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St. Louis Battlehawks 2024 Defensive Preview

The St. Louis Battlehawks will be looking to 'defend The Dome' this spring with a defense that returns most of last year's starters. With quarterback A.J. McCarron on the other side of the ball for St. Louis, the job of the defense becomes much easier. 

Last year, the Battlehawks' defense was the third-best in the XFL in defending the pass but the worst in the league at defending the run. This offseason, they tried to improve the run defense by adding multiple defensive tackles through free agency and the UFL dispersal draft. 

Under defensive coordinator Donnie Abraham, the Battlehawks primarily ran out of a 4-3 alignment last season. Here's the full defensive roster for St. Louis and a few names to know at each.

Defensive backs: Dravon Askrew Henry, Kameron Kelly, Nico Bolden, Montrae Brasswell, Qwynnterrio Cole, Ben DeLuca, Lavert Hill, Tim Harris, Prince Charles Iworah, Keylon Kennedy, Brandon Sebastian, Anthony Witherston, Mykael Wright

Dravon Askrew-Henry: St. Louis selected Askrew-Henry with the fourth pick in the UFL Dispersal Draft this January. Askew-Henry is an aggressive safety who compiled 71 total tackles and two interceptions for the USFL's New York Generals in 2022 and 2023. 

He spent the 2019 and 2020 NFL seasons with stints on four different practice squads. He played for the New York Guardians in the XFL's 2020 run, which was ended due to the pandemic. He played for the now-extinct USFL Generals in 2022 and 2023. 

Qwynnterrio Cole: Another safety who's solid in coverage and does not shy away from contact. Cole was signed to the Battlehawks in late January. He was a star at HBCU Alcorn State before transferring to Louisville in 2021 for his senior season. He is a versatile piece who can also play near the line of scrimmage as a blitzer or run defender. He also has special teams value.

Lavert Hill: One of the stars for the Battlehawks defense in 2023. He was named a member of the 2023 All-XFL team after recording 25 tackles and two interceptions. 

Hill was a two-time All-B10 player during his career at Michigan before signing as an undrafted free agent to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2020. He would bounce around five different NFL practice squads before signing with the Battlehawks for the 2023 season. 

Inside Linebackers: Drew Lewis, Callahan O'Reilly, Lakiem Williams

Callahan O'Reilly: This guy is built more like Blake Martinez but has some awe-inspiring straight-line speed for being 6'2" and 230 lbs. The Montana State product has the Bobby Boucher processing of locking in on his victim and charging after him. His highlight reel includes a fake punt where he takes a direct snap, and it looks more like a halfback draw when he rushes 80 yards to the endzone.

O'Reily mainly started at Will linebacker at Montana State and was named First-Team Big Sky in 2022. He is certainly one of the more interesting guys to watch this season.

Edge: John Daka, Marcus Cushine, Emeke Ebugle, Travis Feeney, Chris Garrett, Willie Harvey, Drew, Mike Rose, Pita Taumopena, Carson Wells

Pita Taumopena: This is someone who could really improve St. Louis's run defense. The Utah graduate and five-year NFL player was named the XFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2023. He's somewhat undersized but wins with his speed and footwork.

Pass rushers like Taumopena can succeed in spring leagues because all offensive line positions are rather weak. The NFL hogs most of the good ones. But athletic pass rushers can get away with being just that in the UFL. 

Last year, for the Vegas Vipers, Taumopena recorded four forced fumbles, 7.5 sacks, and 26 total tackles. He should produce similar numbers this year for St. Louis.

Emeke Ebugle: A gifted athlete who could be a Swiss Army knife for the St. Louis defense. The main knock on him as an NFL Draft prospect in 2019 was his lack of technical pass-rushing skills, but his elite athleticism led to him being drafted by the Chargers in the sixth round. He spent the 2019-'21 seasons with the Chargers, 2022 with the Steelers, and 2023 on the Canadian Football League's Edmonton Elks. His time in the NFL should've made him a more well-rounded player who could be a versatile, vicious player for the Battlehawks this season.

Defensive Lineman: Kobe Smith, Freedom Akinmoladun, Elorm Lumor, Jadarion Taylor, McKinley Williams, Mandy Alonso, Kevin Atkins, Austin Faoilu, Antwuan Jackson, T.J. Pesefea

Austion Faoilu: He was one of the more prominent free agent signings in the league this offseason. In 2023, he was a member of the Seattle Sea Dragons' All-XFL team. His play for the Sea Dragons in 2023 earned him an opportunity on the Seattle Seahawks practice squad for the 2023 NFL season, but he suffered an injury. He might not have the power to plow through an offensive line, but he takes up a lot of space and will be helpful in the run game.

Specialists: Sterling Hofrichter (P), Andrew Mevis (K), Andre Szymyt (K), Alex Matheson (LS)

Andrew Mevis and Andre Szymyt: This season's kicker battle is enthralling! Maybe Mevis will have a leg up on Szymyt because of the extra letter in his first name. Both of these players had success at Power Five programs, with Szymt at Syracuse and Mevis at Iowa State. 

Defensive Coaching Staff: Donnie Abraham (Coordinator), Martin Bayless (Secondary), Chris Claiborne (linebackers), La'Roi Glover (defensive line), Kyle Caskey (special teams)

Plenty of recognizable names on here. Glover was a six-time NFL pro bowler and has been in coaching now for eight seasons. Claiborne was the ninth overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft and played from '99-2007. He played for the St. Louis Rams in 2005 and has been in coaching for seven years. 

Though the Battlehawks defense wasn't terrible last season, there were undeniably some weak spots that needed to be addressed. At least on paper, the team did enough this offseason by retaining most of their core while also adding some reparations that should make this a better and more exciting unit.

Header photo by Lindsey Wasson / XFL

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