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?!
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.
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.
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.