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XFL 2023: A Deep Dive Into The D.C. Defenders’ Defense, Supplemental Draft Options

The XFL 2023 season begins in less than two months on Saturday, February 18th, on ABC, ESPN, and FX. The D.C. Defenders and all eight of the XFL’s teams will begin a centralized league-wide training camp on January 8th in Arlington, Texas.

The Next Step For XFL 2023 Teams

Players will report to training camp on the 4th and 5th of January for medical testing and pre-camp-related activities before beginning full-on practices.

As of press time, the Defenders currently have 53 players on their roster after the XFL’s first draft in November. Drafted players who have signed letters of intent with the league have until December 26th, to commit to the 2023 XFL season.

Teams in the league will be able to roster a maximum of 66 players for training camp. As a result, the league will be having a supplemental draft, along with other player additions in January to finalize their team rosters.

XFL 2023 Training Camp Details

XFL 2023 is setting up shop in the DFW area from January through May for the entirety of their season. Players, during this five-month period, will train in state and will be housed at local hotels with daily meal service provided by local restaurants and caterers. The individual XFL teams who are not situated in Texas, like the D.C. Defenders will travel to their respective cities on gameday.

However, in a unique wrinkle, all eight XFL teams will be paired off to practice against each other. Iron will be sharpening iron as the teams prepare for and play a ten-game schedule during the 2023 season.

  • Choctaw Stadium, the former home of the MLB’s Texas Rangers, will serve as the in-week practice facility for both the Arlington Renegades and Houston Roughnecks and will be the home stadium for Arlington. In partnership and collaboration with REV Entertainment, the exclusive event coordinator of Choctaw Stadium, the XFL will also utilize Choctaw and its surrounding venues for team meeting spaces.
  • The XFL’s centralized Hub will also consist of three additional local practice facilities – Northwest ISD Stadium, Southlake Carroll Dragon Stadium, and Vernon Newsom Stadium further expanding the league’s footprint in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area.
  • The D.C. Defenders and St. Louis Battlehawks will share Vernon Newsom Stadium. The Orlando Guardians and San Antonio Brahmas will pair up at Northwest ISD Stadium. And fittingly, the Seattle Sea Dragons will be at Southlake Carroll Dragon Stadium with the Las Vegas Vipers.
  • Cut down for regular season rosters will occur by February 9th as the roster size will decrease from 66 to 50 players.

The XFL, despite being a revived league, is essentially starting from scratch like any other startup. As a result, the team staffs, who will arrive earlier than the players, have their work cut out for them. After all, what you have in XFL 2023 is the equivalent of eight pro football expansion teams. And while there are some coaching and player connections throughout all eight XFL teams. There will be a steep learning curve in a short window for teams to gel together before the bullets fly in February.

The D.C. Defenders front office led by Director of Player Personnel Von Hutchins, and the coaching staff headed up by Reggie Barlow have been hard at work identifying the players who will fit their team and systems.

For a full breakdown of the D.C. Defenders’ offense, and their potential additions next month. You can check out this link here.

Let’s take a deep dive into D.C.’s current roster on defense and the positions and players they could look to add to in training camp through the upcoming XFL Supplemental Draft in January.

D.C. Defenders Roster Breakdown: Defense/Supplemental Draft Options

Defensive Linemen: Jesse Aniebonam, Maryland, Fadol Brown, Mississippi, Dame Ndiaye, Portland State, Jarrell Owens, Oklahoma State, Jacub Panasuik, Notre Dame, Niles Scott, Frostburg State, Joseph Wallace, Sam Houston State, Jordan Williams, Tennessee (8)

It remains to be seen what defensive formation the D.C. Defenders play on defense. Coordinator Gregg Williams‘s defenses have been multiple in recent years. He’s utilized the 46, 34, and 43 defenses throughout his coaching career.

In modern-day football, defenses have to be flexible. Because the real new base defense is one that employs multiple defensive backs to counter spread offenses.

D.C.’s first selection in the front seven phase of the draft in November was a true nose tackle in 330lb, NFL veteran Niles Scott. That’s a telltale sign of the type of defense, D.C. is looking to field. Fadol Brown (282lbs) and Joseph Wallace (300lbs) also fit the bill as two-gap type players on the interior.

However, when looking at the Defenders’ other listed defensive linemen, several of them can be characterized as tweeners or edge rushers. Jacub Panasuik, Jarrell Owens, and Jesse Aniebonam all fall into this category.

Even if the Defenders employ a three-man front primarily. Likely, they are not done adding big bodies up front.

XFL 2023 Supplemental Draft Options At DL For D.C.

