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XFL 2023: The D.C. Defenders Announce 11 New Player Additions

XFL 2023 training camp has commenced in Texas. Just days after, teams expanded their rosters through the league’s supplemental draft. The D.C. Defenders have added eleven more players. Many of them through the NFL Alumni Academy. They are paired up with the official announcement that XFL 2020 quarterback Jordan Ta’amu had rejoined the league with the Defenders.

The D.C. Defenders have 76 players on their camp roster as of press time. Twenty-three of these have been added in the last week—twelve in last Sunday’s Supplemental Draft. The Defenders will kick off their regular season at Audi Field on Sunday, February 19th, against the Seattle Sea Dragons. You can find a breakdown and review of D.C.’s schedule at this link.

There is an onboarding process for XFL 2023 players taking place right now, which includes physicals. The numbers and camp rosters could change in the next few days. For example, Defenders supplemental draft selection Ferrod Gardner is back with the Washington Commanders after spending time on their roster earlier this NFL season. Some players could end up on reserve lists. But here is what D.C. looks like on paper by the numbers.

XFL 2023: D.C. Defenders Current Roster

Teams have reported to camp in Arlington. After the onboarding process. The Defenders will have their first official practice on January 14th. Reggie Barlow and his Defenders squad will share Vernon Newsom Stadium with Anthony Becht’s St. Louis Battlehawks.

XFL 2023: D.C. Defenders Add 10 New Players To Training Camp Roster

WR: ArDarius Stewart, Alabama

Wide Receiver ArDarius Stewart, the Alabama native, is a familiar name to football fans.

Once upon a time, Stewart was a budding star and All-SEC player who shined brightly for the national champion Crimson Tide.

Aquarius Stewart rode a breakout junior season at Alabama, where he had 54 receptions for 864 yards and nine touchdowns straight to the National Football League. Forgoing his senior season and off the heels of his collegiate success, the 6’0, 205lb Stewart was drafted by the New York Jets in the third round (79th overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft.

The Jets were impressed with Stewart’s 4.4 speed, toughness, hands, and ability to break tackles in the open field as a former high school running back. He appeared to be an ascending player who was only scratching the surface of his potential. However, things didn’t work out well for Stewart in the NFL.

He sparingly played in his rookie season with the Jets, netting only six receptions for 82 yards. In year two, Stewart was suspended for the first two games of the 2018 regular season for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Just two months into his sophomore NFL campaign, the Jets would part ways with ArDarius. He would briefly latch onto the practice squads of Oakland and Washington. But by early 2019, Stewart was entirely out of the NFL. He hadn’t played in a regular-season pro football game since Dec. 31, 2017, when he had a 46-yard reception in his rookie season against the New England Patriots.

Stewart’s fall in the NFL was a quick one. The recently turned 29-year-old receiver hasn’t given up the fight, although the pro football world seems to have given up on him. Stewart tried to extend his career up north in Canada with two different teams but could not break through.

The NFL Alumni Academy mostly has young players fresh out of college and NFL camps. But there are some exceptions. AA has veterans like ArDarius Stewart, who haven’t given up on chasing their dreams.

The window is closing on him, and he’s hopping on board the Defenders train late in the process. As a result, there’s no question that the odds are heavily stacked against him. But maybe, just maybe, the XFL can help Stewart finally change the narrative of his playing career.

WR, Tariq Bitson, Tarleton State

2022 NFL Draft Prospect Tariq Bitson is another small school standout added to the Defenders’ roster. The physically imposing 6’3 receiver joins another Tarleton State grad in Zimari Manning.

Bitson, like Manning, has an impressive collegiate resume.

Tariq Bitson had a unique path in his playing career, starting at Oklahoma State, then Northeastern Oklahoma, before becoming a force on the Division II level at Adams State. The 6’3, 205lb pass catcher was an RMAC Offensive Player of the Year and earned first-team all-conference accolades before making his final stop at Tarleton.

