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2020 XFL Preview: Eastern Conference

by Fran Stuchbury
February 5, 2020 - XFL (XFL)

The XFL launches its return campaign this weekend with eight teams vying for a spot in the league's title game April 26th. The DC Defenders, New York Guardians, St. Louis BattleHawks and Tampa Bay Vipers will battle to represent the Eastern Conference. In the first of a two-part series, we preview the four squads hoping to face the West's best in April.

DC Defenders

DC Defenders

Stadium - Audi Field

Head Coach - Pep Hamilton

Familiar Faces - QB Cardale Jones, RB Donnel Pumphrey, WR Rashad Ross, WR Eli Rogers, LB Jonathan Massaquoi, DT Jay Bromley, LB Scooby Wright

Player to keep an eye on - WR Rashad Ross

Ross is familiar with playing in DC having played in some games with with the Washington Redskins in 2014 and 2015. Last season he competed with the Alliance of American Football's Arizona Hotshots and grabbed 36 receptions for 583 yards and a league-best seven touchdown receptions. Ross was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Wildcats during training camp. Expect Ross to put up big numbers at receiver for the Defenders, as he showed he was capable doing that in the AAF.

Outlook - Leading the Defenders at quarterback will be Cardale Jones who won a national championship with Ohio State in 2014 and was with a backup with the Buffalo Bills in 2016 before being traded to the Los Angeles Chargers (2017 and 2018). University of Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson will serve as the backup.

At running back the Defenders' Donnel Pumphrey was the FBS all-time leading rusher at San Diego State with 6,405 yards. Another runner who will get playing time is Jhurell Pressely who led the AAF in rushing with 430 yards for the Arizona Hotshots.

In addition to Rashad Ross, the Defenders are loaded at the wid receiver position. Eli Rogers hauled in 78 receptions for 822 yards and four touchdown receptions for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2016 to 2018. Jalen Rowell had a school record 2,697 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns at Air Force, impressive numbers at a school that runs the wishbone. He was cut by the Seattle Dragons then claimed by the Defenders.

On defense some names to watch are linebacker Jonathan Massaquoi who had 70 combined tackles with the Atlanta Falcons from 2012 to 2014 and defensive tackle Jay Bromley who was a third round pick in he 2014 NFL Draft by the New York Giants. Joining them are linebacker Scooby Wright who was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year with Arizona in 2014, where he won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Lombardi Award and Chuck Bednarik Award. He last played with the AAF Arizona Hotshots.

New York Guardians

New York Guardians

Stadium - MetLife Stadium

Head Coach - Kevin Gillbride

Familiar Faces - QB Matt McGloin, QB Luis Perez, WR Mekale McKay, LB Ben Heeney, LB Ryan Mueller

Player to keep an eye on - WR Mekale McKay

McKay caught 17 touchdown passes at Cincinnati and also played with the AAF's San Antonio Commanders where he had 22 receptions for 375 yards and four touchdown receptions. At 6'4" McKay has the size to be a red zone target.

Outlook - Leading the Guardians at quarterback will be Matt McGloin, known best for playing at Penn State. He played most of his NFL career with the Oakland Raiders. Luis Perez who played with the AAF Birmingham Iron and Marquise Williams, late of the San Antonio Commanders, will serve as the backups.

At running back Tim Cook and Justin Stockton combined for 508 yards and four rushing touchdowns with the AAF's Arizona Hotshots. Darius Victor rushed for 3,309 yards and scored 41 touchdowns at Towson.

In addition to McKay at receiver, DeAngelo Yancey, who caught 20 touchdown passes while playing at Purdue, will be a good player for them once he gets off short term injured reserve. Any XFL players placed on injured reserve are eligible to play for their team after the third week of the season. Yancey was selected in the first round, third overall, of the XFL Skilled Players Draft by the Guardians. Joe Horn Jr. is the son of former NFL wide receiver Joe Horn.

Linebacker Ryan Mueller is a player to watch on defense. He was the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year for Kansas State in 2013. Linebacker Ben Heeney was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders, where he had 44 total tackles that season.