An intriguing player for D.C. to consider is Ohio State standout Jashon Cornell. The 6’3 290lb lineman has experience manning both the defensive and tackle positions. The Detroit Lions drafted him in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Cornell was let go by Detroit at final cuts this summer.

A player that would be a massive get for the Defenders, literally and figuratively, is former LSU standout Tyler Shelvin. The 6’2 350 pound nose tackle is likely to land on another NFL roster before long. In fact, Shelvin has been on the workout circuit after the team who drafted him in the fourth round in 2021, Cincinnati released him twice this year. But at the moment, as this is being typed, he is currently a free agent. With three weeks left in the 2022 NFL season. Shelvin should land on a roster at some point. But if he doesn’t. The XFL and the Defenders’ in particular should be looking to land one of the biggest fishes in the ocean.

The Defenders already have an XFL 2020 standout on their defensive line in New York Guardians lineman Jarrell Owens. Perhaps they can add his teammate Bunmi Rotimi. The 6’3 275lb Old Dominion player has experience playing on multiple defensive fronts. Since playing in the XFL, he has spent the last two years in the NFL on Washington’s roster. Rotimi even saw action late in the 2021 season, registering his first NFL sack. But an offseason injury this summer, followed by a settlement with the Commanders has him on the outside looking in.

One player who has experience being coached by Gregg Williams is former New York Jets defensive linemen Kyle Phillips. The 6’4 280lb Phillips played two years in Williams scheme after signing on with New York as an undrafted player out of Tennessee. The former Volunteer played three seasons with the Jets as a rotational player at the defensive end and tackle positions. Phillips has played in 29 career NFL games with eight starts under his belt. He’s registered 65 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Texas A&M’s Kingsley Keke is another intriguing potential option for D.C.’s defense. The 6’3 288lb former fifth-round selection by the Green Bay Packers in 2019 has plenty of big-league experience. He’s played in 41 NFL games, making 17 starts, and has registered 54 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 5 pass deflections, and 6.5 sacks in three seasons. Keke has been with three NFL teams since starting his career in Green Bay. He was released in mid-August by the Arizona Cardinals.

Linebackers: Jamal Brooks, South Alabama, Anthony Hines, Texas A &M, Andre Mintze, Vanderbilt, Aaron Sterling, South Carolina (4)

With only four linebackers listed on the Defenders’ current roster. It stands to reason that the team will be in the market to add more players to the position in January. Even with the ambiguity involved on listed defensive linemen who can stand up and play outside linebacker in the 3-4.

It’s quality over quantity at the moment for D.C.’s linebackers. Anthony Hines, Andre Mintze, Jamal Brooks, and Aaron Sterling are four promising young players.

Athletically as an edge rusher, Andre Mintze was among the fastest outside linebackers available in his class. He was clocked at 4.59 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Vanderbilt’s pro day. But his character profile is just as impressive. Mintze, a two-time team captain, was a candidate for almost every college football award that recognizes humanitarian efforts and academic success — including the Wuerffel Trophy, Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year, the SEC community service team, and the Senior CLASS award.

Anthony Hines was a four-star recruit and one of the top prospects coming out of Texas a few years back. He is an inside/outside linebacker at 6’3 226 lbs. who has spent time the last couple of seasons with the LA Rams and Dallas Cowboys in the NFL.

NFL.com rated South Carolina’s Aaron Sterling as one of the top undrafted players coming from the 2022 draft class.  Despite being 6’2 250, Sterling played multiple positions in college all over the defensive format at DT, LB, and DE. That type of versatility could be an asset for D.C.

Jamal Brooks is a four-star inside linebacker at 6’1 235, who originally played at Missouri for four years before transferring to South Alabama. 

XFL 2023 Supplemental Draft Options At LB For D.C.

In the edge rusher department. D.C. could look to bring in someone who was almost a Defender in 2020. Similar to the current status of XFL 2023 drafted players, Outside linebacker James Vaughters was a high draft pick in 2019 by the Defenders but the NFL came calling before he could ever play a down in the XFL.

Vaughters has been in the NFL since 2019, first with the Chicago Bears for three seasons before spending time with the Atlanta Falcons, and most recently in 2022 with the Steelers. The 6’2 255-pound edge rusher from Stanford has plenty of pro-playing experience in the states and up north in Canada. In the CFL, Vaughters registered 11 sacks over two seasons with the Calgary Stampeders, winning the Grey Cup in 2018. In the NFL, Vaughters has played 27 games with 33 career tackles, and 2.5 sacks.

Connections matter in the everyday world and football. Linebacker B.J. Bello is a player who has experience being coached by and playing in Gregg Williams’s defense in two different spots, Cleveland and New York. Bello at 6’2 228, has been mostly a sub-package linebacker from 2017-2021 in the NFL since going undrafted out of Illinois State. Bello, 28 has game experience (33 games) and can play inside or outside linebacker.