In 2021, the Tulsa product earned first-team All-WAC honors with 42 catches for 721 yards (17.2 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns. Bitson led the team in touchdown scores, receptions, receiving yards, and receiving yards per game (65.6). Across the WAC, he had the fourth most receiving touchdowns, the fourth most receiving yards, and the fifth most receptions. Bitson also averaged the second-most yards per catch in the WAC and the third-most receiving yards per game.

Defenders Director of Player Personnel Von Hutchins has a keen eye on standouts in the WAC, having selected one of the FCS’s most electric playmakers in Sam Houston State’s Jequezz Ezzard. Bitson is a different type of receiver than Ezzard, who is a big play waiting to happen from all points of the field. Tariq is a physical receiver who can make difficult catches in tight coverage look routine.

RB: Shane Simpson, Virginia

The Defenders add another talented player to their backfield in multi-purpose running back, Shane Simpson.

Simpson was a first-team all-state pick out of Pennsylvania when signing with Towson in 2015.

He was a first-team All-CAA kick returner and was named a first-team Associated Press FCS All-American All-Purpose Player, as well as a first-team All-Colonial Athletic Association running back, and the CAA Special Teams Player of the Year.

Simpson recorded 1,925 career rushing yards at Towson and 13 touchdowns in 35 games. He registered 5,088 career all-purpose yards with the Tigers, including 2,080 on kickoff returns, adding two more touchdowns.

In his senior season as a graduate transfer at Virginia, Simpson had 600 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns for the Cavaliers.

Simpson went undrafted in 2021 and landed a spot on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the CFL. In D.C., because of his versatility as a runner, receiver, and returner. Simpson has a shot to stick.

OL: Lawrence Keys, UNC Pembroke

Lawrence Keys is a 6’2, 310lb center/guard and a Division II standout who was voted team MVP at UNC Pembroke, and he was the first-ever offensive line to receive that honor in school history. Keys has a lot of experience playing in alternate football leagues, and he has played in The Spring League and the indoor game.

Lawrence Keys has been grinding away, looking for another opportunity. He was most recently a part of the last session of students at NFL Alumni Academy. Keys was trained by instructors/coaches Mike Tice and Steven Smith. That training and schooling for Keys have undoubtedly helped create a new path for him.

OT: Jalen Flye-Sadler, Lindenwood

Jalen Flye-Sadler is a 6’8 335, pound small-school standout who profiles as a road grader in the run game. The aptly nicknamed “Mountain Mover” has had to move heaven and earth to get a pro playing opportunity after he graduated from Lindenwood University.

Sadler has tried out for the XFL and WWE and has been wrestling with uncertainty since his college playing days.

Flye-Sadler’s pro-day was canceled due to COVID in 2020, That spring after he went undrafted. NFL rookie mini-camps and tryouts were also axed. Since then, he has played football in the Spring League and the indoor game with Fan Controlled Football. While pursuing his pro dreams, he even took the initiative of showing up to the Tennessee Titans practice facility with equipment in hand, looking for an opportunity to play.

The odds are against JFS, but with D.C. expected to be a run-heavy attack in the XFL with a talented backfield and a three-headed monster of mobile quarterbacks. Flye-Sadler could profile as a fit in the Defender’s versatile smash-mouth offense. The odds are against him. But he’s finally in the door again, looking to move another mountain.

TE: Bernard McCall Jr., Livingstone

The first of three new additions to D.C.’s tight end room. Bernard McCall stands out as a jack-of-all-trades who can line up as a tight end, out of the slot, as an H-back, or out of the backfield. A 6-foot-2, 253-pounder with legitimate 4.6 speed, he has an intriguing combination of power and speed that garnered interest from NFL teams despite his Division II background. McCall ended his college career with 2,312 all-purpose yards and 25 touchdowns.

