Feb 8, 2020; Houston, TX, USA; General view of a Houston Roughnecks helmet during a XFL football game against the Los Angeles Wildcats at TDECU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Orlando Guardians at Houston Roughnecks

The Matchup:

Orlando Guardians (0-0) at Houston Roughnecks (0-0)

Game Time: Sat. Feb. 18, 7:30 p.m.


What’s at stake: It’s officially Round 3 for the XFL, after their 2020 season was killed by the pandemic. The Roughnecks were 5-0 when the XFL ceased operations due to COVID, and head coach Wade Phillips is well aware of the legacy of that team. Coach Phillips is looking to keep the Roughnecks franchise undefeated, and has three straight home games to start the season to get off to a strong start, beginning with a game against division rival Orlando.

When the Roughnecks have the ball: Houston will run the Mike Leach inspired Air-Raid offense, led by Quarterback Brandon Silvers. Former USC star wide receiver Deontay Burnett, who caught three NFL passes as a member of the Jets and later the Eagles, will be one of Silvers’ primary targets, alongside former LSU wide receiver Jontre Kirklin and speedster Justin Smith.

Former Washington State running back Max Borghi is a versatile player that coach Phillips is very high on.

Tight end Garrett Owens was the 9th pick in the XFL Draft. at 6-3, 235, he is extremely versatile and has very good speed (10.8 100M). He could see time at tight end, wide receiver, and running back. Look for him to be one of Silvers’ top targets.

When the Guardians have the ball: Coach Terrell Buckley wants to use a lot of movement and misdirection to create big plays on offense. The Guardians’ offense is quarterbacked by former Denver Broncos first round pick Paxton Lynch. The offense should be very aggressive.

A pair of former NFL wideouts make for Lynch’s top targets, former Broncos second round pick and Super Bowl champion Cody Latimer and former Pittsburgh Steelers WR Eli Rogers.

Key Roughnecks to watch:

LB Trent Harris: Coach Phillips loves Harris as a pass rusher and thinks “he might be the sack king of this league.” Phillips famous 3-4 defense is known for bringing tons of pressure and the legendary coach certainly knows a thing about pass rushers. The five-year NFL veteran has played on five different teams, and his terrific speed could make him very difficult to block in this league.

DL Trevon Mason: The former Arizona star started all four years for the Wildcats. At 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, Coach Phillips has described him as a “monster on the interior”. He could be both a run stuffer and a pocket pusher as someone who demands double-teams because of his brute strength.

S A.J. Hendy: Phillips likes Hendy as a player, calling him “smart and active”. Hendy has played 4 years in the NFL and 3 years in the CFL.

The Bottom Line: Phillips knows that the 2020 Roughnecks were both undefeated and enjoyed some of the best support in the XFL at TDECU Stadium.

Coach Phillips is looking forward to a successful season and has been impressed with many of the players he has on his squad. He also knows how to get the most out of players:

“The way I’ve always coached – and I’ve been at this for a little while now — it’s about the players and not a scheme or a script you may have in your head coming in. See what you have and tailor to their strengths. You know, if you got a great player and he then doesn’t do well in your scheme, that means you’ve got a bad scheme. I’ve been with Aaron Donald and JJ Watt and Reggie White and it’s simple… you’ve got to let those guys play and you’ve got to put them in a situation where they do what they do well.  We’ve always melded our defense to the players’ strengths, and then offensively we’re doing the same thing. I’ve got a coaching staff that understands and agrees, top to bottom.”

Considering the struggles of the Houston Texans, a good start by the Roughnecks could create a good groundswell of support for the latest version of the team.

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