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Inside the XFL - League preview

by Fran Stuchbury
February 2, 2001 - XFL (XFL)

Inside the XFL - A look at what's to come

by Fran Stuchbury, XFL Columnist

The XFL launches its inaugural season this weekend under a cloud of speculation and anticipation. The "X" stands for nothing in particular and the league is co-owned by the WWF and NBC. Vince McMahon hopes to make the fledgling league as popular and lucrative as the WWF in a short period of time. McMahon's marketing wizardry could propel the new league to legitimate status.

NBC made the business decision not to invest the mega-millions necessary to broadcast NFL games. The network got involved with the XFL because they were intrigued by what McMahon had accomplished with the WWF. The WWF has done a tremendous job getting young male audience (12-24) to tune in, and NBC feels the same thing could happen with the XFL.

WILL THE XFL BE SCRIPTED?

Given its kinship with professional wrestling, the above question was immediately asked. Las Vegas is posting odds on the XFL's games this weekend, but is keeping a sharp eye on the league to make sure everything is on the up-and-up. The XFL has some quality people in the fold (Drew Pearson GM for the NY/NJ Hitmen,Dick Butkus, Director of football competition among others), so monkey business should be kept to a minimum.

NFL Europe has already lost three coaches to the XFL. Jim Criner head coach for the Las Vegas Outlaws, Galen Hall head coach for the Orlando Rage and Al Luginbill head coach for the Los Angeles Xtreme.

Two NFL assistant coaches have also joined the new league. Jim Skipper who was an assistant coach with the NY Giants, is now the head coach for the San Francisco Demons, and Kippy Brown, the former running backs coach of the Green Bay Packers, is the head coach of the Memphis Maniax.

The Birmingham Thunderbolts landed former college coach Gerry DiNardo. DiNardo was a head coach for Vanderbilt and LSU. Ron Meyer was head coach for the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots and is now the head coach of the Chicago Enforcers. Rusty Tillman, who was a defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, is now the head coach for the New York/New Jersey Hitmen. XFL head coaches earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $150,000 per season.

DIFFERENCES IN RULES

The most prominent rule change is the lack of fair catches in the XFL. Once the ball passes 25 yards it is a live ball but receiver is given a five-yard halo until the ball is caught.

Offensively teams will be able to take advantage of this rule in many ways. A pooch punt could be recovered by the kicking team, much like a traditional on-side kick.

Unlike the NFL there are no extra points in the XFL. The ball will be placed on the 2 yard line and can be run or passed in. Any fumbled or intercepted attempt can be returned by the defense for one point. Yes you can actually have a 6-1 score.

This rule will eliminate one of the most uneventful plays in the NFL - the extra point. No one wants to watch a chip-shot field goal for a single point. Coupled with the elimination of the fair catch, these two rules will do away with two of the most boring plays in the NFL game while adding an extra element of action.

Quarterbacks will not be protected by the in-the-grasp rule. Forward progress will have to be completely halted in order for the player to be ruleddo and blows to the head, even slaps, will still be penalized.

Defensive backs will also be able to play-bump-and-run all the way downfield, as opposed to traditional NFL rules which prohibit bumps beyond five yards of the line of scrimmage.

What all these changes tell the XFL fan is clear: the league is less concerned with protecting its stars and more interested in providing a brand of football with a more violent edge.

ALL-ACCESS MEDIA

Players and coaches will be miked and cameras will be all over the place. For example, if a quarterback throws an interception you will hear the conversation between the coach and the quarterback.

XFL officials say a combination of 16 players and coaches will be miked during each game.

A five-second delay will be utilized to make sure the sounds captured are suitable for ears of all ages.

Fans will also be invited into the locker room, via microphones and cameras.

This increased coverage will give fans a view of the game similar to Oliver Stone's football film "Any Given Sunday."

CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES C'MON

The NFL banned the Rams touchdown celebration "the bob and weave". In the XFL players will be able to celebrate in the end zone without fear of penalty. This once again is to increase the entertainment value of the fledgling league.

IS THE NFL INTERESTED IN THE XFL?

At the Super Bowl press conference a reporter asked commissioner Paul Tagliabue about the XFL his response was. "The XFL is a minor aspect of what we worry about," Tagliabue said. "To us it's a non-issue."

Whether or not the NFL becomes interested in the new league will go a long way towards determining the XFL's long-term success. If the NFL starts to scout the XFL, fan interest will skyrocket. Also the new league needs to keep its nose clean, so to speak. Las Vegas will pull the odds off the board in a second if there's any hint of funny business, and this will all but cripple the league.

EASTERN DIVISION

TEAM PREVIEW - Orlando Rage

Stadium: Florida Citrus Bowl

Head Coach: Galen Hall

Familiar Faces: QB Jeff Brohm, C Cal Dixon, Derrick Clark WR Mario Bailey.

Player to keep an eye on: RB Brian Shay

At Division III Emporia State, Shay broke 6 NCAA all Division records including most career rushing yards 6,958 and rushing touchdowns 81. His 5'8 207 size makes him an ideal third down running back.

Outlook

The Rage have an experienced quarterback with Jeff Brohm who has bounced around on a couple of NFL teams. He was even the backup for the Cleveland Browns for one game this season. His main target will be Mario Bailey. Bailey is the all-time leader in yards and receptions in NFL Europe. WR Kevin Swayne was a star player with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League.

