Terrell Buckley and the rest of the coaching staff had several tough decisions to make, the most notable at quarterback. Paxton Lynch will slot into the starting role despite joining the team in late January.
Lynch managed to beat out both Deondre Francois and Quinton Dormad in just that two-week span. The former first-round pick will now lead the offense for the season opener this weekend.
Lynch will have a relatively strong arsenal of weapons surrounding him, beginning with Jah-Maine Martin sharing the backfield alongside the former Memphis star. Martin has been given the nod over Harvard grad, Devin Darrington, whose best season came in 2019 when the 24-year-old led the Ivy League school with 183 rushes for 734 yards and seven touchdowns.
Contrary to Darrington’s shifty and uber-athletic archetype, Martin’s mix of aggressiveness and speed made the former NC A&T star one of the top prospects in the MEAC. Martin will look to recreate the success he had during his legendary junior season when he posted 1,446 rushing yards with a school-record 23 total touchdowns.
Orlando’s array of aerial threats, headlined by former second-round pick Cody Latimer, should pose many problems for opposing secondaries. Latimer comes in already having experience playing with Lynch, as the two are former Denver Broncos’ draft picks. Lining up opposite the veteran wideout is Stephen Guidry, who will be making his return to professional football after being waived by the Dallas Cowboys in summer 2021. The athletic 25-year-old is an intriguing prospect with a good mix of size and speed and is undoubtedly a threat for a breakout season.
Both Latimer and Guidry should feel the pressure to perform well, with the wide receiver room containing the greatest amount of depth of any position on the squad. From young, hungry candidates like Charleston Rambo, to established veterans like Eli Rogers, coach Buckley will have the freedom to shake up the pecking order at his leisure this season.
Rounding out the offensive skill positions will be Logan Carter, who beat out Ryan Becker for the starting tight end spot. Carter’s first shot in the pros will come with Orlando after six years playing at Oklahoma State. The converted fullback appears to have built chemistry with his new starting quarterback already:
Carters’ backup, Becker, makes his debut in the XFL after stints with the Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons in which he failed to garner any regular-season snaps. The tight-end tandem mirrors each other in many ways and should be vital in both the pass and run game this season.
Much like the offense, the defensive side has a healthy mix of both veteran experience and promising youth.
Coach Buckley’s secondary sees C.J. Holmes and Javaris Davis starting on either side of the field at the cornerback position. Holmes, a recent Jackson State graduate, will now be coached by another FSU defensive back legend. The former “Tiger” signed with the New Orleans Saints following the 2022 draft, but failed to make the roster. Similarly, Davis was another undrafted guy back in 2020. The 26-year-old managed to win a spot on the Miami Dolphins before eventually being waived last summer.
The young corners will have some experience behind them with former NFL first-round pick, Matt Elam, set to start at safety. Alongside Elam will be Najeem Hosein and Roman Tatum. While Elam is the most accomplished of the three, Tatum will be making his return to the XFL after spending some time in the IFL. Hosein will get his first taste of professional football after going undrafted back in 2019.
Stansly Maponga headlines the linebacking crew alongside Terrance Plummer and Terrance Smith. Maponga, a former NFL fifth-round draft pick, spent some time in the CFL after the shutdown of the XFL 2.0. Plummer and Smith also had short stints in the NFL, but last played in the CFL and IFL, respectively. With all three starters managing to get some run in the NFL, the linebacking crew is arguably the most well-polished of any position on the team.
You can see the Guardians in action tonight at 8 PM EST on ESPN.
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