Flordia Atlantic Edge rusher Leighton McCarthy is not a household name. Two years ago, as a senior, McCarthy was fifth in the nation in sacks. A late bloomer at FAU, who had 15 sacks in his final two seasons in college, initially started as a defensive end before moving to outside linebacker in his senior year. The All-Conference USA player simply doesn’t have the measurables that NFL teams seek. He is only 6’2 220 pounds. McCarthy signed on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent but didn’t last long there. In the XFL, he can be strictly a pass-rush specialist who develops other areas of his game.

Marquel Lee is a young veteran NFL inside linebacker who has ties to the DMV as a Maryland native. The 6’3 235-pound Wake Forest grad was originally drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 2017. Lee’s had two separate stints with the Raiders, and Buffalo Bills since then. For the last couple of NFL seasons, he has been mostly on the practice squad and was released by Buffalo this summer. Lee, 27 has a ton of playing experience, he’s played in 45 NFL games with 19 career starts. The Defenders could look to add a veteran like Lee who can play the crucial role of signal-caller as the MIKE in D.C.’s defense.

Defensive Backs: Joshua Allen, Miami (OH), C.J. Anthony, Garden City CC, Kentrell Brice, Louisiana Tech, Cortez Davis, Hawaii, Junior Faulk, Delta State, Travon Fuller, Tulsa, Holton Hill, Texas, Anthoula Kelly, Fresno State, Parnell Motley, Oklahoma, DeJuan Neal, Shepherd, Santos Ramirez, Arkansas, K.J. Sails, South Florida, Reggie Stubblefield, Kansas State (13)

In November’s two-day XFL draft. D.C. loaded up by drafting 13 players in their newly formed secondary. Seven of the selections classify as cornerbacks but also have experience playing safety. Kentrell Brice and Joshua Allen have experience playing inside at cornerback, in the box, and at deep safety.

The Defenders have an eclectic group of defensive backs with wide-ranging experience at all levels. Director of player personnel, Von Hutchins, a former NFL DB himself, took some chances on smaller school players. The Defenders added some hidden gems from Garden City Community College’s C.J. Anthony to Delta State’s Junior Faulk.

D.C. also added players who have recent experience playing indoor football like former NY Jet Santos Ramirez, who also has experience with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Some of D.C.’s under-the-radar selections in their defensive backfield like K.J. Sails, have added value on special teams. Sails was a standout cover corner at USF but also returned punts in school.

D.C.’s first overall pick in the DB phase of the draft, Parnell Motley is a DMV native, who profiles well as a press corner in Gregg Williams’s defensive scheme. The 6’0 200lb cornerback has been with five different NFL teams since making the Tamp Bay Bucs 53-man roster in 2020 as an undrafted free agent. However, an extended role in the states has been hard to come by for him. Parnell Motley was most recently on the Calgary Stampeders roster in 2022.

Another defensive back with a similar skillset to Motley is Travon Fuller. The former Texas A & M cornerback was a graduate transfer to Tulsa in 2021. Fuller had a breakout campaign with the Golden Hurricane, notching 42 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, one fumble recovery, three interceptions, and ten pass breakups. The Buffalo Bills signed him as an undrafted free agent this past spring. But he was let go in the summer. Fuller has the profile of a press man corner on the outside.

DeJuan Neal, the D2 standout had an excellent year playing cornerback in the USFL for the New Jersey Generals in 2022. It led to him getting a shot this summer with the Washington Commanders. At 5’10, Dejuan Neal profiles as a nickel player but he can play press coverage effectively.

Another former cover cornerback with Spring Pro League experience, Anthoula Kelly was one of the XFL’s best slot corners in 2020 for Tampa. The Defenders took him third in the DB phase of the XFL 2023 draft.

Hawaii cornerback Cortez Davis was an All-Mount West player at Hawaii. The 5’10 DB led the nation in 2021 with pass break-ups (18) and finished second in passes defended (19). The former JUCO transfer had three solid seasons at Hawaii. However, he went undrafted and then signed with Denver Broncos after working out at their rookie minicamp. But his stay there didn’t last long. Davis rarely had the football thrown his way when he was a Warrior. But his size, lack of interceptions, and average speed of 4.56 led to him being overlooked. Defenders’ may have found something here.

The final pick of the DB phase for D.C., Holton Hill is a 25-year-old veteran defensive back. The 6’2 cornerback/safety out of Texas played three seasons with the Minnesota Vikings from 2018-2020. The former track and field star has always had the prototypical profile of a pro defensive back. However, injuries and other issues during his time with the Vikes held him back. After Minnesota, Hill spent time with the Colts, Cowboys, and Bengals. Hill’s game experience in the NFL should be helpful to DC’s young secondary.

