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XFL 2023: A Deep Dive Into The D.C. Defenders’ Offense, 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.

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.

Let’s take a deep dive into D.C.’s current roster on offense 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: Offense

Quarterbacks: D’Eriq King, Miami, Eric Dungey, Syracuse (2)

Think of D’Eriq King and Eric Dungey as a potential Kyler Murray/Taysom Hill tandem in D.C. Two mobile dual-threat quarterbacks with uniquely different skill sets. Both players should see the field every week in offensive coordinator Fred Kaiss’s offense. Perhaps even at the same time.

King, 25 years old, a former WR turned weapon, at 5’9 196, ironically enough broke all of Kyler Murray’s high school records in Manvel, Texas. Dungey, a 26-year-old 6’4 226lb freight train, has seen time on NFL rosters as a tight end. A position that the 6’2 226lb Taysom Hill moonlights at in the NFL.

The one prevailing knock against both King and Dungey has been their durability. Both players have dynamic skill sets but have seen their fair share of injuries throughout their playing careers. Because of this, it’s extremely likely that the Defenders add to their quarterback position in January.

XFL 2023 Supplemental Draft/QB Assignment Options

The question becomes, will the Defenders stay on script, and add another mobile option at the QB position? Or will D.C. decide to add a more traditional pocket passer to serve as a contrast in their quarterback room?

On the latter side of the fence, the Defenders could entertain adding two-time Mount West offensive player of the year Carson Strong. The rookie signal-caller from Nevada has spent time with two NFL teams this season. Most recently on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad. Strong is part of a group of young passers who have worked with the XFL’s Director of QB development Jordan Palmer.

Staying along those lines of QBs who the XFL as announced publicly as participants at Palmer’s mini-camp. The Defenders could look to add a young mobile passer to go along with their current group in Khalil Tate.

Once upon a time, the dual-threat Tate out of Arizona was one of the nation’s brightest stars. Khalil Tate exploded on the scene with the Wildcats and made himself a household name. As a sophomore, Tate rushed for over 1,400 yards, scoring twelve touchdowns, while averaging over nine yards per rush. Khalil Tate also completed over 62 percent of his passes in his super soph season and started to show more production in that area as a junior. (2,530 yards passing, 26 touchdowns to eight interceptions). But a scheme and coaching change from Rich Rodriguez to Kevin Sumlin changed his career trajectory.

Tate never recaptured his early form in school and wound up going undrafted as a pro. The Philadelphia Eagles would sign him with the intention of playing Tate at receiver but the experiment wouldn’t last very long. Tate has also tried his hand in Canada with two different CFL teams (Toronto/Edmonton) but he was unable to stick up north. Khalil could find a new lease on life in D.C.

With the rookie King, and Dungey having limited pro playing experience. It’s also feasible that D.C. could look to add a veteran signal-caller who does. One quarterback who could fit that bill is 27-year-old veteran Ryan Finley. The first-team All-ACC gunslinger out of NC State is a former fourth-round draft pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2019. Finley was last in the NFL on the Houston Texans roster. He’s played in eight NFL games with four career starts. It’s not an extensive amount of experience but nonetheless, it’s enough to make him a consideration for D.C.’s QB room.

Enticing veterans currently on an NFL practice squad to take the leap like Brett Hundley (Ravens) for example would be extremely challenging.

But Hundley is a veteran that the XFL’s football ops team has shown interest in during the recruitment process. Any addition of quarterbacks like Hundley would instantly put them in the driver’s seat to start at the position immediately. To entice vets like that, you almost have to guarantee them the keys to the car.

The Defenders are equipped to go to war during the season with their current tandem at Quarterback. But D.C. could stand to add another soldier into the room. If only to provide added insurance.

Running Backs: Abram Smith, Baylor, Pooka Williams, Kansas, Artavis Pierce, Oregon State, Ryquell Armstead, Temple (4)

The Defenders have one of the deepest backfields in the XFL. However, First overall pick, Abram Smith, the nation’s fifth-leading rusher at Baylor in 2021 is a hot property on the NFL workout circuit. The rookie Smith has worked out for nearly a dozen NFL teams. Most recently with the New York Giants. As a result, there’s no guarantee that Smith makes it to XFL training camp next month.

Luckily for D.C., they have a lot of depth at this position. But if they were to lose Smith to the NFL. It’s possible they could bring on board another running back. Veterans De’Veon Smith and Tim Cook, two XFL 2020 players in the draft pool bring a lot to the table as hard-nosed runners.

