The new version of the XFL is almost upon us and we could not be more excited! Recently, we touched on the offense for the New York Guardians and who will be playmakers for that side of the ball. Today we will tell you that the playmakers for this team will be on the defensive side of the ball. This defensive unit is very strong and could be one of the best in the XFL. Jim Herrmann a former standout defensive coach for Michigan will be the defensive coordinator. He helped Michigan win a championship behind a strong defensive effort that let up only 9.5 points per game. He also was the Giants linebacker coach during Super Bowl 46. We expect the Guardians to utilize four down linemen, and lean on this secondary. Let us dive into this defensive unit and break down each level of the Guardian defense.
The defensive line for this unit has a lot of interesting prospects. TJ Barnes and Joey Mbu Jr. are two very big defensive tackles for this group. Barnes had a brief stint in the NFL where he played several games from 2014 to 2016. He comes in at 6’6” and weighs a massive 355 pounds. Mbu is a bit smaller at 6’3” 330 pounds, but he is a bit more athletic than Barnes. Together they should fill up the middle of the line and be a run stuffing duo. One question for me is, can they handle the tempo of the XFL? Both players are very large, which could help or hurt them. Of course they do have the size to be able to be tremendous run stuffers. However, they also have the size to struggle with the tempo of the XFL.
The ends the New York Guardians have talent and experience. Victor Ochi broke the career sack record and tackle for loss during his time at Stony Brook. He had a brief stint in the NFL before tearing his ACL. He should be the top pass rusher for this unit and I expect big things out of him. Opposite of him will be former Oklahoma State star Jarrell Owens. Owens was a second team all Big 12 his senior season finishing the year with 6 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. The duo has the speed and agility to be a relentless pass rush with both players converging on the quarterback. Look for both of them to be playmakers in the pass and run if the interior of the line struggles. The depth of this unit is key as well in order to keep fresh during passing situations.
The linebacker core for the New York Guardians could be a sneakily top tier group. Led by Ben Heeney, I expect this unit to excel on every single down. Heeney was a terrific prospect how had a great rookie season with the Oakland Raiders. Injuries plagued his career, but when healthy he is very tough and smart. He will be the do it all guy for this front seven. The other top playmaker on this unit will be D’Juan Hines. The former all AAC first team has a knack for being around the ball at all times. He is very good in the run ground and covers a lot of the field when playing. The combination of Heeney’s intelligence and Hines’ playmaking skills makes for a 1-2 punch that will be the key to the Guardian’s defensive success.
Rounding out the linebacker core will be a combination Nick DeLuca and Frank Ginda. I expect both players to be on the field any given game and whoever can separate themselves from the other will get the starting role. DeLuca had a very impressive college career and started two games with the Jaguars. An all FCS player at North Dakota State, DeLuca brings a winning culture to this team. During his tenure there he won four straight FCS Titles. Ginda played for a small school as well at San Jose State, where he led the nation in tackles in 2017. Most recently he played with the AAF San Diego Fleet where again he led the team in tackles. I expect both players to play a significant role this year, however this could be the weakest spot for the linebacker core.
The New York Guardians will have a top notch secondary unit to lead this team. I have very high expectations for this unit and expect them to be the backbone of this defense. Jamar Summers is a shutdown corner who by the end of the year could be a defensive player of the year candidate. During his time in the AAF, he was graded by PFF as the top cornerback in the league. In the Guardians last scrimmage, he picked off Cardale Jones on the first play from scrimmage and returned it for a touchdown. If he can continue to shut down opposing teams top wide receivers, then this unit can work around his play and control games. Of course in this offensive minded league that may be difficult, but I certainly trust in his playmaking ability.
Two other cornerbacks that will be relied heavily on are David Rivers and Terrence Alexander. Being that this league is driven for offenses to pass, I expect both guys to have a big role in key passing downs. Rivers comes in at 6 foot and is very athletic which will help him match up against top not receivers. Alexander is one of the smartest players on this defensive unit. In fact, he is so smart that 2 years ago he was offered a job at a cyber security company earning six figures, which he would eventually turn down. This would help him continue his football career and earn this opportunity. He is a bit smaller than the other cornerbacks on the team, however, he should make an impact covering other team’s slot receivers. The cornerbacks will be the strength of this unit and one of the best in the league.
The safety position is not as strong as the cornerbacks, but they still should have some decent play. A.J. Hendy has emerged as a top candidate to start at one of the safety positions. He has been able to track the ball very well and has good coverage skills. During his time at Maryland he had a very good career, but he only emerged as a practice squad player in the NFL. Expect him to make the most of this opportunity. Starting at the other safety most likely will be Dravon Henry. Henry played for West Virginia and was asked to do a lot in their unique scheme. He was very durable and made a bunch of tackles from his safety position during his career. Expect him to be up in the box when need be and be a bruiser of a safety.
If the New York Guardians are going to be able to contend in the XFL their defense will have to make plays. The XFL is set up for high scoring, big plays, and offensive shootouts. The defensive line will have to get pressure from their ends in order to get passers off rhythm. The cornerback group and specifically Jamar Summers will have to lock down opposing wide receivers in order to help out this front seven. My biggest concern for this unit is the defensive tackles being able to hold up with the pace and Herrmann will mostly be rotating players in constantly to keep them fresh. If they are not able to hold up against the run, it will make it almost impossible to stop opposing offenses. For the next few weeks in New York, this defense now becomes their “Guardians”. Any hope at a championship goes through them.