Game Preview: D.C. Defenders at San Antonio Brahmas, Sunday March 31, 2024

  • D.C. Defenders at San Antonio Brahma
  • Sunday March 31, at 11:00 AM Central (12:00 ET)
  • Alamodome, San Antonio, TX.
  • Broadcaster: ESPN
  • Announcers: Mike Manaco (Play-by-Play), Sam Acho (Analyst), Cole Cubelic (Field Analyst), Stormy Buonantony (Sideline)

Injury Report/Depth Charts


The D.C. Defenders open up their 2024 UFL season with a road matchup versus the San Antonio Brahmas at the Alamodome, where both teams’ 2023 XFL seasons ended. The Brahmas lost at home in their regular-season finale to the Defenders, 29-28, while D.C. fell to the Arlington Renegades, 35-26, in the neutral-site XFL Championship played in San Antonio.

The Defenders finished the 2023 regular season with an almost-perfect 9-1 record and entered the playoffs as the favorites to be league champions. They were able to take care of business in the XFL North Championship, with a 37-21 over the Seattle Sea Dragons. However, the 4-6 Arlington Renegades simply outschemed and outplayed the Defenders for 60 minutes in the title game that ended in a shocking result. 323 days later, the Defenders enter the new season suited to make another championship run as one of the favorites to win it all .

Meanwhile, Hines Ward’s first-ever season as a head coach with the Brahmas was one of learning. Under Ward, San Antonio finished with a 3-7 record. Of their seven losses, six were within one possession. Ward planned on returning and building on what he did last year until he found out he would be receiving a pay cut after the merger. With that, Ward resigned from his position, allowing Wade Phillips, who coached the now-defunct Houston Roughnecks (XFL), to take over in San Antonio.

Phillips has brought some of his staff from the Roughnecks – namely, Offensive Coordinator A.J. Smith and Wide Receivers Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Payton Pardee. Former Roughnecks General Manager Marc Lillibridge is also now in the Brahmas front office.

Over the offseason, there was a lot of roster turnover, and the driving force behind that was the USFL-XFL merger. Following the merger, two Dispersal Drafts were held to allocate players from dissolving teams to teams that survived the merger. There was also a fair share of free agency signings and player departures, which have contributed to the player turnover, but those are more customary factors.


On the topic of roster turnover, none of the Defenders’ top three receivers from last season will be returning. Both Lucky Jackson (All-XFL) and Chris Blair earned NFL opportunities over the summer and have stuck around there since. Meanwhile, Josh Hammond announced his retirement from football right before training camp. With these departures, there are some question marks regarding who will fill these production voids. Keke Coutee, Brandom Smith, and Kelvin Harmon are listed as starters at wide receiver for the Defenders.

Additionally, 2023 XFL rushing Abram Smith suffered a season-ending injury midway through training camp. Former Miami Hurricanes Cam’Ron Harris will be the Defenders lead-back after Smith went down during training camp. If Harris can even come close to matching Abram Smith’s production from last year, the Defenders will be in a good spot from a rushing perspective.

The sooner quarterback Jordan Ta’amu can get into a rhythm against the Brahmas, the better it will be. We saw the Defenders offense get off to a rough start last year, as Ta’amu had a <50% passing completion rate in the first two games of the season. These issues were resolved as the season progressed, but the point is that we may very likely see some kinks or a lack of chemistry to begin the season with Ta’amu’s almost entirely new arsenal of pass-catchers. Similarly, the Defenders offensive line features a mix of returners from last year and newcomers. The sooner the line clicks, the sooner the passing game and rushing attack will be able to operate consistently.

Defensively, D.C. very well may possess the best UFL defense on paper. Neutralizing 2023 All-XFL defensive ends Davin Bellamy and Trent Harris off the edge will be key for the Brahmas offensive line. In the passing attack, it will be tough for whoever matches up against 2023 All-XFL cornerback Michael Joseph to get open. But beyond Joseph, there is a lack of depth within the Defenders cornerbacks, especially with former first-round NFL draft pick Gareon Conley out.

Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams’ aggressive scheme aims to put as much pressure on the quarterback as possible. Whether it be through sending additional pass-rushers or disguising coverages, Brahmas quarterback Chase Garbers is in for quite a test in his professional football debut.


San Antonio is a six-point underdog (via FanDuel) in this one. They have some playmakers on both sides of the ball, but can they match the reigning XFL runner-up Defenders?

Receiver Jontre Kirklin and All-XFL tight end Cody Latimer are the X-factors to watch on offense. They will likely be Garbers’ top targets. Garbers is new to spring football and beat out former Orlando Guardians quarterback Quinten Dormady for the starting job. San Antonio Offensive Coordinator A.J. Smith has compared Garbers’ skillset to that of P.J. Walker, who dazzled with the undefeated Houston Roughnecks of the XFL 2020. If Smith’s comments are true, then Brahmas fans should have high expectations for Garbers.

The sooner Garbers can settle down and get comfortable in his professional football debut, the better. Gregg Williams won’t make that easy, though. Offensive line play will be essential too — being able to protect Garbers and creating holes for the rushing attack, led by Anthony McFarland Jr.

Despite their record, the Brahmas had one of the top defenses in the XFL last season. Now, add All-XFL defensive lineman Caeveon Patton and linebacker Tavantae Beckett to the front seven, plus Teez Tabor and Darius Phillips, both players with solid NFL experience, to the secondary. Returning All-XFL linebackers Jordan Williams and Delontae Scott are the anchors of this defense.

Wade Phillips’ Brahmas defense is right up there with some of the best in the UFL on paper. Now we will see if they can click on the field.

Final Thoughts

Both teams feature top-tier defenses that I think will limit the opposing offenses. I’m expecting a low-scoring, physical game that will be won or lost in the trenches. It will probably be a close one, so the Brahmas as six-point underdogs (via FanDuel) may have some value.

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