Houston Roughnecks name Jarrett Guarantano starting QB; RB Mark Thompson injured

Jarrett Guarantano - University of Tennessee
Jarrett Guarantano – University of Tennessee (utsports.com)

On Wednesday during his media presser, Houston Roughnecks Head Coach Curtis Johnson named Jarrett Guarantano the team’s starting quarterback. Guarantano beat out Reid Sinnett and Nolan Henderson for the spot.

“I think it was a great competition all camp long,” said Johnson. “One day it was Nolan, one day it was Jarrett, one day it was Reid. But in the end, I think (with) the body of work that Jarrett put forth, I think he deserves to start.”

The 26-year-old Guarantano played collegiately at Tennessee before transferring to Washington State for his final season. He signed with the Arizona Cardinals as a rookie free agent after the 2022 NFL Draft. During his pro career, he’s also spent time with the Denver Broncos.

This comes as a mild upset for those expecting the more experienced Sinnett to earn the starting nod. Sinnett, 27, was undrafted in 2020 and has been with four NFL teams over that span, though he’s yet to suit up for a regular season game. He dealt with injuries last year as a member of the San Antonio Brahmas, playing in just one game. Most recently, he was with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2023, even earning a brief promotion from the practice squad to the active roster.

Henderson was viewed as the dark-horse candidate. He played in 37 games at the University of Delaware before spending time in Baltimore Ravens camp this past off-season. At 25, he’s the youngest of the three QBs and the one with the fewest pro reps under his belt.

As he mentioned previously, Johnson expects multiple quarterbacks to play when Houston hits the field. “Whoever’s the backup, we’re going to play him, too,” Johnson said. “You’ll see them in the first game, second quarter, third series, something like that.”

While the starting QB job is settled for now, injuries at running back have left more questions than answers. Johnson revealed that presumptive starter Mark Thompson is dealing with a knee sprain. There was no timetable given as to when Thompson is expected to return to action. Johnson used the opportunity to talk up the other backs on the roster.

“Tiyon Evans, he’s one guy that, man, I’m truly, truly impressed with,” he said. “T.J. Pledger has always been good. And we found Kirk Merritt, people from New Orleans (Saints), people from the Miami Dolphins told me he’s a special third-down back. He’s doing really, really well.” Notably, Merritt has played wide receiver his entire career up to this point and is listed as wearing jersey #83 on the UFL website, indicating he’s a receiver.

Some other notes from Johnson’s media availability on Wednesday:

*UFL co-owner Dany Garcia visited Arlington this week and spoke to each team. I asked Johnson about her visit. “Inspiring talk to us,” he said. “Talked about the team, talked about the ownership. She really came to serve us…she’s going to help us and do whatever she can to make this league successful. Really and truly, I believe her.” Johnson noted that he and Garcia attended the University of Miami at the same time.

*Teams also hosted representatives from the Minority Coaches Coalition last week. Johnson was pleased to be able to take part in such an initiative. “Just being able to help people get into a space where you’re at a professional level, doing it (with) a professional team. Most minorities don’t really get that opportunity. Sometimes they can’t afford to do an internship…But to do this, it really, really makes me feel good. And those coaches were great.”

*Johnson spoke highly of the hub situation in Arlington. “I’m not saying it wasn’t first-class last year, but this is first-class class. The hotels are better, the practice facilities are phenomenal, the weight room, everything is right there. From uniforms to everything, it’s been a really classy, classy environment.”

*On the field, the team’s addition of DE Carlo Kemp off waivers from the Birmingham Stallions a week ago has added athleticism to the defensive line. Johnson said the team was looking to improve in that area this season. “The one thing we wanted to do when we entered this league, we wanted to get a little more athletic than we were last year. The one thing that I thought we were a click down from (other teams), just a little bit more of a guy who can run and tackle, a little bit more athleticism.”

*The secondary is an area where Johnson said the team could look to improve with outside additions. “I’m good where we are, not totally, totally satisfied,” he said of the position group. “We may be looking to add another safety or add another corner somewhere down the line. We’ll be looking at the waiver wire to see what’s out there. But I really do like where we are.”

*Johnson offered a glimpse of the practice schedule that would lead the Roughnecks into the first game of the season. “We’ll have a couple of extra practices, we’ll start work on Memphis,” he said. “We’re already introducing some things, done some walkthrough stuff on Memphis. Then from there, next week, we’ll practice on Monday which is like a bonus Monday. Tuesday players have off, then Wednesday we’ll get into our base offense. Thursday, third down, then Friday we’ll finish it off with our red zone stuff and our two-minute stuff.”

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