Fear not, football fans, for the XFL is here to fulfill your football needs after the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory until NFL training camps open up again.
That’s right, the reboot of the professional football league that played one season in 2001 spawned from Vince McMahon’s WWE begins anew this weekend with a pair of games each on Saturday and Sunday.
The Houston Roughnecks open their season Saturday at 5 p.m. at the home of the University of Houston Cougars, TDECU Stadium in downtown Houston, against the Los Angeles Wildcats. The roster features plenty of players with NFL and high-level college experience as well as several Texas ties starting with the head coach and general manager, June Jones.
The former quarterback who made stops at the Universities of Oregon and Hawaii and Portland State University before playing 17 games for the Atlanta Falcons from 1977 to 1981 has compiled a 35-year coaching career at all levels from high school to college to professional football.
His second coaching gig was wide receivers’ coach for the 1984 Houston Gamblers of the USFL who made the playoffs each of their two years in the league’s three-year existence. He made his return to Houston to be the quarterbacks coach of the Houston Oilers for 1987 and 1988, where he led Warren Moon to the first of eight consecutive Pro Bowl seasons.
He went back to his roots and served as the head coach at the University of Hawaii from 1999 to 2007 where he honed his Run N’ Shoot offense that saw junior quarterback Colt Brennan set a single-season passing touchdown record with 58. That mark from 2006 stood until this year’s campaign where LSU’s senior signal caller Joe Burrow threw 60 touchdowns although he played an extra game than Brennan.
The question now is which quarterback is going to be calling the shots for him wearing the Roughnecks’ colors.
PJ Walker and Connor Cook have both been taking reps at quarterback for the Roughnecks through their mini-camp and two scrimmages. Walker was a starter at Temple for three and a half years and Cook started at Michigan State for three full years and both set program records and won big games in the college ranks.
Walker spent time on the Colts’ practice squad but never made the 53-man and Cook was drafted by the Raiders and got a start in the playoffs against the Texans. He completed 18 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown in a 27-14 loss in the Wild Card round of 2016.
They’ll have plenty of weapons to find the open field, including Sammie Coates and Kahlil Lewis out wide.
Coates had a brief stint with the Texans in 2018 where he suited up for 12 games and caught only one pass but also played special teams. He made his name in the NFL with the Steelers who drafted him in the third round, catching 21 passes in 2016 for 435 yards and two touchdowns.
Lewis caught 168 passes for 2,116 yards and 21 touchdowns and ran 12 times for 151 yards and a touchdown, over his four-year career at the University of Cincinnati, and will look to provide a deep threat for the offense.
Although the scheme is called “Run N’ Shoot,” it’s a pass-first style which relies on the running backs to pass protect more often than run the ball but the Roughnecks still have a solid option in Andre Williams, the 2013 Doak Walker Award winner and Heisman Trophy finalist from Boston College.
Williams played two years for the New York Giants, a year with the San Diego Chargers and a year with the Los Angeles Chargers and totaled 1,090 yards on 332 carries with eight touchdowns although seven of them were scored in his rookie season.
Another Texans tie comes in the defensive backfield with Charles James II. The cornerback was part of a trade with the St. Louis BattleHawks that sent him and offensive guard Juwann Bushell-Beatty to Houston in exchange for cornerback Robert Nelson Jr.