Bears News: Previewing the XFL: Orlando Guardians

Bears News: Previewing the XFL: Orlando Guardians

by - Senior Writer -

The logo may be the same, and the team may be the same, but the city and state are different. After going 2-3 under Kevin Gillbride in 2020, the former New York Guardians of the XFL ceased operations and elected not to return for this reboot. Granted a lot of that wasn't their fault, as poor attendance last time was the deciding factor in them not returning.

With the Guardians Logo and name still intact, a new city was set to become the host city as Orlando will once again have a spring league team. Considering that the Tampa Bay Vipers also lost their XFL team, adding a Florida team makes a ton of sense and is an excellent play by the XFL brass.

When it comes to spring leagues, Spring Football in Orlando is familiar with the Orlando Apollos participating in the AAF and going 7-1 under Steve Spurrier. If that is the type of success this team can have, things will be buzzing in Florida, but a lot of work needs to be done for them to play at that level.

Let's be clear, Spurrier would have been a heck of an XFL coach, but he isn't walking through that door anytime soon. Instead, Longtime NFL CB Terrell Buckley will be taking the reins as he is another one of those former players turned head coach. The success of Buckley will not only come down to player execution, but also the ability of his coaching staff to put this team in the correct positions to succeed.

The offensive coaching staff will consist of Robert Ford (OC and RB coach), Lamar Thomas (WR/Special Teams/ ASST. Head Coach), Shane Matthews (QB), Brett Johnson (TE), and Keith Wagner (OL). Ford has a ton of NFL coaching experience, but hasn't been on the sidelines in over a decade, so it will be interesting to see how he does calling plays.

On the Defensive staff, you will have Buckley making some suggestions, but Tony Carter will be the team's Defensive Coordinator and CB coach. His staff will also include Ty Warren (DL), Mark Snyder (LB), and Ronnie Lee (Safties). Warren was a 10-year NFL vet with the Broncos and Patriots and picked up 20.5 sacks. His knowledge and NFL experience will be crucial and greatly help the rest of the staff and team.

As far as the team goes, they have already improved before the season started, and it came from a free-agent pickup. Originally slated to start either Quinten Dormady or Deandre Francois, Paxton Lynch left his USFL contract to go to the XFL and was picked up by Orlando.

The former first-round pick by the Denver Broncos had all the tools to be a starter in the NFL, but for whatever reason, they couldn't put it together. He went 1-3 in four career starts with 792 yards passing, four TDS, and Four INT. Fast forward to the USFL, and Lynch saw time with the Michigan Panthers, where he went 2-1 as a starter. He threw for under 600 yards and added 5 TD and 4 INT.

For Lynch to succeed, it will be up to his skill-position players to make some plays for him. Granted, neither the RB nor TE room has much to get excited about, but the WR sure does, as this is the deepest WR core in the XFL. Leading the way is Dontez Byrd, who has played in both the AAF, XFL, and even in the CFL.

Byrd has all the potential in the world, but hasn't been able to put those to work much like Lynch.

Lining up on the other side will be Cody Latimer, who played with Lynch in Denver. Latimer has more success than Byrd and has tasted the NFL, with 935 yards receiving on 70 catches with six scores.

However, Eli Rogers has the most potential, as this could be the year he finally reaches the NFL. Another player who bounced between the Spring Leagues and the CFL, Rogers also has NFL experience and has brought in 78 catches for 822 yards and four scores. That trio alone will help Lynch, which should take some of the pressure off their defense.

Speaking of the defense, they also have players with NFL experience, starting with Terrance Smith. The former Kansas City Chiefs and Arizona Cardinals LB played in the CFL during the 2022 season and has tallied 38 tackles, one sack, and one interception during his NFL career.

You also have longtime Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam in the secondary, as he is one of the more experienced Safeties in the XFL. When on the field, Elam was a great player who accumulated better than 130 tackles, 0.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, one recovery, and one interception. The Guardians will need him to play at that level to be successful this season.

Dee Virgin is another guy who will contribute this season, but is currently on the IR. Virgin was in Bears camp in 2021 and was one of the final cuts before the season began. With 15 career tackles and one forced Fumble, Virgin hopes this is the chance he gets to make it back to the NFL.

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