While it was a bitterly cold day in Arlington, Renegades fans got their first glimpse into what their new football team will look like during the 2023 XFL season.
The Renegades practiced at Choctaw Stadium Saturday in front of their passionate fans that included 12-on-12 and seven-on-seven drills for about an hour and 15 minutes. Fans got to see all kinds of different looks and see most of the players play on the field.
Head coach Bob Stoops participated in a Q&A session as he gave fans an insight into how he feels about the team and the experience of being the only returning XFL head coach to his original team.
Fans got the opportunity to interact with the coaches and players to get autographs as well as chat to get to know them. While there wasn’t a final tally on how many fans attended, there was a good turnout for the event.
This was everyone’s first opportunity to see who the team is and what they have to offer for the season. There are many observations from the practice that gave fans an idea of how they will look this season. This is part one of a three-part series examining the offense, defense, and special teams of the Renegades in practice so naturally, we need to start with the offense.
Key Notes From Arlington Renegades Practice: Offense
Running Back Rotation
One interesting note from the practice was the number of snaps and carries they gave Keith Ford during it. It’s not clear whether Ford would be the starter or the backup, but he got significantly more reps than Kenneth Farrow did. One reason could be Ford’s familiarity with co-offensive coordinator Jonathan Hayes’ offense from when he played under coach Hayes in 2020 for the St. Louis BattleHawks. Coach Stoops mentioned to the media after practice that Ford has been a bright spot on the roster.
De’Veon Smith got to see a lot of carries as well as he went into training camp as a favorite to be the starter at running back. If the open practice was an indication of the season, it appears it could be Smith and Ford as the top two backs on the roster. Farrow did play some snaps, but with him limited on snaps, he might be looking at a number three spot on the depth chart.
Jeremy Cox did have a nice long run during practice, but he had limited snaps on offense as well. De’Montre Tuggle didn’t get many snaps at running back as he saw more action on special teams. It appears that Tuggle and Cox will have to fight for playing time and it might have to happen through special teams.
Potential Offensive Line Starters
Something fans have been speculating about is what would be done on the offensive line. Most of the players had experience with either tackle or guard, but not many were known for playing center. Based on the decorated experience of offensive lineman Cam Hunt and Garrett McGhin, the offensive lines had a certain lineup to try to build chemistry together. Here is how the offensive line was set up:
Left Tackle – Darta Lee
Left Guard – Mara Teuhema
Center – Cam Hunt
Right Guard – Mike Horton
Right Tackle – Garrett McGhin
This would be the best guess on who would start on the offensive line. Hunt and McGhin were both first-team All-USFL offensive linemen last year. They came in as the favorites to be the starters on the team. Darta Lee will be someone to watch on the offensive line as he performed well in practice and plays the most important position on the offense at left tackle blocking the quarterbacks’ blind side.
Quarterback Competition Heating Up
Speaking of quarterbacks, Kyle Sloter, Drew Plitt, and Kevin Anderson all had good showings during practice. Sloter proved to fans why he was good in the USFL last year by his ability to be mobile when he needs to use his legs when pressure comes. He also showed off his arm by throwing some good deep balls including connecting with Tyler Vaughns earlier in practice for a touchdown.
Anderson showed some good potential as well as he showed off his strong arm as well. He was accurate with the ball. The only real difference between him and Sloter is he’s more of a pocket passer, staying in there when pressure comes. Overall, Anderson showed some good things to give fans confidence in the depth of the quarterback room.
Plitt had a nice showing as his highlight play was connecting with Rannell Hall at the corner of the end zone for the touchdown. Fans didn’t get to see his deep ball as it was more about his short yards accuracy. He was the only one to throw an interception during practice as he threw a pass directly to recently signed Nasir Greer.
Coach Stoops has spoken highly about his quarterback room as he mentioned to fans during the Q&A session as being more comfortable with the 2023 group than in 2020. A big factor in that thinking is Landry Jones suffered a leg injury on day one of training camp in 2020 which led to Philip Nelson as the starter in week one. With how all three quarterbacks played, it seems like a fair assessment of how strong the quarterbacks are for Arlington.
Don’t Doubt The Pass Catchers
Jordan Smallwood headlines the receivers as he looks the part as the number one receiver. Smallwood closed out practice with a nice deep ball touchdown catch. Coach Stoops mentioned Smallwood as a guy who impressed during training camp. He should be an easy choice to be the top receiver heading into the regular season.
Two other receivers who proved their worth in practice were LuJaun Winningham and Tyler Vaughns. Both players made some nice catches at the receiver position with Winningham lining up as an outside receiver, which makes sense with his height. Vaughns seems to be more of a fit in the slot receiver position. It will be interesting to see as Flynn Nagel is an early favorite to start in the slot, but Vaughns might get some playing time there as well.
Another nice surprise was the recent signing of receiver/defensive back Rannell Hall. Hall got to see most of his time at receiver and was able to make some nice plays in the process. With the secondary already as deep as it is, Hall showed in practice that he has a chance to make the roster based on the speed he showed fans.
Sal Cannella is an easy choice to assume that he is going to be the top tight end on the team and might be the best receiver on the roster. One player who stood out at the tight end position was Shaun Beyer who made some nice catches and played on the field a lot. Beyer could be someone to watch out for as the number two tight end behind Cannella.
On paper, this looks like an offense that should be bullies up front and run the ball with efficiency. Coach Stoops wants to have a nice balance between the run and pass which would be a change from how they looked in 2020. Fans saw them run a lot of spread with even at one point Ford and Farrow lined up as receivers. Co-offensive coordinators Jonathan Hayes and Chuck Long will look to be creative with their designs while bringing the balance coach Stoops wants.
Fans should be optimistic that this is a team that will be able to hold its own in games. Don’t expect the Renegades to be the highest-scoring offense in the league, but a unit that will control the line of scrimmage and win the time of possession. This offense looks more like what coach Stoops wanted to run as he did in college. The Renegades are already showing that they are true contenders because of how this offense will perform.
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