Dragons, Defenders set to kick off relaunched XFL on Saturday
The XFL will take the field on Saturday for the second edition of the league under the direction of Vince McMahon and Oliver Luck. One of the opening games on Saturday will have the Seattle Dragons hitting the road to the nation’s capital to take on the DC Defenders. Audi Field, the home of Major League Soccer's DC United, will host the XFL's kickoff game.
Seattle will be led by former Seahawks quarterback Jim Zorn at head coach who has a big challenge ahead of him as the oddsmakers in Vegas view the Dragons as the longest shot to win the XFL title. However, those long odds shouldn’t intimidate as he was the first starting quarterback for the Seahawks when they were an expansion team back in 1976. There are six guys on the Dragons' 52-man roster with Seahawk ties — wide receivers Kasen Williams and Keenan Reynolds, quarterback B.J. Daniels, cornerback Mohamed Seisay, tackle Isaiah Battle, and defensive tackle Tani Tupou.
Pep Hamilton is the head coach of the DC Defenders and he will have an aggressive offensive mentality that should be highly entertaining to watch. Former Ohio State Buckeye Cardale Jones will be the starting quarterback and his previous NFL experience should help him hit the ground running in the new XFL and see some early success. There is also the motivation for Jones to put together some quality tape as he looks to get another shot in the NFL. The defense has some familiar names to college football fans as Scooby Wright (Arizona) and A.J. Tarpley (Stanford) will lead a linebacking core that has the potential to cause havoc for the rest of the XFL.
Seattle at DC
Kickoff: Saturday, Feb. 8 at 2 p.m. ET
Where: Audi Field (Washington, D.C.)
Spread: Defenders -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Dragons offense
Brandon Silvers has previous experience playing in the short-lived AAF, getting in a few games for the Memphis Express last spring. Silvers completed 64 percent of his passes while throwing for 799 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions in those contests. He also spent about a month with the New York Jets after the AAF ceased operations, and this experience will be needed as he leads Seattle's offense. Dragons offensive coordinator Mike Riley has a proven track record of developing quarterbacks from his time as the head coach at Oregon State so look for him to give Silvers a bit of a longer leash early on to see what he is made of. Seattle also has B.J. Daniels as an option at quarterback. Kenneth Farrow and Trey Williams will be counted on along with Ja’Quan Gardner to provide a consistent running game that will keep opposing defenses off balance. Wide receiver will be interesting to watch as Williams and Reynolds will be familiar faces to Seahawks fans. These guys will need to get separation and give Silvers the opportunity to hit on a couple of deep balls to put the Defenders secondary on their heels.
2. Offensive line play
This part of the game is going to be very interesting to watch across the XFL. If this league is going to have any sort of staying power, it will need every team's offensive line to at least provide adequate protection in order to keep the quarterbacks healthy. The Dragons used their first pick in the offensive line phase of October's draft on tackle Isaiah Battle, who bounced around with several NFL teams (never saw any regular-season game action), including the Seahawks in 2018. Battle and guard Cyril Richardson (appeared in 12 games for Buffalo in 2014) are expected to anchor the Dragons' offensive line. How quickly this group comes together collectively will likely determine how successful Riley's offense fares this season.
The Defenders are going to have a similar challenge as their offensive line will be taking their first snaps together as a unit so things like pre-snap penalties are something to watch. Neither offense wants to get behind the sticks early and a lot of pre-snap penalties could also bog this game down, something the XFL doesn't want to see in its first game.
3. DC’s running game
The best friend of a quarterback is a good running game and the Defenders are set in that area with the running back duo of Donnel Pumphrey and Jhurell Pressley. Pumphrey is the all-time leader in FBS history with 6,405 rushing yards in four seasons at San Diego State while Pressley impressed during his stint with AAF's Arizona Hotshots, leading the way with 431 rushing yards. was a big-time player at San Diego State as rushed for 6,405 yards and 62 touchdowns in his time with the Aztecs. It may take a couple of possessions for the running game to get in a rhythm for DC but if Hamilton and his coaching staff can stay patient, they should see some big plays on the ground in the second half.
There are a lot of unknowns when you head into an initial game of a new league so this matchup will probably feature some twists and turns (along with some ugly-looking football at times), as both teams try to figure each other out. The home crowd along with Cardale Jones should be enough to propel DC past Seattle, as the Defenders have the advantage of not having to fly nearly 3,000 miles and across multiple time zones. Those intangibles along with Jones' experience will give Pep Hamilton win number one and give DC some early-season momentum.
Prediction: Defenders 29, Dragons 23
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ScottWhittum.
(Top graphic courtesy of @XFLDefenders)