Defenders at Wildcats: Key Players to Watch
After two straight victories at home, the DC Defenders (2-0) travel to the West Coast to face the Los Angeles Wildcats (0-2) on Sunday, Feb. 23, at 6 p.m. EST.
It's the first road trip of the year for the Defenders, as they'll be traveling for their next two games.
The Defenders will roll into Los Angeles riding a wave of momentum. In Week 2, the Defenders defense held the New York Guardians' offense to zero points for the first shutout in XFL history. While the Wildcats failed to capture their first win, they put together a spirited fight last week vs. Dallas.
Here are six players who will likely play a large role in Sunday's matchup.
DC DEFENDERS: PLAYERS TO WATCH
#97 DE Anthony Johnson
Perhaps no XFL player had a more hectic 24 hours than Johnson did last Friday.
The Wildcats traded Johnson to the Defenders during the late afternoon, less than a day before the start of Week 2. Johnson then boarded a flight, landed in Washington, D.C., after midnight, got less than five hours of sleep and then played significant snaps for the Defenders on Saturday.
After wreaking havoc against New York, Johnson now has a team-high 1.5 sacks on the season.
He gets a chance to face his former team, but it seems to be business as usual for the veteran pass-rusher.
"Not at all," Johnson said, when asked if he's treating this game any differently. "It's football. At the end of the day, I'm a professional. I treat every game the same."
#1 WR: DeAndre Thompkins
Thompkins made his season debut vs. the Guardians, and the offense immediately benefited from his presence.
Despite only playing one game of live action, it's clear the two Big 10 products already have a strong chemistry. The Penn State alumnus finished the game with 92 yards and a touchdown. QB Cardale Jones targeted Thompkins nine times, especially when he was under pressure.
Thompkins faces a stiff challenge vs. the Wildcats. Los Angeles has yet to allow an opposing receiver to go for more than 70 yards.
#24 RB Donnel Pumphrey
While the Defenders' two wins have come in convincing fashion, the team is still waiting for a dominant ground performance.
The wait may be over, however, as the Wildcats defense is fresh off of a game in which they struggled severely against the run. Los Angeles allowed Dallas' running backs to average a staggering 7.05 yards per carry.
The biggest runs the Wildcats gave up to Dallas came when the running back bounced the play to the outside.
The good news for the Defenders: Pumphrey has the desired lateral quickness to circumvent oncoming tacklers.
Sunday could prove to be a breakout performance for Pumphrey and the Defenders run game.
LOS ANGELES WILDCATS: PLAYERS TO WATCH
#8 QB Josh Johnson
The former NFL journeyman debuted for the Wildcats last Sunday in impressive fashion.
It took Johnson until the second half to truly get into a rhythm, but he played efficiently and effectively once he did. Johnson ended his Wildcats debut with 196 yards and two touchdowns against zero interceptions.
Johnson seldom felt pressure against Dallas, which allowed him to go through his progressions and deliver accurate strikes. Johnson has the experience, poise and talent to steer an offense to a win.
#11 WR: Nelson Spruce
Through two weeks, Spruce leads the XFL in receiving yards.
Against Dallas, Spruce recorded 89 yards and two touchdowns. While he certainly has impressive hands and quickness, his patience while running routes makes him such a dynamic player.
So far this season, Spruce has seen a lot of his action out of the slot.
It will likely be safety Shamarko Thomas' responsibility to keep Spruce in check on Sunday. Thomas missed the season opener with an injury but served as the primary nickel back in DC's win over New York.
#77 OLB: Shawn Oakman
Oakman is likely the Wildcats' most recognizable defensive player, and for good reason.
The subject of an early-2010s viral meme, Oakman has an intimidating physical presence on the field. The 66-foot-9 pass-rusher recorded a sack in Week 1 and generated a quarterback hurry last week.