After a long and arduous three-year wait, it is finally time for some XFL football! Tomorrow night, your Houston Roughnecks will host the Orlando Guardians at TDECU Stadium for the season opener. Included in this article is some important information regarding the matchup itself, as well as a comprehensive analysis of the recently-unveiled depth chart. Make sure to stay up-to-date on Twitter (@evan_willsmore) for possible changes leading up to kickoff.
Orlando Guardians (0-0) at Houston Roughnecks (0-0)
Time: Saturday, February 18th, 7:30PM CST
Location: TDECU Stadium – Houston, Texas (University of Houston campus)
Television Broadcast: ESPN, FX
Weather Forecast: 54°F with partly cloudy skies expected, winds up to 10 mph
Betting Odds (per FanDuel Sportsbook)
Moneyline: ORL +125/HOU -150
Spread: ORL +3/HOU -3
Over/Under (points): 35.5
The Houston Roughnecks week 1 depth chart has come with a few surprises, although it is subject to change as the season progresses. To start, the quarterback position has been officially addressed, with Brandon Silvers being awarded the starting job. Silvers performed well under offensive coordinator AJ Smith in The Spring League (TSL) during their 2021 season, and was part of the XFL in 2020 with Seattle’s team. While he will have the opportunity to get things rolling Saturday night, there is reason to believe the leash is short, with ex-Hawai’i quarterback Cole McDonald and his star potential sitting closely behind.
Moving on to the rest of the offense, Garrett Owens holds on to his starting tight end spot with a firm grasp, given he is the only one at the position on the roster. Wide receivers Jontre Kirklin, Travell Harris, and Deontay Burnett will line up alongside him, and Max Borghi will take care of the backfield. In the middle, Alex Mollette will be in charge of snapping duties, with Dareuan Parker and Jack Snyder providing additional help on either side. Moving outward, Sage Doxtater and Tommy Champion will work to prevent the pass rush. As a bonus, Nick Holley will serve as the “H-back,” doing what he did best with the original Roughnecks squad.
On defense, Glen Logan will look to get pressure from the interior, with CJ Brewer and Trevon Mason on opposite sides of him. Filling in each of the linebacker spots is Trent Harris, Tim Ward, Emmanuel Ellerbee, and Tavante Beckett. Cornerbacks Raleigh Texada and Ajene Harris will help lock up the Guardians receiving corps, with the two Maryland alums (AJ Hendy and Sean Davis) filling in the gaps at both safety positions.
Finally, looking at special teams, the trio of Brian Khoury (snapper), Race Porter (punter), and Hunter Duplessis (kicker) will be the focal points of this unit. Former Fan Controlled Football (FCF) standout and third-string running back Brycen Alleyne will handle kickoff returns, while another Maryland defensive back and USFL standout Will Likely can take the punt returns.
Three key players that did not get immediate starting jobs are wide receiver Cedric Byrd (listed as the second H-back), offensive lineman John Yarbrough, and linebacker Duke Ejiofor. Assuming McDonald gets elevated to QB1 later down the stretch, it can also be assumed Byrd would see an increase in snaps along with him, given their history together. Yarbrough is listed as the backup center, but could also swing out to guard (preferably on the right side) if needed. Ejiofor finds himself in a crowded linebacker room, but should be first up in the rotation thanks to his pedigree.
While this article focuses on things from the Roughnecks’ perspective, the opponent should be mentioned first. The Orlando Guardians have been viewed by some as one of the weaker teams in the league, which is only speculation given they haven’t played a snap of football in 2023. Of course, Houston has yet to do the same either, but a simple glance at the coaching staff and the players can help widen the gap. Various gambling sites have favored the Roughnecks for this matchup, which makes sense as they will be playing at home. However, it appears that Orlando may have more unanswered questions as a whole than Houston does.
Going off general opinion, the Roughnecks may not have one of the top rosters in the league, but pure experience and system fit could win them more games than expected. This especially applies for the season opener, without proper game film or other feedback to draw conclusions. There is also a sense of unfinished business, as the team went 5-0 in 2020 and are looking to continue the undefeated streak. Obviously, the XFL as a whole looks a lot different now, but the claim of being the league’s best team is something fans still care about greatly.
What this game could likely come down to is the leadership and power of head coach Wade Phillips, who brings over 50 years of football knowledge to the team. The O/U on FanDuel for points is just 35.5, which ranks last for week 1 projected totals. Even if it turns out to be a low-scoring slugfest, Houston shouldn’t treat this game as a true test. In week 2, they will face the Arlington Renegades, who could have one of the strongest rosters in the league. The first week is a good opportunity to simply figure out what works and what doesn’t, as things will heat up quickly.
All in all, there has been a lot of hard work and preparation leading up to this moment. Even if it may not be the most exciting Roughnecks game of the year, it could be the most meaningful. From a high-flying offense to a battle-tested defense, there is plenty to look forward to on the quest for a championship.
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