With mini camp in the rear-view mirror and training camp on the horizon, let’s take a look at what you need to know about the inaugural season of Tampa Bay Vipers football.
TAMPA — With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers falling short to the Houston Texans Saturday, you might be a little annoyed watching the NFL this week. The wildly inconsistent – yet extremely entertaining – Bucs season is winding down, but if you’re in the Tampa area, football isn’t over quite yet.
The XFL and the Tampa Bay Vipers are here, and this time, the league is doing it right.
The Vipers are led by Head Coach Marc Trestman. Trestman has had two coaching gigs in the NFL. He was the head coach of the Chicago Bears (2013-2014) where he went 13-19 in his two seasons. In 2015, coach Trestman was appointed the offensive coordinator job for the Baltimore Ravens after he was fired in Chicago. He only lasted a little over a season in Baltimore, however. He then returned to the CFL, where he won a total of three Grey Cups in his seven years of coaching over two different stints in the league.
Before the XFL draft took place, the league assigned a quarterback to each of the eight teams. The Vipers were appointed Aaron Murray, former All-American QB from Plant High in Tampa, FL. Murray went on to the University of Georgia where he was a four year starter. He set multiple records at the school and in the SEC. Those all-time SEC records include completions (921), passing yards (13,166) and passing touchdowns (121). Murray also holds the top two passing touchdown record at Georgia – 35 in 2011 and 36 in 2012. The Georgia product was drafted in the 5th round (163 overall) by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2014 NFL draft.
The draft was broken up by position groups. Skill positions, which was basically every offensive position that’s not a lineman, offensive line, defensive front seven and defensive back.
In the skill position phase of the draft, the Vipers spent their first pick (5th overall) on tight end Nick Truesdell from Grand Rapids CC. Truesdell transferred to Grand Rapids from the University of Cincinnati after an off-the-field incident. He did not record a stat at Cincinnati. He did, however, run a 4.47 and 4.60 40-yard dash at the NFL Pro Player combine in in 2017. A pretty impressive number for a guy listed at 6’5″ and 250 lbs.
The Vipers clearly valued size, as each receiver that they drafted is over 6’0 tall.
The rest of the skill position picks went as follows:
2nd Round – Seantavius Jones, WR, Valdosta St
3rd Round – De’Veon Smith, RB, Michigan
4th Round – Jalen Tolliver, WR, Arkansas-Monticello
5th Round – Quinton Flowers, QB/RB, South Florida
6th Round – Cole Wick, TE, Incarnate Word
7th Round – Rannell Hall, WR, Central Florida
8th Round – Reece Horn, WR, Indianapolis
9th Round – Taylor Cornelius, QB, Oklahoma St
10th Round – Alonzo Moore, WR, Nebraska
De’Veon Smith figures to be the lead back. At the University of Michigan, Smith racked up 2,235 rushing yards ad 23 total touchdowns. In his senior year – his best season as a Wolverine – Smith rushed 181 times for 846 yards (4.7 YPC) and 10 touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Vipers own the first pick in the defensive front seven phase of the draft where they selected former Oregon State WR/DE, Obum Gwacham. Yes, you read that correctly. In his first three yeas at Oregon State, Gwacham actually played receiver. It wasn’t until his senior year until he moved to defensive end. In his final year at Oregon State, Gwacham tallied 28 tackles including four sacks. He was a 6th round draft pick by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2015 NFL draft.
Four of the first five draft picks in this phase were defensive lineman.
The Vipers also prioritized corner backs in the draft. Why? Because defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville said so!
Our Defensive Coordinator Jerry Glanville gives you his approach to the Defensive Backfield phase of the #XFLDraft…
… in classic Jerry style. pic.twitter.com/r4Ckld4a22
— Tampa Bay Vipers (@XFLVipers) October 16, 2019
You can see how the rest of the draft unfolded here.
Recent roster transactions
The Vipers have been part of the first two trades that have taken place thus far for the upcoming season. Earlier in the month, the Vipers sent DT Trevon Sanders to the Los Angeles Wildcats in exchange for DT Leon Orr. Orr played his college ball at the University of Florida.
In addition to that swap, the Vipers also sent CB Arrion Springs to the Wildcats for CB Jalen Collins. Collins, who went to LSU, was a 2nd round draft pick in 2015 by the Atlanta Falcons.
What to watch for
Murray and former South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers have been battling for the starting quarterback role. While most think the job is Murray’s to lose, Trestman made it very clear early on that this is indeed a competition. Even if Murray does win the job, Flowers will still have a role in this offense.
As for the receivers, it’s going to be very interesting to see how these big pass catchers take advantage of – what should be – much smaller defensive backs. Seantavius Jones (6’4″), Jalen Tolliver (6’3″), Reece Horn (6’3″), Alonzo Moore (6’2″) Rannell Hall (6’0″) and Tanner McEvoy (6’6″) round out one of the tallest receiving groups in the league.
The players get a nice holiday break before they head to Houston for training camp. Training camp will last three weeks, from January 4th to January 22nd, 2020.
The season starts the week after the Super Bowl, so us football nuts won’t have to worry about a lull with no football. The Vipers first two games of the season are on the road – in New York against the Guardians and then Seattle to take on the Dragons. The home opener for the Vipers is Saturday, February 22, at 2 P.M. at Raymond James Stadium against the Houston Roughnecks. You can see the rest of the schedule here.
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