidence to throw it up to him to make a big catch. I would not be surprised to see him in the starting lineup during training camp and possibly at the beginning of the season.

Josh Hawkins is one of many defensive backs on the team who stood out in week one of training camp. With the winds being strong and the weather being so-so in Houston, the secondary did an outstanding job in coverage and creating turnovers. They had the tough task of shutting down some of the fastest receivers in the league and all indications have been they were able to do that and more. Hawkins was one of those ballhawking corners to have an impressive week one. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as he has NFL experience from his time with the Green Bay Packers where he actually started three games in 2017 and recorded six pass deflections. He will play a key role in this defense as a veteran presence and could earn a spot in the starting lineup.