The Houston Roughnecks are a breath of fresh air for a winded city...

The Roughnecks give Houston a second wind

Photo courtesy of Houston Roughnecks


2019 was a wild ride in sports, wasn't it, Houston?


Probably one you'd rather forget.


An investigation into the Astros 2017 season added a big, fat asterisk to their only World Series championship. The Texans strung us along an emotional rollercoaster. And the Rockets? Well, they haven't done much better.
At least Dana Holgorsen gave promise, right?

Oh, no... scratch that.

2020 Heisman favorite, D'eriq King redshirted the 2019 season and transferred his talents to South Beach.

Yup, UH is still the proverbial "stepping-stone" that Tilman Fertitta swore it wouldn't be.

So, while other cities like D.C and San Francisco began 2020 with pride for their accomplishments and optimism for the future – Houstonians enter the new year ashamed and pessimistic, with more questions than answers.

H-town can't seem to catch a damn break!

But what if I told you that you don't have to wait until next Fall for redemption?

"HALLELUJAH!" you say?!
Well, AMEN!

Vince McMahon is our savior! And he hath delivered unto us, a new, righteous
football league and your Houston Roughnecks are the mighty vessel upon which ye shall set sail, to holy sports mecca!

…Okay, that was dramatic but you get the point: I really like the Houston Roughnecks and you should too.

I've been following them closely throughout training camp – attending practices, speaking with players and coaches – and I promise you that my excitement and faith in the Houston Roughnecks is genuine and sincere.

Who?!
June Jones!

June Jones is the Head Coach of your Houston Roughnecks – and he isn't some scrub that the XFL scraped out of the woodwork. June is a man with a reputation for knowing exactly what he wants and demanding it – and his resume gives him every right to do so.

The man played Quarterback at the University of Oregon. Since then, he has worked with Hall of Famers and coached at every level [NCAA, NFL & CFL.] He's considered to be a pioneer in modernizing the "run and shoot" offense. It's also worth noting that June coached Hawaii Quarterback, Timmy Chang to the NCAA record for the most consecutive seasons of 4,000+ passing yards, as well as Runningback/Fullback Zach Line, who rushed for 1,494yds in 2010, at SMU.

First Impressions

My first impression of Coach Jones? He's intimidating. Like, really intimidating.

The best analogy I can give you? Pretend that Bill Belichick and Greg Popovich had a baby.

Are you intimidated yet?

I can't really justify my initial impression of June with any sort of logic or personal encounter; he just looked like a dude you don't wanna 'F' with. It took about 3 weeks of watching him coach before I saw the man crack even a hint of a smile. He was always
either monotone and expressionless [Belichick] or angry, yelling drill sergeant [Popovich.]

But as time progressed, I started to witness a softer side of June. He became more [dare I say] human? Yelling and frustration turned into laughter and high-fives. Like a proud Papa, watching his kid ride a bike for the first time, June's demeanor softened and you can see a sense of accomplishment written across his face. The offense has come together, like a well-oiled machine.

But don't get it twisted: it's all business when it comes to Coach Jones...

No doubt, his men respect him – but they also love him.

The "Run & Shoot"

If you're not too familiar with the "Run and Shoot" offense, don't worry. It's probably because we really haven't seen it used locally since the days of Andre Ware, David Klinger and Warren Moon.... but, those three names alone should be enough to get Roughneck fans drooling with excitement.

It's a fairly simple concept to understand – but disproportionately hard to defend. The Run & Shoot is an extremely aggressive, pass heavy attack that utilizes a quick, 3-step drop and sends four receivers out vertically [traditionally with 3 lined up on the right side and 1 loner on the left.]

June Jones revolutionized the concept that originated from his mentor, Darrel "Mouse" Davis. The intention is to spread out the opposing defense by spreading out your offensive formation – and trusting that your quarterback and his receivers are in
perfect sync. It emphasizes receiver motions and on-the-fly adjustments of routes – all based on what the defense gives them.

One-on-one with the Offensive Coordinator

I spoke with offensive coordinator, Chris Miller and this is what he had to say about what we can expect.

