The Arlington Renegades are less than a week away from stepping onto the field of Choctaw Stadium for their first game in three years with all eyes being on the players.
It’s been a tough five-week road for the 51 players who are on the active roster for the Renegades as they had to battle their way to a roster spot. They had to deal with the sun, the rain, and even an ice storm that kept them off the practice field for multiple days. Adversity is something all these players have gone through their whole careers. It’s the reason why they are in the XFL and playing on the field this season.
Many experts have called the Renegades one of the best rosters in the XFL. They look complete from the balanced offensive attack they have put together to the tough, rugged defense they assembled. The depth of the team is a plus with positions like running back, linebacker, and cornerback being their top positions.
Another key separation with this roster from others is the amount of experience this team has with players that have played in the NFL. Many on defense are players who had played and even started in the NFL as key contributors to teams. That kind of wealth of experience makes the difference at the end of the game when it counts the most.
There are multiple players that can contribute to the team right away and make an impact in games. Here are some players to watch out for this season as key X-factors.
Arlington Renegades X-Factors
Sal Cannella, Tight End
Renegades quarterback Kyle Sloter’s favorite target in the USFL last season for the New Orleans Breakers, Sal Cannella has proven himself to be a reliable pass-catching target. Cannella was one of the top receivers on the team after recording 34 catches for 368 yards and two touchdowns in the USFL last season. His strong performance led to him getting signed by the Green Bay Packers in the preseason before being cut.
The receiving core is a bit of a question for the Renegades which is why experts believe Cannella comes in as the top receiving target for the team. He has great length and strong hands to go up and grab the ball when contested. Cannella is one of those tight ends where the defense almost has to have a cornerback covering him because of how good of a receiver he is.
The tight end is always a quarterback’s best friend if they are young or don’t feel comfortable with the receivers. Sloter should be in line to start at quarterback so because of their previous experience together, they should make for a good dynamic duo together.
Keith Ford, Running Back
He didn’t get many carries in the XFL back in 2020, but make no mistake about it Keith Ford is going to be a factor in the offense. The last time Ford was on the field in the XFL, he ran it just ten times for 52 yards and two touchdowns adding one catch for five yards for the St. Louis BattleHawks. Unfortunately for Ford, he got stuck behind Matt Jones and Christine Michael who led the way as well as quarterback Jordan Ta’amu getting multiple carries as well. The tough part was Ford was lost in the shuffle when he should have gotten more looks.
Ford seems poised for a much bigger role in co-offensive coordinators Jonathan Hayes and Chuck Long’s offense. He was seen taking a good portion of the reps in the open practice just a few weeks ago with head coach Bob Stoops even calling him out as a standout player in camp. Ford and De’Veon Smith got most of the reps in practice and look to be in line as the top two backs on the team.
It isn’t clear who is going to start, but Ford will be more of a factor in the offense running and passing the football. He has stepped up in camp and showed himself to be a guy that the Renegades can lean on in their new-look balanced offense. Thanks to his previous experience in the offense with the BattleHawks just three years ago, look for Ford to be fed the ball often this season.
Jordan Smallwood, Wide Receiver
In a receiver room that is a young group. Jordan Smallwood has the most experience of the receivers on the active roster. He has proven to be a reliable receiver as he performed well for the LA Wildcats in 2020 where he caught 18 passes for 236 yards and one touchdown in five games. His progression from college to the pros was impressive after just recording 170 yards and one touchdown in college at Oklahoma.
While he isn’t the biggest receiver, he shows a great ability to separate himself from defenders in deep ball situations. His big play potential makes him a top target at receiver as he has the ability to break it in the open field at any time. He ran a 4.52 on his pro day before he went into the NFL while it isn’t top speed, it’s fast enough that defenses need to respect his breakaway ability.
Lujuan Winningham and Tyler Vaughns could be in line to be a part of the starting receiving core. Rannell Hall could also be in line to be a part of the rotation as well. Smallwood has experience and success in the XFL. His familiarity with coach Stoops from their time in Oklahoma also is a major plus for him. Look for Smallwood and Cannella to be the top targets for the Renegades.
Donald Payne, Linebacker
The USFL’s leading tackler makes it easy to point out the kind of impact Donald Payne will have on this defense. With the Houston Gamblers last year, Payne recorded 117 tackles, three interceptions, two defensive touchdowns, and two sacks in ten games.
He was all over the field his instinct for finding the ball carrier was a thing of beauty to watch. Fans could tell that his reaction time and effort level are what made him successful on the field. If it hadn’t been for his teammate Chris Odom having the type of season he had, Payne would have found himself to be the defensive player of the year in the USFL.
Payne has reunited with his defensive coordinator in Houston Tim Lewis as now coach Lewis is the co-defensive coordinator alongside Jay Hayes. Going into camp, it seemed clear Payne was going to find himself on the roster and somebody who will get significant playing time for the Renegades at linebacker. He should go in as the starter and pick up from where he left off with the Gamblers. With so much attention on the secondary, don’t sleep on Payne making aggressive plays at linebacker whether he’s stopping the run or falling back into coverage.
De’Vante Bausby, Cornerback
Speaking of so much attention in the secondary, De’Vante Bausby gives the Renegades’ fans multiple reasons to be excited about the play of the secondary. Bausby has been a model of success in the alternative football league world from recording four interceptions in the AAF with the San Antonio Commanders in 2019 to getting an interception with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL last year.
Bausby does so many things well in coverage as he will shut down receivers in man-to-man coverage. He has a knack for finding the football and making a play on the ball to deflect it or create a turnover. The Renegades can rely on him to step up and make a play when the moment calls for it.
He’s had plenty of competition at the cornerback position with Cre’Von LeBlanc and Josh Hawkins also in the same position. The reality is both of those corners are top-notch players who will also make an impact on the defensive side of the ball. That’s what makes the secondary so deep and talented. Bausby is one of many that will be able to make plays in the secondary. His ability to break up passes and tackle is what could make him a dynamic player for the Renegades.
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