The Marc Trestman coaching carousel continues in Tampa Bay as a member of the Vipers in the XFL. Trestman’s biggest role in his career has been a head coaching job with the Chicago Bears. That obviously didn’t work out, as Trestman couldn’t parlay his success in the CFL in Chicago. The most success he’s had in his career came with the Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts. He is a three-time Grey Cup winner in the CFL, the most recent coming in 2017 in Toronto. Trestman was fired the next season because of a slow start with the Argos, and landed on his feet in the XFL with the Tampa Bay Vipers. It’s a good opportunity for Trestman, but he unfortunately didn’t go to a good team.
The Vipers likely aren’t going to be a team that makes Trestman look better than he is as a head coach. A coach can only do so much, and I don’t think Trestman has ample talent on his roster to draw the attention of an NFL franchise. After the lackluster showing he had with the Bears, that’s probably a moot point, though. The best-case scenario is a coordinating job, but he didn’t exactly do much with the Ravens when he had that chance. Tampa has an uphill battle ahead of them if they want to get to the XFL Championship. It’s a quarterback driven league, and the Vipers aren’t equipped in that respect.
Some people may argue that Aaron Murray disputes that comment, but really? Just because Murray had a nice career at Georgia and spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs doesn’t mean he’s a decent QB now. Murray does work for CBS as a commentator during the college football season. I think that’s more his calling at this point and what he’s focusing on. Playing football isn’t going to pay the bills for much longer. If the Vipers are going to have success, it’s going to be because of their defense. Head below for a Tampa Bay Vipers’ roster breakdown and the guys you should be looking out for on their team in the 2020 season.
The 78-yard pick six puts Tampa Bay on top. pic.twitter.com/Ibg6pxOo0t
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) February 15, 2020
Houston Roughnecks Roster Breakdown
New York Guardians Roster Breakdown
DC Defenders Roster Breakdown
Aaron Murray seemed to be the face of the AAF. There were a lot of people from Georgia who watched the league simply because Murray was starting for the Atlanta Legends. After breaking records at Georgia, Murray was selected by the KC Chiefs in the fifth round of the draft in 2014. He lasted a couple of years there, but didn’t get playing time in the regular season. Murray bounced around three more teams in the NFL, ultimately having to wait for the AAF to play meaningful minutes in real games. He wasn’t good with 3 touchdowns and 7 interceptions for a 71.5 QBR.
For whatever reason, people are still stuck in 2013 when it comes to Murray. I’m not expecting him to find that magic again, as he hasn’t looked good at any point of his professional career. If Murray can’t get things right on the field, the Vipers will go with former Oklahoma State quarterback, Taylor Cornelius, or South Florida standout, Quinton Flowers.
Cornelius had a decent career at Oklahoma State, though you have to be exceptional in the Big 12 to get any attention. The conference doesn’t play much defense, so going above and beyond is required. He didn’t do anything special at Oklahoma State, so here he is in the XFL. Flowers did excite at South Florida, but that was mostly with his legs. He was able to take advantage of bad defenses in college who couldn’t accurately predict if he was running or passing. At the professional level a lot changes on defense, even in a Tier-2 pro league.
If you’re a big college football fan, there might be a couple of names that ring a bell. At least for Michigan football fans, De’Veon Smith is a guy that jumps off the page. Smith was with the Michigan program from 2013 to 2016, leading the Wolverines in rushing in 2014, 2015, and 2016. He wasn’t electric, but showed enough to maybe catch on as a No. 3 running back in the NFL. Smith got that chance with the Washington Redskins. He appeared in just one game in the regular season, and was sent back down to the practice squad right after. His best opportunity for playing time since was with the Orlando Apollos of the AAF last year.
Former Florida State running back, Jacques Patrick, should be familiar to Florida State fans. At only 23 years old, Patrick hopes to have a long and productive professional career. He did not get any attention by NFL teams, not even an undrafted tryout, so this is his first look at the professional level. With a lack of quality quarterbacks in the roster, the success of the offense might be dictated by Smith and Patrick on the ground.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Reece Horn is likely going to be the receiver to watch on the Vipers this season. Horn is in no way related to Joe Horn Jr., the son of New Orleans Saints’ wide receiver, Joe Horn. Horn of the Vipers, a receiver who got a look in Miami with the Dolphins most recently, is going to be the biggest threat in the passing game for the Vipers. Horn was signed to the Dolphins after impressing in the AAF with the Memphis Express. In a shortened season, Horn had 28 receptions for 429 yards and a touchdown.