An intriguing player to monitor would have been Virginia State RB/KR Trenton Cannon. Because of his connection to former head coach Reggie Barlow. But unfortunately, the NFL veteran suffered a torn ACL earlier this year as a member of the Tennessee Titans.

Another fascinating veteran who also has ties to the DMV is RB Trey Edmunds. The 6’2 223lb bruiser with 4.48 timed speed played at VaTech and Maryland.

Edmunds has been in the NFL since 2017 with the Saints and Steelers up until this past summer. He has averaged 4.5 yards per rush in limited duty as mostly a backup in the NFL. But perhaps a veteran like Edmunds can add a lot to the Defenders running back stable. Edmunds has the versatility to play fullback if needed as well.

One player that could be an option for D.C. at running back is Saginaw Valley State standout, Nate McCrary. The 6’0 213lb tailback was extremely productive in college at the Division II level. The first-team All-GLIAC selection and track star has been on the fringe of NFL team rosters the last two seasons, having four different stints with three different teams. McCrary was most recently released from the Carolina Panthers practice squad.

Wide Receivers: Jequezz Ezzard, Sam Houston State, Jazz Ferguson, Northwestern State, K.D. Cannon, Baylor, Manasseh Bailey, Morgan State, Simmie Cobbs, Indiana, Josh Hammond, Florida, Lucky Jackson, Western Kentucky, Zimari Manning, Tarleton State (8)

The Defenders have a very diverse receiver room. They have a unique collection of jumbo-sized targets like Jazz Ferguson and Simmie Cobbs and undersized dynamic players like Jequezz Ezzard.

On the surface, WR doesn’t appear to be a pressing need with eight players in tow at the position. But considering the fact that Reggie Barlow is a former NFL receiver himself. You can’t rule out the possibility of the Defenders adding another body to the mix.

There is no shortage of pro-free-agent receivers available on the open market. The market is flooded with players at the position who have been on and off NFL teams the last few seasons. For example, a couple of compelling veteran options who could be nearing the end of the NFL line are Cyril Grayson and Tajae Sharpe. Both players have NFL game experience but have never been put in a position to become featured pass targets in the big league. The XFL can provide that avenue for them.

If the Defenders are looking to add speed at wide receiver. The one receiver who could race out in front of the pack is former Cincinnati Bengals first-round pick, John Ross. The first-team All-Pac 12 speedster infamously ran a record 4.22 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in 2017. The 27-year-old Long Beach Native hasn’t been able to live up to the hype ever since he blazed his way into the National Football League. He has recorded only 62 receptions for 957 yards and eleven touchdowns in his five seasons of play.

John Ross hasn’t been on an NFL roster since 2021. He’s still looking for his way back in. Perhaps in the XFL, he can find the redemption he seeks. Leagues like the XFL were made for players like John Ross.

On the rookie side, there’s prolific Western Kentucky WR Jerreth Sterns. The one-year sensation with the Hilltoppers led the nation in 2021 in receiving yards (1,902) on 150 catches and scored 17 touchdowns catching passes from current New England Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe. The 5’9 195lb Sterns doesn’t have the prototypical size or timed speed at 4.62 in the 40. But the productivity is hard to ignore. Regardless of the level of competition or offensive scheme.

Tight Ends: Briley Moore-McKinney, Kansas State, Kahale Warring, San Diego State, Ethan Wolf, Tennessee (3)

D.C. has one of the more talented tight-end rooms in the XFL. Ethan Wolf and former 2019 third-round draft pick of the Houston Texans, Kahale Warring have a ton of NFL experience.

Briley Moore is a high-upside player. The former All-State player out of Missouri was a first-team All-MVFC player at Northern Iowa before a shoulder injury cut his ascent short. The college WR turned tight end landed with the Tennessee Titans in 2021 and started turning heads in camp before unfortunately suffering a torn ACL which wiped out his rookie season. The Titans let go of the All-Big 12 player in August but the 6’4 240lb Moore has been getting a lot of looks on the NFL tryout circuit of late. Another NFL team could bank on him returning to form next season.

The Defenders might not be in the market for another tight end. But there are two intriguing young pros available currently on the open market. One of them is 2020 Third-Round draft selection out of Virginia Tech Dalton Keene, who hasn’t been able to stick in the NFL with three different teams the last few seasons.

The second TE who could be a great fit in the XFL is 2019 second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. The Spanish-born 6’2 225lb WR has most recently seen time at the tight end position with the Philadelphia Eagles, and Seattle Seahawks. The XFL or D.C., in this case, could be the perfect training ground for Whiteside to make the transition.