"Coach Jones has been known for his intense focus on the passing attack. Are y'all going to keep that tradition here? Or, do you plan to incorporate more of a traditional, 'balanced' offense, by running the ball?"

Chris Miller: "All the above! The Run-and-Shoot is an aggressive style, with four wide receivers that will attack vertically. PJ Walker has the ability we need to do that. We have a slew of Wide Receivers that all bring different talents and skill sets to the
table. But we also have a 3-headed monster of running backs on this roster that we plan to utilize.

Don't forget; Barry Sanders rushed for over 1,000 yards in the Run-and-Shoot with those guys. [June Jones & "Mouse" Davis.] We have 7 guys that will dress tomorrow on the offensive line, who are a big, physical presence that will open up those holes for
our backs. We'll also use our running backs a lot in the passing game. We're gonna put a ton of pressure on opposing defenses, so pick your poison:
If you drop seven and play the pass? Boom! We'll run it right at you.
You wanna load up the box? We'll take our shots down field.
Regardless, we're going to attack you, for sure."

_______________________________


"What are the advantages of not having Tight Ends on your roster?"

Chris Miller: "It's all based on personnel. A lot of teams use 'Eleven Personnel': 1 running back, 1 tight end and 3 wide Receivers. Ours is simply: we use 4 Wide Receivers.
Tomorrow, we'll dress 8 of them and that's a lot of WR's for any team. If we do get in an 11-personnel, or we decide to bring a Tight End, it's gonna be one of our big, athletic Offensive Linemen. We'll have some things set up to move in that package, but our bread-and-butter will be 4 Wide Outs and 1 running back."

___________________________________


"You guys were the last team to name a starting Quarterback. What did PJ
Walker do to win the starting job, over Connor Cook?"


Chris Miller: "It was a good competition. They both have different strengths; Connor is about 6'4, with good timing and anticipation, but PJ has the arm we need for this offense. He has great arm strength and can rip it down the field vertically. He fits the ball into tight windows and spaces. He's quick to get the ball out and accurate downfield. Plus, he's extremely athletic and a dual-threat to make plays with his legs.
This early in the XFL, we're expecting Defensive Lines to be a few steps ahead of Offensive Lines - so it's imperative that our Quarterback have the ability to make those secondary, game-changing plays, outside of the pocket. Throughout training
camp, PJ has been consistent in doing that."

______________________________________________


Well, there you have it, folks!


How does that old saying go? "Defense wins championships but Offense sells tickets." - Well, if that's how it all works, then I'm expecting to see a packed house, February 8th.


Familiar names like, PJ Walker, Sammie Coates, Charles James III and the rest of the Houston Roughnecks [-6.5] are set to take on the Los Angeles Wildcats, inside the University of Houston's TDECU stadium, at 4pm CST.


You can check out the rest of the roster, see the schedule and buy tickets HERE and if you can't make it to the game, you can watch it live on FOX.

Roughnecks 34, Vipers 27

Roughnecks vs Vipers: Good, bad and ugly

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Saturday night's game between the Houston Roughnecks and the Tampa Bay Vipers had everything you could have hoped for in an XFL game. There was a lot of scoring, five lead changes throughout the game, and even June Jones complaining to the refs caught on tape. Sounds like the perfect XFL game. The Roughnecks were able to outlast the Vipers and remain undefeated to start the season. The winless Vipers put up a good fight, but they were ultimately no match for the Roughnecks' high-powered offense.

The Good

The running game is finally starting to come into fruition. James Butler had his best game as a Roughneck as he rushed for 72 yards and scored on a two-point conversion. The offense stalled to start the game, but midway through the second quarter, Butler had a 30 yard rushing gain which eventually set up a P.J. Walker touchdown run. Butler was able to ignite the offense and Tampa's defense had a hard time stoping him throughout the rest of the game.

