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2024 St. Louis Battlehawks Offensive Preview; A.J McCarron Set to Return

In 2023, St. Louis Battlehawks fans became very familiar with the team’s touchdown song, Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me”, as the Battlehawks were the second highest-scoring offense in the XFL. Heading into the 2024 season in what is now the UFL, the Battlehawks will look to replicate that success with many of their core players returning and the addition of the XFL’s 2023 leading receiver. Here’s a preview of the Battlehawks 2024 offense.

Quarterbacks: A.J McCarron, Manny Wilkins, Brandon Silvers

The biggest question for the Battlehawks this season was finally answered on Feb.16 when McCarron announced he would return to the team after spending the NFL season on the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad.  The 2023 XFL MVP led the league in passing touchdowns (24) and completion percentage (68.8). McCarron has by far the most NFL experience of any quarterback in the league and is arguably the biggest name in the league. 

McCarron has the arm to make most throws, is accurate, and is a sound decision-maker. His biggest weakness is knowing when to throw the ball away and evading pressure. His lack of mobility can sometimes lead him to unnecessary sacks, as he was sacked more than any other quarterback last year. Some sacks should be attributed to protection errors from the offensive line but they are also a quarterback stat. Nonetheless, the Battlehawks should have less worries about their quarterback than any other team in the league.

Both backups have experience on NFL practice squads, as Wilkins spent 2019 with the Green Bay Packers and Silvers with the New York Jets in 2019.

Running Backs: Mateo Durant, Wayne Gallman, Kevon Latalus, Jacob Saylors

The Battlehawks’ leading rusher, Brian Hill, is not currently listed on the team’s roster after he spent the 2023 NFL season on the San Francisco 49ers practice squad. But the team did return Durant while adding two more backs with NFL experience. Durant, a 1,000-yard rusher for Duke in 2021, has great burst, vision, and patience out of the backfield. He also has plenty of ability in the receiving game. Last year as the Battlehawks’ backup, he rushed for 39 yards on nine carries and caught 11 passes for 78 yards.

Gallman was a fourth-round draft pick by the New York Giants in the 2017 NFL Draft and played in the NFL until 2022. Gallman is a physical runner who will be valuable on third/fourth-and-short situations. For the Giants in 2020, he rushed for 682 yards on 147 carries. 

Wide Receivers: Jahcour Pearson, Marcell Ateman, James Bostic, Jamarcus Bradley, Hakeem Butler, Blake Jackson, Jerome Kapp, Steven Mitchell, Darrius Shepherd, Mykael Wright

The Battlehawks’ receiver room is more stacked than a combo meal from St. Louis staple Imo’s Pizza with a beautiful, thin-crust, provel-covered pizza and toasted ravioli. 

The team now houses four of the top five leading receivers in the XFL last year — Jahcour Pearson (670 yards, #1), Hakeem Butler (570 yards, #2), Darrius Shepherd (519 yards, #4), and Blake Jackson (440 yards, #5)

In 2023, both Pearson and Jackson played for the now-non-existent Seattle Sea Dragons. Both were acquired by the Battlehawks in the UFL dispersal draft this January. 

Pearson is an absolute playmaker. Get the ball in his hands, and good things will happen. He’s only 5-foot-8 but uses his speed to find holes over the top in coverage and is a shifty weapon after the catch. His release off the line is impressive as well. 

Jackson is not as fast but still a valuable deep threat who has played two years each in the XFL and CFL, along with one season on the Cleveland Browns.

Butler and Shepherd were McCarron’s two favorite targets last season and returned to the Battlehawks this year. Butler is a mismatch for most defenders at 6-foot-6 and led the XFL with 8 touchdowns last year. Shepherd is a smooth route runner who will mostly be used in the slot. The former Green Bay Packer also won the XFL Special Teams Player of the Year award after leading the league with 907 total return yards.

Tight Ends: Kemari Averett, Kemore Gamble, Jake Sutherland

This room certainly isn’t lacking in size. Jake Sutherland, the Battlehawks’ starter last year, comes in at 6-foot-5, 261 lbs. He had nine receptions for 82 yards last season and will be the main receiving threat out of this group.

Kemari Averett will likely be the main blocker at 6-foot-6 and 250 lbs. Averett started his college career with two years at Louisville before transferring to HBCU Bethune Cookman. He went undrafted in the 2023 NFL Draft.

Kemore Gamble is the smallest of the bunch at 6-foot-4 and 236 lbs. but could be another receiving threat. In his junior year at Florida in 2021, Gamble caught 31 passes for 414 yards.

Offensive Linemen: Returning starters: Juwann Bushell-Beatty (RT), Vadal Alexander (RG) Mike Panasiuk (C), Steven Gonzalez (LG), Eric Magwood (LT)

The offensive line is usually what makes or breaks any football team but its value is even more important in any non-NFL league. The supply of quality offensive linemen on planet Earth does not even come close to meeting the demand. 

The Battlehawks being able to return all five of their starters is great for continuity purposes. A.J. McCarron should know what to expect for how much time he’ll have on most plays and the offensive play-calling staff should know what this group is capable of.

Coaching Staff: Head coach - Anthony Becht, Offensive coordinator - Bruce Gradkowski, Runningbacks - Kyle Caskey, Offensive line - Gino Gradkowski, Wide receivers - Phil McGeoghan

Coach Becht made changes for the wide receiver, running backs, and offensive line coach this season. Gino Gradkowski, the brother of Bruce, takes over the offensive line after a six-year NFL career and two years in coaching. 

Caskey has been in coaching since 2004 and is returning after a three-year hiatus following a 2021 season where he was a quality control coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He was the Detroit Lions running backs coach in 2019 and 2020. McGeohogan has been in coaching since 2007 and was an NFL wide receivers coach in 2015 and 2017–’20.

This Battlehawks offense is stacked with plenty of former NFL players along with those who have dominated spring leagues before. Any team in the UFL should be fearful of what the reigning league MVP might do with some of the best weapons in the league.

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