The Audi Field and XFL 2023 undefeated D.C. Defenders are riding high into Week 4 of their campaign. However, the team has been hit with rough news to start their work week as they prepare for a rematch with the Vegas Vipers at home this Sunday Night.
D.C. Defenders-St. Louis Battlehawks Late Game Brawl Leads To Suspensions And Fines
You just knew that Sunday afternoon’s scuffle in the game’s final seconds between the Defenders and Battlehawks would lead to disciplinary action by the league.
On Tuesday, XFL President Russ Brandon laid the hammer down and issued the following suspensions and fines for player safety rules violations. In total, 11 different Defenders and Battlehawks players and coaches were hit with league infractions—six on D.C’s side, five for St. Louis.
Defenders defensive starters, Linebacker Francis Bernard (2-games) and Nose Tackle Gabe Wright (1-game), were suspended. Bernard and Wright have been placed on D.C.’s suspended list. Battlehawks OT Jaryd Jones-Smith has been suspended for two games for his involvement in the on-field altercation.
During the suspension, players may not practice with their team but may attend team meetings, workouts, and meals. Additional violations of the rules or any other league policy may lead to more severe disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
Additionally, the following Defenders and Battlehawks players and coaches avoided suspensions but have been fined for their actions during Sunday’s brawl.
|D.C. Defenders||Anthoula Kelly – CB||St. Louis Battlehawks||Nate Meadors – DB|
|D.C. Defenders||Jamal Brooks – LB||St. Louis Battlehawks||Travis Feeney – LB|
|D.C. Defenders||Rod Taylor – G||St. Louis Battlehawks||Brian Hill – RB|
|D.C. Defenders||Jeremy Watkins – Defensive Line Coach||St. Louis Battlehawks||Tory Woodbury – Special Teams Coach|
On D.C.’s side of the fence, the subtraction of Francis Bernard for two games, and Gabe Wright for one, put two critical pieces of the team’s defense out of action for this Sunday night’s game at Audi Field. Bernard has been a key cog for D.C. as the defensive play caller. Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams will have to reshuffle his lineup.
Because of the two suspensions, injuries, and separate player trades on Monday, the Defenders’ lineup on both sides of the ball will look slightly different in Week 4 and beyond.
D.C. Defenders Part Ways With LT Cody Conway, Sign New OT, TE Ethan Wolf To Miss Next Two Weeks
Two opening-day starters on offense for the D.C. Defenders are out of the mix. One won’t be back in red and white this season; the other will be out of action for the next two games.
The latter, TE Ethan Wolf, will miss the Defenders’ next two games due to an ankle and knee injury. Monday’s three-way trade with Arlington, and Orlando, saw D.C. land another Tennessee TE, Alex Ellis. The veteran NFL player steps in as a necessity for the Defenders, with Briley Moore also questionable with a knee injury.
The unique three-team deal the Defenders swung for Ellis was done out of necessity. The team is awful thin at tight end. D.C. has Trae Barry as the only other healthy player besides Ellis at the position. This past Sunday, QB Eric Dungey, who has spent time playing TE in the NFL, saw snaps there for the Defenders. It’s possible that DPP Von Hutchins could still be looking to add another player to this mix.
Syracuse offensive lineman Cody Conway has been placed on D.C.’s reserve list with a knee injury. Because he is not on the team’s designated to-return list, and per XFL rules, he can’t return to the Defenders roster. However, another XFL team can claim him if he gets healthy and is cleared. Conway’s run in the district is over.
Things changed for the Defenders’ offensive line in a hurry from the opening of their 2023 campaign.
Two Week 1 starters, C Mike Maietti and Conway, are out of the lineup. G/T Liam Ryan, who replaced injured linemen Ty Clary, has slid over to Center. D.C. brought in spring league veteran Bruno Reagan for reinforcements. Veteran tackle Kyle Murphy has stepped up to fill the void at tackle. In case you missed it, starting RT T.J. Storment has been traded to Orlando, and OT Antonio Garcia is a Defender now by way of Vegas.
