After a nearly three-year absence, the D.C. Defenders are back. The often-imitated but never duplicated Beer Snake returns on Sunday night, February 19th, at Audi Field, when the Defenders clash with the Seattle Sea Dragons. The game will air at 8 pm ET on ESPN.
Some familiar XFL team cities and brands have returned, along with quite a few players who played in the league in 2020. However, most XFL teams have a different look from three years ago.
The Defenders roster has only one returnee from 2020, WR Simmie Cobbs. And some of the standout players, who aren’t currently in the NFL, are back in the XFL, but on different teams. Most notably, quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, who has traded in his sword/wing St.Louis attire to don a Defenders uniform.
The entire XFL is currently in full training camp mode in the lone star state. Three of the XFL’s Texas-based teams will play host on the opening weekend of the regular season. The Defenders will defend the District to kick off their 2023 campaign.
XFL 2023 SEASON: WEEK 1 SCHEDULE
|Saturday, February 18
3:00 PM ET
|Saturday, February 18
8:30 PM ET
|ESPN / FX
|St. Louis Battlehawks
|San Antonio Brahmas
|Sunday, February 19
3:00 PM ET
|Seattle Sea Dragons
|Sunday, February 19
8:00 PM ET
D.C. Defenders Training Camp, Joint Practices, And Exhibition Games?
During camp, the Defenders have been sharing Vernon Newsom Stadium with the St. Louis Battlehawks. D.C. is scheduled to have joint practices this weekend with the Orlando Guardians. The expectation is that XFL teams will have exhibition games/scrimmages with broadcast partner ESPN on hand to run what amounts to a dress rehearsal for the regular season.
Recently, there have been talks of potentially airing footage from the exhibition outings or even broadcasting an entire game or two on one of the ESPN networks. The latter would be a unique decision because, typically, new leagues don’t air any games before the regular season.
D.C. Defenders 2023 Projected Depth Chart
Multiple XFL teams currently have over 70 players on their training camp rosters, and D.C. currently has 75 players. Teams are expected to trim their overall total to 50 in the second week of February. Forty-five of the fifty players will dress on game days.
In the early days of camp, following the league’s two-player drafts and added additions through the NFL Alumni Academy. Roster activity has been challenging to follow, with teams having fluid movement.
XFL Newshub has broken down every draft and player for each XFL 2023. A long with dissecting the league’s scheduled games on ABC, ESPN, and FX.
The photo below shows a projected unofficial depth chart, along with the numbers players have been assigned for the 2023 season.
HC: Reggie Barlow OC: Fred Kaiss DC: Gregg Williams ST: Jamie Sharper Stadium: Audi Field
D.C. Defenders Projected Unofficial 2023 Depth Chart Analysis
QB: The expectation, based on playing experience, is that Jordan Ta’amu will get the starting nod at QB to start the 2023 XFL season. But it’s easy to foresee a scenario where D’Eriq King and Eric Dungey dress on game day and see playing time.
It will be rare to have XFL teams dress three quarterbacks on game day. But considering the dynamic traits of King and Dungey, who also have experience playing skill positions. Both could bring added value on game days.
Offensive coordinator Fred Kaiss can get very creative in his packages, particularly in the red zone. The XFL’s double forward pass rule can be put to good use if Ta’amu is on the field with King, Dungey, or both at the same time during games. Offensive assistant Shannon Harris, who has worked with Fred Kaiss, and Reggie Barlow before, should have a fun task preparing his quarterback room to play every week.
RB: Baylor’s Abram Smith, the fifth-leading rusher in the nation in 2021, figures to be the feature runner for D.C. But the Defenders have one of the most talented overall backfields in the XFL. Ryquell Armstead and Artavis Pierce both have recent NFL experience, and Pooka Williams will be a jack-of-all-trades player who can line up at WR as well.
WR: Defenders head coach Reggie Barlow, a successful former NFL receiver, and assistant coach Alvance Robinson will have a keen eye on this group. On paper, K.D. Cannon and Jazz Ferguson seem like safe early bets to start based on their experience level.
Like Pooka Williams, rookie Jequez Ezzard could be one of the most exciting players in this offense because of his open-field skills and versatility. The Sam Houston State rookie is a game-breaker and figures to do much damage from the slot.
Simmie Cobbs has a similar player profile to Jazz Ferguson, as a jumbo-sized receiver who can be a force-blocking in the run game. The Defenders’ depth at receiver with small school standouts like Zimari Manning and Tariq Bitson bears watching. Either player could emerge. Josh Hammond is a polished pass target with a recent NFL pedigree who can play inside or outside. Lucky Jackson, with 4.3 timed speed, might be the fastest receiver on the squad and could give D.C. an added dimension as a deep threat.
TE: Because the Defenders’ don’t have a traditional fullback on their roster. And because Fred Kaiss’s background suggests a run-dominant attack. His offenses in college routinely averaged over 200 yards rushing per game. It’s entirely possible that D.C. plays with multiple tight ends during games.
Cody Crill has an impressive group of unique talents at tight end in D.C. Kahale Warring, and Ethan Wolf are two experienced NFL vets for Kaiss to utilize in line. But before all is said and done, it could very well be Briley Moore who shines the brightest of this bunch as a pass receiver. SMU’s Tommy McIntrye could also be a helpful weapon. But in a different regard, as a multi-purpose blocker at T, TE, and FB.
OL: Defenders Director of Player Personnel Von Hutchins and his staff have compiled an impressive group of young offensive line prospects. Multiple young college standouts with a ton of starting experience. T.J. Storment, Liam Fornadel, Cody Conway, Ty Clary, D’Marcus Hayes, and First Team All-SEC center Michael Maietti are all capable of being standout starters in the XFL. Position versatility will play a factor in who plays. Line coach Russ Ehrenfeld will have difficulty putting together the proper configuration on opening day. But it’s a good problem to have.