For three straight weeks, P.J. Walker has been the best player on the Roughnecks. He continues to shine in the spotlight and looks to have some key improvising skills as well. On two occasions Walker was able to elude tackles for huge gains. One of which was a 35-yard scramble from his own end zone (which we will talk about later), and one was an 84-yard touchdown. Phillips was able to escape a blitz to find a wide open Cam Phillips who took it to the house. The duo of Walker and Phillips could be the best QB-receiver duo in the league.

Speaking of Phillips, last week's XFL's Star of the Week made a good case to reclaim that title Saturday. Phillips added three more touchdowns to bring his season total to eight which is still the most in the XFL. He is showing that he is a leader in the locker room as well. When Wide Receiver Kahlil Lewis was being interviewed, Phillips went by his side telling him they were going to win the game almost in a comforting way. A team with good chemistry can make it far in any league.

This week I'll add two additional points to the "Good" category, for the offense played that well. Throughout the game, Jones and his staff and players made constant adjustments to Jerry Glanville's blitz happy defense. Nothing works every time, all the time, but Walker, Butler, and the receivers used the blitz against the Vipers in an artful display of misdirection and speed. The Roughnecks have scored 99 points so far this season, the most in the XFL. If the three-headed monster of Walker, Butler, and Phillips continue to play this well, the June Jones offense will run and shoot their way to the championship. My last prop is to ESPN for sending A-List reporter Dianna Russini to cover the game from the sidelines. Her professionalism and personality were on full display when she spoke to the players and coaches adding much needed credibility to the broadcast team. Thank you ESPN.

The Bad

The defense continued to play soft in the middle. Adjustments made by Mark Trestman after the second quarter seemed to work, for the Vipers were able to run the ball with ease. They implemented short screens that killed the linebackers and led to incremental gains throughout the second half. Running plays and screens were very effective against the Roughnecks' zone coverage. Luckily, the Roughnecks' offense was able to keep pace and outscore the Vipers offense.

This season, officiating hasn't been a big issue in the XFL. For the most part the games have been called well, and there has not been any disastrous mistakes made by referees. That is until the blatant pass interference that wasn't called against Sammie Coates. In the 3rd quarter, Walker threw a deep ball to Coates in double coverage when Micah Hannemann "made a play on the ball" and ended up in the face of Coates. This disrupted his route and prevented him from making an attempt to catch the ball. It should have been a pass interference without question. This play was almost as bas as the Saints-Rams interference call. (Sorry Saints fans). Even though the Roughnecks still won the game, this was by far the worst call of the season and should be looked at by the league office. Even Coach Jones had something to say about the referee who didn't make the call.

The Ugly

One of the best things about the XFL is being able to hear what the coaches are saying during games to their players, to reporters, and in this instance, what they are saying to referees. Coach Jones referred to the ref as "freaking sorry ass" and stated that "For you not to see contact on that (play), I'm wondering what the hell you are doing in this league." I think the most surprising thing in all of this is that Jones used freaking instead of a different word. Stuff like this does add great entertainment value to watching an XFL game. This wasn't really ugly, but it was too entertaining not to put in this somewhere.

Nick Holly and Sammy Cotes were highly ineffective Saturday. Both players are seemingly being phased out of the offense after having great Week 1 stats. This is understandable as Phillips and Butler have become the focal points on offense for Walker to distrubute the ball. Going forward these two could see their amount of receptions diminish if they don't show signs of improvement as the season progresses.

P.J. Walker's 30+ yard scramble from his own 2-yard line came with a little bit of controversy. Walker was able to elude rushers and pick up a massive first down conversion. At the end if his run, he fell to the ground and got back up to spike the ball thinking he was down and the play was over. No Vipers' player touched him so when he spiked the ball, Tampa played it as a fumble. A Vipers' defender picked up the ball and proceeded to run to the end zone. The officials stopped the game to review the call and determined Walker gave himself up, and that the play was dead. That was a close call, and could have been detrimental to the Roughnecks maintaining their undefeated season. Walker should be more careful when doing crazy things like this.

The Roughnecks look to remain undefeated as they travel to face their in-state rivals The Dallas Renegades. Both teams are coming off an impressive an impressive victory, and are looking forward to the fight for Lone Star supremacy on Sunday March 1st.

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