D.C. Defenders Sign Northwestern And Former USFL OT Gunnar Vogel
On Wednesday, the Defenders added Northwestern OT Gunnar Vogel to their roster. To help fill the gaps with the team’s recent injuries and suspensions. The 6’6, 310lb Big-10 standout went undrafted two years ago, signing with the Chicago Bears. Vogel also spent time with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2021. He missed the final NFL cut and was drafted by the Philadelphia Stars in the first round of the USFL’s offensive line draft.
How quickly Vogel can make his way into D.C.’s lineup remains to be seen. But when he does, the athletic and lengthy tackle should provide quality depth.
- Update: XFLNewshub has learned that The D.C. Defenders have exercised four additional roster moves. The team has surprisingly released WR/RB Pooka Williams, who the St. Louis Battlehawks have claimed. The Defenders have signed former Washington safety Montae Nicholson, a former 2017 fourth-round pick who last played in the NFL in 2019. Nicholson could help replace safety Joshua Allen, who was traded to Vegas on Monday. D.C. is also bringing back LB Terrill Hanks and DT Denzel Chukwukelu, who will help fill the voids left by the suspensions of LB Francis Bernard and DT Gabe Wright.
D.C. Defenders Monday Night Week 6 Game Flexed To ESPN2
In a positive sign of the XFL’s strong cable ratings on FX. Of which, all ten of the league’s cable broadcasts have rated in the top 25 of 150 TV shows in the desired 18-49 demographic. Including this past Sunday’s early afternoon game between D.C. and St. Louis, which was ranked 13th overall. On Tuesday, the XFL and their partner Disney announced that three of the league’s games had been flexed to ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2, respectively.
Week 6’s XFL game between the Houston Roughnecks and D.C. Defenders at Audi Field, scheduled for 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT on FX, will now be broadcast on ESPN2. The question is, will both Houston and D.C. remain undefeated by the time Week Six rolls around? If, by chance, they both are, it will make the Monday night game all the more appealing in what could be a preview of the XFL Championship game on May 13th in San Antonio.
Defenders-Vegas Vipers Week 4 Injury/Practice Report
The Defenders have several vital players limited to start the practice week. Most notably, starting WRs Lucky Jackson (hamstring) and Josh Hammond (rib). 2022 Dallas Cowboys practice squad receiver Brandon Smith, who signed with D.C. before week two, finally dressed last week. Smith and NFL vet Josh Malone could also be called upon for more significant roles in the future.
DT Caraun Reid (hamstring) ‘s progress is also worth monitoring, with Gabe Wright suspended. Joseph Wallace could see extended time at nose tackle if Reid can’t dress Sunday night.
OL Liam Ryan (back/hand), who has filled in admirably as a swing lineman, has become an essential piece to D.C. upfront with Mike Maietti on the shelf and Ty Clary banged up. Despite their great depth, the Defenders can’t afford more injuries, especially on the interior.
On the flip side, the 0-3 Vegas Vipers have some injury issues of their own. QB Brett Hundley, who had an excellent starting debut last weekend, is dealing with a thigh injury, which limited his mobility late in last week’s loss to Seattle. Vegas also has some injury concerns on their offensive line. Their two best players, Khalil McKenzie (toe) and Isaiah Williams (ankle) missed practice to start Week 4 preparation.
Sunday night’s game is a crucial one for both D.C. and Vegas. The Defenders, who are six-point favorites at home, can keep their grip on the North division by notching their fourth straight divisional win and sweeping the season series with the Vipers.
Winless Vegas is on life support. Rod Woodson’s squad, who has had second-half leads in all their games, need a victory desperately to keep their shrinking postseason hopes alive. Beating the Defenders for the first time ever at Audi Field would inject new life into the snake-bitten Vipers.
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