Bernard McCall also stood out during practices at the FCS bowl and College Gridiron Showcase in 2022. Two of many college showcase games that the XFL heavily scouted.

The Defenders already have some versatile offensive players who can play multiple positions, like RB/WR Pooka Williams. Because of his unique skill set, McCall could be a good fit in Fred Kaiss’s offense.

TE: Trae Barry, Boston College

Trae Barry, a Jacksonville State transfer to BC, is one of the more intriguing pro prospects added by an XFL team during this process.

The 6’6, 244lb pass catcher is as raw as it gets but has a high ceiling as developmental talent. He is a former standout high school quarterback who has been a work in progress. However, based on his length, hands, and ball-tracking abilities, many in the NFL scouting community gave Barry a draftable grade in 2022 after he displayed glimpses of brilliance in the FCS and then as a super senior at Boston College.

At B.C. in 2021, Barry produced modest numbers, 21 catches for 362 yards and four scores. However, he came on late as the season progressed and averaged 17 yards per reception. The Defenders have a crowded and talented TE room with former NFL veterans and draft picks like Kahale Warring. But Barry has a chance to stick around if he can show his potential in camp.

TE: Tommy McIntrye, SMU

SMU’s Tommy McIntyre is a 6’8 272 pound blocking tight end. A New Jersey native and former Cornell transfer who was a seldom-used pass receiver for the Mustangs.

Despite his limited body of work and receiving chops. McIntyre received interest from NFL teams and scouts during the 2022 draft process because of his size, strength, and blocking prowess.

The New York Jets got an extended look at the local product in their rookie mini-camp last May.

McIntrye will have his work cut out for him in Defenders’ camp, considering the talent he is competing against at TE. However, his unique skill set as a true blocker in the run game, pass protection, and on special teams could help him even the odds.

DE: Malik Fisher, Villanova

Villanova defensive linemen Malik Fisher is a two-time All-CAA honoree. The 6’4, 265lb New York native had 22 career sacks and 33 tackles for loss during his time at Villanova. Fisher profiles a versatile swingman at DE or DT. He profiles well against the run.

The 2022 NFL Draft prospect Fisher had 46 total tackles in 2021 for the Wildcats, including 16 solo stops and 30 assisted tackles. He tied a career-high with eight tackles on two occasions last year and his overall season stats included 7.5 tackles for loss, one interception, and two forced fumbles.

Fisher went undrafted by NFL teams and was ignored for the most part. Despite being a rookie mini-camp invite with the Indianapolis Colts. But his body of work and leadership traits as an all-academic player at Nova certainly warrant a fairer opportunity than what he has received thus far. Malik Fisher will get that in the District with the Defenders.

DB: Nydair Rouse, West Chester

Nydair Rouse is a well-traveled young defensive back who has spent time in the NFL, CFL, and XFL 2020 with the New York Guardians. I must resist the temptation of writing that he is getting another shot in XFL 2023, considering Rouse’s unique backstory leading into his pro career.

Before, there was the harrowing tale of Washington Commander RB Brian Robinson. The former Alabama standout who recovered from being shot before gloriously overcoming that adversity to lead Washington’s backfield. There was Division II standout Nydair Rouse, who, back in 2016, was shot in the back of his head during a drive-by shooting in Philadelphia.

The bullet was lodged in Rouse’s head, and he wound up driving himself to the local hospital at Temple University. Somehow Rouse pulled the bullet out during this chaotic process.

The fall after the shooting, Nydair Rouse had a breakout sophomore season at West Chester with three interceptions – all of which he returned for touchdowns.

The starring and heroic turn by Rouse in school, coupled with a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash, got him the attention of pro scouts. The Defenders are giving Nydair another opportunity to overcome the odds. Much like all the players XFL 2023 teams have added in recent days.

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I am a pro football writer who has extensively covered and reported on multiple leagues over the years. I started covering the XFL back in 2001. You can follow me on Twitter @byMikeMitchell

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