Cornerback Jamar Summers recorded three interceptions for the AAF Birmingham Iron. He was the number two pick in the XFL Defensive Backs Draft.

St. Louis BattleHawks

St. Louis BattleHawks

Stadium - The Dome at America's Center

Head Coach - Jonathan Hayes

Familiar Faces - QB Jordan Ta'amu, RB Christine Michael, RB Matt Jones, WR De'Mornay Pierson El, DE Will Clarke, S Will Hill, S Dexter McCoil, P Marquette King,

Player to keep an eye on - S Joe Powell

Joe Powell is an over-comer who started his playing career for the Professional Indoor Football League's Lehigh Valley Steelhawks in 2015, earning PIFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. He made it to the Buffalo Bills practice roster in 2016 and also played with Arena Football League's Baltimore Brigade and the AAF's Birmingham Iron. Powell played college football at Globe Institute of Technology, a junior college. He is proof you can play at a small college and still have a pro football career.

Outlook - Jordan Ta'amu was named the BattleHawks starting quarterback. In his senior season at Ole Miss, Ta'amu compiled 3,918 yards and 18 touchdown passes. He's also very mobile, rushing for 342 yards and six touchdowns that season as well. BattleHawks head coach Jonathan Hayes said, "He can make all the throws, he has the ability to run the ball and he can be a duel threat." Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald could be the backup.

The BattleHawks feature a couple of former NFL running backs with Christine Michael and Matt Jones. Michael was a second round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks and won a Super Bowl XLVIII championship with them. Jones was a third round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins.

De'Mornay Pierson-El led the AAF's Salt Lake Stallions with 36 receptions and 414 receiving yards. Another wide receiver that will have an impact is L'Damian Washington. He played in the Canadian Football League with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2017 and AAF Birmingham Iron last year. Keith Mumphrey played college football at Michigan State and was taken in the 5th round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans.

BattleHawks defensive end Will Clarke was a third round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals. At safety Will Hill played four years in the NFL with the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens. Dexter McCoil won a CFL Grey Cup with the Edmonton Eskimos in 2015 and has nine career interceptions in the CFL.

On special teams, punter Marquette King competed five seasons in the NFL with Oakland Raiders.

Expect St. Louis to have the support of the twelfth man, too, as early indications suggest the city will lead the XFL in attendance.

Tampa Bay Vipers

Tampa Bay Vipers

Stadium - Raymond James Stadium

Head Coach - Marc Trestman

Familiar Faces - QB Aaron Murray, QB/RB Quinton Flowers, DE Bobby Richardson, DE Deiontrez Mount, S Corey Moore, K Andrew Franks

Player to keep an eye on - TE Nick Truesdell

Truesdell caught 37 touchdown passes in three seasons in the Arena Football League with the Spokane Shock and the Portland Steel as a wide receiver. He transitioned to a tight end with the AAF's Salt Lake Stallions and caught 24 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns. The Vipers selected him in the first round, 5th overall, of the XFL Skill Players Draft.

Outlook - Aaron Murray will be the staring quarterback for the Tampa Bay Vipers. He was taken in the 5th round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs and recently played for the AAF's Atlanta Legends.

One of the running backs for the Vipers will be De'Veon Smith who is coming off a stinct with the AAF's Orlando Apollos where he rushed for 345 yards and scored six touchdowns. The Vipers will try to get the ball into the hands of Quinton Flowers as a running back and perhaps in the wildcat formation as a quarterback.

Wide receiver Seantavius Jones is no stranger to Murray having also competed for the Legends last season where he grabbed 24 receptions for 298 yards. Tanner McEvoy recently spent time with the NFL's Seattle Seahawks in 2016 and 2017. Donteea Dye played with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and recently with the AAF's Orlando Apollos.

Defensive end Bobby Richardson had 40 total tackles in 2015 for the New Orleans Saints. Defensive end Deiontrez Mount was a sixth round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans. Safety Corey Moore played in the NFL with the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts.

On special teams kicker Andrew Franks played two seasons with the NFL Miami Dolphins in 2015 and 2016.

Coming tomorrow: Fran Stuchbury's XFL Western Conference Preview.

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