Besides Horn, the Vipers have to rely on veterans like tight end Nick Truedsell. Truesdell is an Arena Football veteran, who peaked in 2015 with Spokane. He had 80 receptions and 977 yards with 23 touchdowns. Truesdell provides a big, reliable target for Murray and the rest of the quarterbacks in Tampa. However, he doesn’t stretch the field, nor does Horn for that matter.
Horn is more of a broke man’s Danny Amendola that can cause matchup problems on short and intermediate routes. Daniel Williams is going to be tasked with being that guy. The 24-year-old out of Jackson State might be a diamond in the rough, but I don’t think there’s enough punch in this offense to help out a group of quarterbacks who likely won’t have success this season. There isn’t going to be anybody to get him the ball consistently downfield.
The best opportunity to win games for Trestman and his team is running the ball effectively with Smith and Patrick, then allow the defense to take care of the rest. Eventually Murray or another quarterback will have to take the reins if they want to find championship success, but the defense, especially an aggressive secondary led by Marcelis Branch should work to at least keep the team competitive.
Branch is an aggressive safety who will have to be accounted for by the offense. The 26-year-old signed a contract in January of 2019 with the Steelers, but failed to crack final roster cuts in the preseason. Close but the Steelers couldn’t keep everyone on the roster. He and nickel cornerback, Micah Hannemann, should combine to provide decent protection in the secondary. Hannemann spent time with the Cleveland Browns and LA Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2018.
Anthoula Kelly might be a guy that quarterbacks are going to want to stay away from. He was a member of a really good Fresno State defense in 2018. The youngster was named to the first-team in the Mountain West thanks to a terrific effort. He ranked 3rd in the FBS with 22 passes broken up, and was tied on Fresno State with 4 interceptions, 2 of which were returned for touchdowns. Playing on Fresno State doesn’t garner much attention, but that was a really good defense in 2018, with Kelly playing a role in that success. Kelly may be a guy who develops into a lock down corner for the Vipers, and if that happens, a tryout in the NFL might be next in line for the 24-year-old. Former Seminole, Tarvarus McFadden, who was invited to the NFL combine in 2018 gives the Vipers plenty of talent in the secondary.
There are likely going to be two linebackers that should carry the load for this group on the Vipers in 2020. Lucas Wacha and Terrence Plummer are expected to be active, and are likely to give the secondary plenty of help in passing situations. Wacha arrived in Tampa after getting a small dose of playing time with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2018. He was able to record 4 tackles and 1 sack, along with 16 tackles on special teams.
The 26-year-old previously spent time with the Dallas Cowboys in training camp, but didn’t get past that stage. Don’t expect him to get another shot in the NFL, but is an adequate option for the Vipers. Toronto Argonaut fans might be familiar with Plummer. He didn’t last long in the CFL, but he made a huge play in the 2017 East Finals for a pick-6 for a crucial play to get the Argos to the Grey Cup, which they proceeded to win with Marc Trestman. Plummer provides some experience which should be helpful as the season progresses. Overall, though, it’s a rather vanilla unit, with the defense going to have to rely on a pretty stout secondary.
The Vipers like to send pressure from their secondary. They don’t really have a talented enough defensive line that is continually going to get after the quarterback. Mixing it up with corner and safety blitzes takes some of the heat off the defensive line having to cause pressure. If the Vipers’ defensive line can keep the offensive line busy, that should free up their blitzers. Former New York Giant, Nikita Whitlock, who was with the team from 2014 to 2016 after a couple of failed attempts in Cincinnati and Dallas, Whitlock is being counted on up front for the Vipers.
Whitlock and Ricky Walker, who is fresh out of college this past season, are likely going to be the two major contributors on the line. The Dallas Cowboys gave Walker a look after he concluded his career at Virginia Tech in 2018. He made the ACC second-team in his final year of college, after leading the Hokies with 10.5 tackles for a loss. Josh Banks, who played a minimal role in Orlando with the Apollos last season, will be expected to be more active for the Vipers.
Aaron Murray gets far too much attention for a quarterback that hasn’t done anything in around seven years. Georgia Bulldog fans will continue to talk him up, but the fact of the matter is that they’re holding onto past college glory. The arm strength he used to have just isn’t present anymore, and this appears to be a side career for him after getting a job with CBS Sports in the commentator booth. If not Murray, who has the ability to complete passes for the Vipers? I’m not confident in Flowers or Cornelius, so this could be an ugly offense to watch in 2020. Like the New York Guardians, the Vipers will struggle to score points, and will have to rely on the defense to stay around in games. +650 presents some decent odds, but you’re likely going to be donating money to the bookies with a bet on the Vipers.