Offensive Linemen: Ty Clary, Arkansas, Cody Conway, Syracuse, Liam Fornadel, James Madison, D’Marcus Hayes, Georgia, Greg Long, Purdue, Michael Maetti, Missouri, T.J. Storment, Texas Tech, Dwayne Wallace, Kansas, Tyler Witt, Purdue (9)

You can never have enough quality offensive linemen. This is arguably the toughest position to fill in pro football. Particularly in alternative non-NFL leagues. However, the Defenders have some real gems in this group.

Anytime you can add an All-SEC center like Michael Maietti. You are off to a good start. The 6’1 290lb Mizzou standout was an All-SEC first-team selection by the Associated Press, Pro Football Focus, and USA Today. He was graded as the number two center in the 2022 NFL Draft class by Pro Football Focus.

Maietti started 56 consecutive games at Center dating back to 2017. That’s a ton of starting experience at a very high level of college football.

The Defenders have several offensive linemen in tow at the position who have extensive college starting experience.

T.J. Storment is a left tackle who played 38 games on the FBS level at Texas Tech, and T.C.U.. He was an All-Big-12 player, allowing only two sacks at TCU before jumping to Tech in 2021. At 6’7 320, the super senior had a great season with the Red Raiders last year. He played over 700 snaps last season. Storment made 31 starts in the Big 12.

C/G/T Ty Clary has made 39 career starts in college over five seasons with the Razorbacks. The 6’5 311lb Liam Fornadel started 41 games at JMU. A first-team All-Conference player who encountered some injuries late in his collegiate career. Fornadel was initially a guard, before making starts at right and left tackle. Yet another player from the 2022 NFL draft class.

Despite the promise and potential of this group. There’s no doubt that the Defenders football brass will be looking to add more offensive linemen through the next phase of player acquisitions.

Finding young veterans with game experience in the NFL is definitely more challenging. One player who could be of interest is G/T Caleb Benenoch. The Nigerian-born swing lineman has 22 career starts in the NFL. Originally a fourth-round draft pick out of UCLA by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2016. Benenoch, 28, is a well-traveled veteran who has spent time with eight different NFL teams. He was most recently let go by the New York Jets at final cuts this summer.

Guard Jordan Simmons also falls into the same category as Caleb Benenoch. A young veteran with starting experience in the NFL. Simmons has played 25 games with nine career starts. He was most recently with the Buffalo Bills this summer. The 6’4 339lb road-grader has experience as a former defensive tackle and brings that nasty demeanor to the offensive line.

One player who hasn’t realized his upside in the NFL is former Oklahoma OT Adrian Ealy. The 6’6 326lb former four-star recruit was a late bloomer in college who declared early for the 2021 draft. The All-Big 12 tackle has spent time with six different NFL teams in the last two years since going undrafted. What’s most telling about the 23-year-old’s NFL journey to this point is how he has been brought back to teams who initially released him. (LA Rams/Baltimore Ravens). A clear sign that teams like his talent and are hoping for progression.

XFL teams like the D.C. Defenders can provide an avenue for players like Ealy to play and develop. Something that isn’t available for players on the fringe who yo-yo back and forth on the lower end of NFL rosters.

Final Analysis

The Defenders on offense have the look of a diverse run-heavy team. D.C. has two dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks, a deep backfield, big blocking receivers and tight ends, and gadget players like Pooka Williams and Jequezz Ezzard who can line up at a variety of positions.

By default, the Defenders’ should be one of the league’s best rushing teams. They have a talented group of young offensive linemen and an offensive coordinator in Fred Kaiss who has had a long history of success running the football at a high level.

Over the years, Kaiss has consistently coordinated some of the top-scoring and rushing teams on the FCS level. Many of his offenses over the years have averaged over 30 points per game and 200 yards rushing per contest.

In 2013, with Reggie Barlow as ASU head coach, the Hornets averaged 36 points and 430 yards per game.  The Hornets were the top rushing team in the conference averaging 231.5 yards per game, ranking 14th in the nation among all Football Championship Series teams. The success on the ground led to RB Isaiah Crowell playing six years in the NFL.

Playing outdoors at Audi Field in D.C., particularly in the months of February and March will call for success playing smash-mouth football. Through the next phase of player acquisitions. The Defenders could look to add more speed at receiver, and more linemen, along with another quarterback. But on paper right now, the DNA of D.C.’s offense looks pretty set.

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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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