3 Dragons players to watch in Week 3
SEATTLE – The Seattle Dragons face their first division opponent Saturday, as the Dallas Renegades travel to CenturyLink Field (2 p.m. PST, FOX) and will look to carry some of the momentum from their 17-9 victory over the Tampa Bay Vipers last week into this key matchup.
The defense is coming off an impressive game with three interceptions, including a pick-six.
The running game was also a strength in Week 2. Facing a stout Tampa Bay defensive front, the running backs never let up and combined for a hard-fought 97 yards on the ground.
Here are a few names to watch for as we head into Week 3:
1. RB Ja’Quan Gardner
The 5-foot-7 running back is agile and fast, but he packs a lot of power for his size.
He had quite the college resume, leaving Humboldt State with 5,495 yds rushing and 72 touchdowns. Gardner went undrafted but spent some time on the 49ers practice squad, and he played for the San Diego Fleet of the AAF most recently.
Gardner was off to a great start as the AAF’s leading rusher through the first four week, but was placed on IR for a shoulder injury just before the league folded.
Now, along with Trey Williams and Kenneth Farrow, he’s fully embracing his role as part of a running back group that QB Brandon Silvers refers to as a three-headed monster.
“We all just come with the same work ethic and put in the work and that’s showing on the field. We complement each other by pushing each other to be better,” Gardner said after practice Wednesday.
That trio has split carries pretty evenly over the first two weeks and has combined for 214 total rushing yds so far. The running backs may be all business on the field, but they have been known to bust a move or two when there is a spare moment at practice.
So, who is the best dancer on the team? Gardner paused a moment before responding with a big smile, “I think I’m definitely ... if not the best, I’m top two or three.”
2. CB Jeremy Clark
At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Clark began his college career at Michigan as a safety but converted to cornerback his junior season. He was off to a great start his senior year, recording 10 tackles and two pass breakups through three games, but suffered an ACL injury that meant he could not show off his impressive speed before the 2017 draft.
The New York Jets were impressed enough to draft Clark in the sixth round, and he remained with the team until he was waived from injured reserve last September.
Clark is healthy now and has been a standout for the Dragons on defense through the first two games, racking up six tackles, two passes defended and an interception. The pick came in the Dragons' Week 2 win over the Tampa Bay Vipers, and it had a special meaning to him.
“It’s a confidence builder," Clark explained. “I feel like ever since I tore my ACL, my road has been kind of difficult and then I just felt like that was a breath of fresh air right there, that’s why I needed it.”
Clark’s play the first two games has been also been a breath of fresh air for former Seahawks linebacker and current 710 ESPN host Dave Wyman, who is a big fan.
“He looks like a big-time corner," Wyman said. “He does a really good of taking on blockers and playing the edge, and his coverage, I’m sure is great, but more than anything, he’s stood out to me as a run defender."
3. LB Steven Johnson
This 6-foot-1, 239-pound linebacker is not only relentless on the field but has shown that same tenacity in pursuing his football dreams as well. Johnson turned a walk-on invite from Kansas into a scholarship and finished his college career with 225 tackles and six sacks.
He ended up going undrafted in 2012 but earned a roster spot with the Broncos the next three seasons. While in Denver, he had some impact plays, including a blocked punt he returned for a touchdown against the Eagles and a huge stop on a goal-line play by Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. Johnson also spent time with the Titans, Steelers and Ravens before signing with the Arizona Hotshots of the AAF.
Now, he brings a veteran presence to this Dragons team with his teammates voting him one of four team captains. He is leading the way with his hard-hitting play as well, recording a league-best 18 tackles through two games.
The Dallas Renegades will have their hands full Saturday in trying to slow down the early momentum Johnson has established for himself, because he is excited for the challenge.
“They’re a finesse team and you meet finesse with force and I think force is going to win every time," Johnson said after Thursday's practice.
Maura Dooley is the Dragons Insider and sideline reporter for 710 ESPN Seattle and she contributes to a weekly Dragons podcast.