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Unsettled D.C. Defenders Receiving Corps Sees More Change as Inaugural Season Approaches

There has been a revolving door at wide receiver for the D.C. Defenders since UFL training camp began over a week ago.

The most significant question mark for the D.C. Defenders heading into the 2024 UFL season is how the team will replace the explosive tandem of Chris Blair and Lucky Jackson. The deadly duo, both of whom found homes in the NFL, combined for over 1,500 receiving yards and eight touchdowns last season. 

For all the attention D.C.'s vaunted run game under Fred Kaiss received a year ago with league-leading rusher Abram Smith, a big key to the offense's success was the play of Jackson and Blair. 

Despite operating in a low-volume passing attack, Blair and Jackson finished fourth and fifth in the XFL in receiving yards. The two combined for nearly 20 yards per reception. They were primarily responsible for Jordan Ta'amu's breakout season as the XFL's offensive player of the year.

Nearly two weeks into training camp — and despite several additions of notable pass catchers with NFL experience — the Defenders receiving corps is as unsettled now as ever. 

That is especially true coming off the heels of D.C. cutting Preston Williams and replacing him with another former NFL receiver in Vyncint Smith. 

Because of his name recognition, Williams was deemed by many avid followers of D.C. and the league to be a surefire lock as a starter. The end result was that he didn't even make it to the first cutdown date. 

Since the start of UFL training camp over a week ago, the D.C. Defenders have made 12 different roster transactions. Seven of them have been directly related to the team's passing attack. 

Beyond tight end Shaun Beyer's placement on IR and the addition of former New York Giant Kaden Smith, the Defenders have had a ton of activity at wide receiver since camp started.

Josh Hammond retired, Williams is gone, and D.C. has added three wide receivers with recent NFL experience in Vyncint Smith, Keke Coutee and Mike Harley Jr. 

But as evidenced by Williams, having an NFL pedigree doesn't guarantee a spot. On top of that, late add-ons like Harley and Smith have an uphill battle to make a quick impression before D.C. trims down their roster.

The first wave of player cuts will come on March 10, followed by the final cutdown date of March 23.

The Defenders currently have 11 wide receivers on their training camp roster. Only two of them — Jazz Ferguson and Brandon Smith — were on D.C.'s roster last season.

  • Keke Coutee
  • Jazz Ferguson
  • Kelvin Harmon
  • Mike Harley Jr.
  • John Hightower
  • CJ Johnson
  • Chris Rowland
  • Ty Scott
  • Trea Shropshire
  • Vyncint Smith
  • Brandon Smith

With UFL rosters maxing out at 50 for the regular season, it will be challenging for D.C. to keep more than five wideouts listed above. 

And it's not out of the realm of possibility that D.C. General Manager Von Hutchins adds another receiver or two to the mix before the season opener in San Antonio. 

* Update: On Wednesday evening, the Defenders announced the signing of Isaiah Coulter. The Rhode Island standout was a fifth-round selection of the Houston Texans in the 2020 NFL Draft. He has spent time with four different NFL teams, most recently with the Buffalo Bills in 2023.

Actions always speak louder than words. The Defenders' continuously adding wideouts late at this stage reveals that the team still has some questions to answer at the position.

You can find Mike Mitchell on X @ByMikeMitchell.

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