XFL 2023 Supplemental Draft Options At DB For D.C.

Even though the Defenders have 13 players currently listed in their secondary, and only thirteen spots to fill on the entire roster as training camp approaches. D.C. could still look to add a defensive back or two who comes free in January.

Pro players with veteran NFL experience can be challenging gets for leagues like the XFL. Typically, the players who play in non-NFL outfits, are entry-level entrants. However, there are vets throughout the league right now on all eight of the XFL’s team rosters. The Arlington Renegades, for example, have longtime NFL players Rahim Moore and Will Hill.

So you can’t rule out other XFL teams like the Defenders’ adding experience as the season edges closer. One player who fits this description, and is a fit in Gregg Williams’s defense is cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun. The 29-year-old slot corner has played for six different NFL teams since signing on with the Cleveland Browns in 2016. Williams coached Calhoun for two seasons in Cleveland.

Another vet that has familiarity with Gregg Williams is Cornerback Blessuan Austin. The former 6th-round pick of the Jets played two seasons under Williams in New York. The Rutgers product has started 17 games in the NFL and was most recently with the Denver Broncos this summer. The 6’1 198lb cornerback is still only 25 years old and has plenty of game left in him.

An intriguing player for the Defenders’ to explore would be former 2019 New York Giants first-round pick out of Georgia Deandre Baker. Talent has never been an issue for Baker, but off-the-field problems and durability have for the former Jim Thorpe award winner. Baker washed out quickly with the Giants after he was charged with multiple felonies in 2020. Charges that were later dropped but the damage was done.

Deandre Baker would later resurface with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he would play in ten games, starting two of them but a fractured femur, during a game against the LA Chargers in 2021, where he recorded his first NFL sack, wiped out his attempt at redemption. Baker would return to the Chiefs but was let go this past summer. Leagues like the XFL were made for comeback stories like Baker’s.

D.C. Defenders Specialists: P, Jacob Schum, K/P, Daniel Whelan, UC Davis, LS, Erik Lawson, East Carolina (3)

You can’t leave specialists out of the equation. D.C. seems locked in with their three choices in this phase of the team. Jacob Schum is a veteran NFL punter with a ton of experience. Erik Lawson made quite an impression on the Defenders’ brass during the pre-draft process.

As did UC Davis Punter/Kicker Daniel Whelan. The Irish-born specialist was named to four preseason All-America teams and made the all-Big Sky conference team…Punting 55 times for 2,544 yards (46.25 avg.) with a long of 65 yards and had 5 touchbacks, 20 downed inside-the-twenty yard-line, and 21 over 50 yards…Also kicked off 68 times for 4,212 yards (61.9 avg.) with 37 touchbacks. The latter is a unique strength to have in the XFL because of the returning 2020 kickoff rule designed to avoid touchbacks.

However, despite the towering 6’6 specialist’s accomplishments in college. The Defenders are taking a leap of faith with Whelan as their placekicker. Daniel Whelan worked out for the XFL at Nick Novak’s specialists showcase in October. Obviously, the Defenders’ liked what they saw from Whelan, who routinely kicked field goals from 60 yards with ease. But to hedge their bets, it’s possible that D.C. could explore adding another kicker for camp.

Since D.C. is one of the few XFL teams that will have to deal with the remnants of winter outdoors. It’s imperative that they have a kicker who can handle the elements at Audi Field. One veteran kicker who has experience kicking in multiple leagues outdoors is Lirim Hajrullahu. The multiple-time CFL All-Star has kicked over 250 field goals in three different pro leagues, He’s even punted up north.

D.C. Defenders Final Roster Analysis

There’s still some uncertainty as to who will show up for XFL teams in January’s training camp. The Defenders have 54 players listed on their roster. Which would leave only 12 spots open. But with NFL opportunities still coming drafted players’ way. There could be more openings when camp kicks off.

Defensively, D.C. has 25 players currently on that side of the ball. The one area that looks like there could be additions is at linebacker.

On paper, the Defenders appear to have more playmakers on offense than they have on defense. For the most part, D.C. has a mix of unknowns on its defensive roster. The next phase of XFL team building is more about quality than quantity. There’s only so much room available now. It will be the tact that Von Hutchins, Reggie Barlow, and the entire Defenders’ brass will deploy in fine-tuning their roster.

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I am a credentialed reporter and writer. Over time, I have covered and followed the NFL, NCAA, and multiple football leagues intensely. Like the USFL, CFL, WLAF, NFL Europe, AAF, UFL, and of course, the XFL. You can follow me on Twitter @byMikeMitchell

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