Written by: Joe Couch @DCDefenders2020
The wait is finally over football fans! The XFL is back after a 19-year layoff and better than ever. In January of 2018, the XFL announced that they would be returning to the gridiron in 2020. The first stint of the XFL in 2001 did not go as planned, as fans thought the quality of play was poor and was often made fun of by the media. Vince McMahon, the founder of the XFL in 2001, has decided to try again, but this time make the league “fan friendly.” The league is designed to speed up play while making the action entertaining for all the fans and media involved. ABC and ESPN will broadcast 22 games this season, making it easier for fans to follow along and watch every game. The first official game of the “new” XFL will take place at Audi Field in Washington, DC between the Seattle Dragons and the DC Defenders.
The DC Defenders are one of the early favorites to win the XFL League Championship on April 26 of this year. The Defenders are led by quarterback, Cardale Jones. Jones is a former collegiate quarterback out of the Ohio State University. Jones was a third string in 2014 behind Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. Braxton Miller got hurt before the season started, moving Jones to second on the depth chart. The final regular season game against the University of Michigan, J.T. Barrett got injured, meaning Jones was the next man up. Jones handled the pressure by having one of the craziest three game stretches in college football history. He led Ohio State to a blow-out victory over the University of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship, resulting in the Buckeyes getting a college football playoff berth. Jones went on to cement his legacy in Buckeye history, as he led the Buckeyes to a National Championship by beating the University of Alabama and the University of Oregon in the college football playoff. Cardale Jones ended up playing in the NFL, but never really had job security with any team he was on. Jones is now in the XFL and is looking to prove again that he can lead a football team to the promise land.
The Defenders also have a running back, who is cemented in college and professional football history. Donnel Pumphrey, from the University of San Diego State, is the NCAA FBS All-Time leading rusher, as he rushed for 6,405 yards during his collegiate career with the Aztecs. Pumphrey then went into the NFL and played for the Philadelphia Eagles during their Super Bowl winning season. He was hurt for the end of the season and the playoffs, but Pumphrey’s attitude and leadership helped the Eagles slay the dragon and beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52. Pumphrey should be a key factor this season but will be sharing carries with Jhurell Pressley, a former Minnesota Viking, and Nick Brossette, a running back out of LSU. Brossette is expected to be more of a third-down back, as he provides a different unique speed for this Defenders team.
Even though the Defenders have a quarterback and running back that are both extremely accomplished, the strength of this Defenders offense will be in the receiving core. Former Pittsburgh Steeler, Eli Rogers, will be the number one target for Cardale Jones. Rogers was an impact player for the Steelers during his tenure, but injuries and off the field issues led to Rogers getting released. He will be a big-time target for Cardale Jones throughout the year. Behind Rogers on the depth chart is receiver, Rashad Ross, who played for the Arizona State University in college and made an impact for the Washington Redskins in the NFL. Rounding out the receiving depth chart is Tyler Palka, who played in the CFL and produced huge numbers, Malachi Dupre, who left his mark on LSU for three seasons before deciding to go to the NFL, DeAndre Thompkins who played in Philadelphia for the Eagles, and Simmie Cobbs, who is a former Indiana University standout. Having Rogers, Ross, Palka, Dupre, Thompkins, and Cobbs lining up at receiver for the Defenders shows just how strong this receiving core is for this team.
Of course, having a game-changing quarterback like Cardale Jones is helpful, but making sure he is protected and giving him enough time to throw an accurate pass is still very important for this team to reach their goals. The offensive line for this Defenders team is built on blitz pick-ups and versatility. The starting offensive line for DC will include Jon Toth, James O’Hagan, Chris Brown, Rishard Cook, and Logan Tuley-Tillman. Look for Cardale Jones to be in good hands and well protected throughout this Defenders season.
The defensive line is built on toughness and quickness, as this unit is led by Tracy Sprinkle, a former defensive tackle from the Ohio State University. Also, on the defensive line is Elijah Qualls, Jay Bromley, and Kenny Bigelow. The only concern from this unit is their outside defensive ends, which includes former New Orleans Saint, Tavaris Barnes, and former Cincinnati Bengal, Sam Montgomery. If the Defenders can round their defensive ends into shape during this season, the sky's the limit for this defensive line.
The linebacking core for the Defenders is stacked, as it includes former NFL players, A.J. Tarpley, Scooby Wright, Jonathan Celestin, and Jonathan Massaquoi. Tarpley was an impact player in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills, but battled concussions throughout his career, which led to his exit out of the league. Scooby Wright is a former Pac-12 and National Defensive Player of the Year at the University of Arizona. If this linebacker group can stay healthy and do the little things on the field, the Defenders have a chance to have the best linebackers in the XFL.
The nucleus of this defense for the Defenders is their defensive backs. Former NFL game-changers, Matt Elam and Rahim Moore, lead the safety group for the Defenders. This group is rounded out by Shamarko Thomas, who has NFL experience as well, along with Carlos Merritt, who was an impact player last season in the AAF. At the cornerback position, former Jacksonville Jaguars Jalen Myrick will lead this group. Myrick will be one of the fastest cornerbacks in the XFL. Bradley Sylve and Elijah Campbell round out the cornerbacks for the Defenders. This secondary unit should be one of the best in the XFL and create many issues for opposing teams.
On special teams, the Defenders have Ty Rausa, a kicker out of Boise State University, and Hunter Niswander, a punter out of Northwestern University. Rausa kicked for an indoor football team in 2019. Niswander was always a very consistent punter at Northwestern and averaged over 42 yards per punt during his collegiate career.
The DC Defenders have the pieces to the puzzle that could end up leading them to an XFL League Championship. The Defenders will be led by head coach, Pep Hamilton. Hamilton has worked at the collegiate level and at the professional level for multiple teams. His track record is there, and he has studied under enough great coaches that he should be able to take what he has learned and apply it to this Defenders football team. The inaugural game for the DC Destroyers is here and it is time to lock into the XFL and all 8 of their teams. The season is officially here, and it looks like it should be a barnburner of a season, so buckle up and enjoy the ride everyone.