As of press time, D.C. has added two more players to their mix on the offensive line. Veterans Rod Taylor and Kyle Murphy. Despite their late arrival, both could factor into the team’s depth chart before long. They are not penciled into the depth chart graphic in this article. But it’s not far-fetched to project as starters, potentially on the right side of the offensive line. The team hasn’t officially announced the signings yet.
Rod Taylor is a former seventh-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018. The former Ole Miss standout at OT has also played guard. An unprecedented lifetime ban derailed his NFL career after multiple suspensions. Due to P.E.D. use. It remains to be seen if he can keep his head on straight in the XFL and whether or not he can capture his collegiate form.
Kyle Murphy is also a former NFL draft pick. A sixth-round selection in 2019 out of Stanford by the Green Bay Packers. Murphy has three career NFL starts under his belt. The 6’6, 305lb veteran has experience at right tackle. Ironically enough, Murphy was drafted by the D.C. Defenders as a first-round selection in the offensive line phase of the draft in 2019. He wound up never playing in the District because the Houston Texans signed him shortly thereafter. His last NFL stint was in 2021 with the New Orleans Saints.
Front Seven: Here’s where things get tricky regarding projecting starters in D.C.’s defense. Under long-time defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the Defenders are expected to play multiple fronts.
The team could shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3 in games. Two base defenses that Williams has coordinated on the NFL level. The Defenders have the size up front to clog up the middle with the likes of NFL veteran Niles Scott at 320 plus pounds.
D.C. D-Line coach Jeremy Watkins has versatile players who can play multiple positions at the end spot or slide inside to defensive tackle, like Jarrell Owens, Fadol Brown, and Jessie Animbonam. Some of the players, like Owens, can even stand up and play on the edge.
The strength of the Defenders is on the edge and at linebacker. Standing up or with their hands on the ground. Davin Bellamy and Andre Mintze could be the most effective pass-rushing duo in the league. Jacub Panaisuk and Aaron Sterling as also two versatile young players to watch.
Anthony Hines, Reggie Northrup, Francis Bernard, Jamal Brooks, and Terrill Hanks will be difficult to keep off the field. Each player can play a multitude of positions. One of the more intriguing players is Ragin Cajun rookie Ferrod Gardner.
After his second stint with the Washington Commanders, Gardner is officially back with the Defenders. He finished the 2022 NFL season on Washington’s practice squad. D.C. selected Ferrod Garner in the XFL Supplemental draft on New Year’s Day.
CB: DB coach Vernon Dean has a nice collection of players in his secondary. Projecting starters at the two outside cornerback and slot positions is a matter of reading the tea leaves. The first three selections in D.C.’s DB draft should produce clear favorites. Local DC native Parnell Motley, Anthoula Kelly, and DeJuan Neal. The latter two players have already had success playing spring pro football.
Experience gives players an edge at cornerback. But rookies Travon Fuller and Hawaii ballhawk Cortez Davis have starter traits and potential.
S: Much like the cornerback position. The early bet on starters at safety lands on D.C.’s two highest selections at the position in the draft. Joshua Allen, and Kentrell Brice. However, Santos Ramirez, who has experience playing in Gregg Williams’s defense in the NFL, could make his way into the lineup. Reggie Stubblefield is one of the more versatile and talented players on the roster. He could also factor into the mix. The same can be said for Ferrod Gardner, the ideal swiss army knife in a multiple-styled defense.
Defenders Special Teams
In case you missed it, the signing of NFL veteran kicker Matthew McCrane has changed the equation for the Defenders’ special teams coordinated by Jamie Sharper.
Based on his experience and success kicking outdoors in challenging conditions. He was perfect in the XFL on kicks for New York in 2020. McCrane has to be the favorite to emerge as the team’s placekicker coming out of camp. He’s one of the few kickers in the league who has experience with the unique XFL kickoff.
The question then becomes, who will be the Defenders’ punter when the regular season rolls around? Based on his experience as a holder, Jacob Schum could be the guy over promising P/K Daniel Whelan. The Irish-born specialist has a ton of leg strength but no in-game pro experience. Opposing XFL teams could have their eye on whoever loses this punting battle in camp.
The returner spot should be a fun one to watch for D.C.
Pooka Williams and Jequez Ezzard have game-breaking traits in this department. But it’s possible that the Defenders’ could look to save the dynamic duo for offense and split their duties with someone else, like speedster Lucky Jackson.
Quick Final Analysis:
Earlier this week, I prematurely ranked the XFL teams based on my criteria. Suffice it to say; I didn’t make many friends with my old Guardians team.
The Defenders’ came in second in the power rankings. As foolhardy as it sounds to come up with such a list, D.C. has one of the most perfectly constructed rosters in terms of scheme fit. Von Hutchins and the Defenders’ have done a great job identifying players to achieve that goal.
There are a few areas of concern for D.C. Despite the promising young talent on their offensive line, there is not much pro experience there. Getting that neophyte group to gel early could be a challenge. As a result, late-arriving veterans Rod Taylor and Kyle Murphy could become opening-day starters.
Another issue is banking on rookie Jequez Ezzard to lead the passing game immediately, and it might take time for him to gain a comfort level as a pro. K.D. Cannon, Jazz Ferguson, and that group of pass catchers have a prime opportunity to shine. However, D.C. could add another veteran receiver if they don’t emerge.
Fittingly, the Defenders have the appearance of having an excellent defense. With a team name like that, you have to be good in that department. However, D.C.’s secondary will get challenged in week one against June Jones and his wide-open passing attack. But that’s something to preview at another time. We are getting oh-so-much closer to the regular season—three years in the making.
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