Derrick Clark will be the starting running back. He's spent most of his career playing for Rhein Fire of NFL Europe.

The Rage don't really have any standout out players on defense. They do have some players (DE James Roberson, DB Stephen Fisher, DT Ken Anderson) who all played under Hall when he coached the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe.

Hall has a lot of players with NFL Europe lineage on his roster. He wanted players on his team he was familiar with. It does make sense considering he has led the Rhein Fire to two NFL Europe championships.

TEAM PREVIEW - New York / New Jersey Hitmen

Stadium: Giants Stadium

Head Coach: Rusty Tillman

Familiar Faces: RB Keith Elias, DT Christian Mamulanga, WR Andre Coleman, RB Dino Philyaw

Player to keep an eye on: QB Charles Puleri

Puleri was Kurt Warner's backup with the Iowa Barnstormers. He was one of the last cuts by the Dallas Cowboys in training camp, and was a first round pick of the Hitmen in the XFL Draft.

Outlook

The Hitmen have a good quarterback in Puleri and Coleman could be his main target.Philyaw was Ricky Williams backup for the New Orleans Saints in 1999. Fullback Keith Elias is one of the local guys on the team playing his college ball at Princeton and playing professionally for the New York Giants.

The Hitmen should play strong defense because Tillman is a defensive-minded coach. One of those players who could have an impact is defensive tackle Christian Maumalanga who has played with 5 NFL teams.

The Hitmen will be a very aggressive team, blitzing a lot and trying to force turnovers.

The Hitmen have sold around 20,000 season tickets, that shouldn't surprise people because the waiting lists are so long to get Giants and Jets season tickets.

TEAM PREVIEW - Birmingham Bolts

Stadium: Legion Field

Head Coach: Gerry DiNardo

Familiar Faces: QB Casey Weldon, QB Jay Barker, RB James Bostic. WR Stepfret Williams.

Player to keep an eye on: WR Quincy Jackson

Jackson is one of the local players on this team after playing his college ball at the University of Alabama. He played last year with the Albany Firebirds of the Arena Football League where in one game he caught 13 passes for 244 yards and four touchdowns. He will be the deep threat for the Bolts, due to his blazing speed. Jackson's main challenge will be staying healthy.

Outlook

Weldon was the second player chosen in the XFL draft. He's another journeyman NFL quarterback that most recently played for the Washington Redskins in 1999. If he struggles it won't take long for the fans to demand local guy Jay Barker. Barker led Alabama to an undefeated national championship in 1992.

Besides Jackson another wide receiver that should be productive is Stepfret Williams, who played with the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals.

Bostic will be the starting running back. He was a two time all SEC player with the Auburn. He bounced around on a couple of NFL teams but never really got the opportunity to play.

On defense the Bolts best player is linebacker James Willis who played seven years in the NFL. He had a career high 96 tackles with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1998.

The Bolts have a several SEC players on their roster that should be no surprise considering DiNardo coached two SEC teams.

TEAM PREVIEW - Chicago Enforcers

Stadium: Soldier Field

Head Coach: Ron Meyer

Familiar Faces: QB Kevin McDougal, RB John Avery, TE Tyji Armstrong, WR Ryan Yarborough, WR Roell Preston.

Player to keep an eye on: RB LeShon Johnson

Johnson has played six years in the NFL. In 1998 he missed the entire season with non-hodgkins lymphoma. In 1999 he came back with the New York Giants and rushed for 163 yards in 16 games. Right now Johnson says his health is not a concern.

Outlook

Tim Lester was named the starting quarterback. He played college football at Western Michigan. McDougal start the season as a backup. He played with the Milwaukee Mustangs of the Arena Football League last season.

The deep threat and kick returner for the Enforcers will be Roell Preston. He played for the Green Bay Packers. Ryan Yarborough is another veteran receiver who has played with the NY Jets and Baltimore Ravens.

John Avery will be the starting running back. He was a first round pick with the Miami Dolphins in 1998. Johnson will be his backup. On defense the Enforcers have a lot players who have played in NFL Europe. (DE Jason Chorak, LB Jamie Baisley, DT Larry Fitzpatrick, DE Matt Finkes and others)

The Enforcers play their first three games on the road (at Orlando, at Los Angeles and at Birmingham). If they don't get off to a good start it could be a long season for the Enforcers.

WESTERN DIVISION

TEAM PREVIEW - Los Angeles Xtreme

Stadium: Los Angeles Coliseum

Head Coach: Al Luginbill

Familiar Faces: QB Tommy Maddox, QB Scott Milanovich, RB Rashaan Shehee, RB Ken Oxendine, LB Steve Russ.

Player to keep an eye on: WR Jermaine Copeland

When Copeland played at Tennessee he was one of Peyton Manning favorite targets. He played for the Barcelona Dragons last season setting an NFL Europe record 74 catches in one season. In one game last season, he caught 19 passes for 164 yards. He will be the best receiver for the Xtreme.

Outlook

Tommy Maddox beat out Scott Milanovich for the starting quarterback job. It looks like playing Arena Football last season helped resurrect Maddox's playing career.Milanovich was the first player chosen in the XFL draft.

The Xtreme will have a solid one-two punch at the running back position. Shehee played for the Kansas City Chiefs. Oxendine played for the Atlanta Falcons.

The Xtreme most experienced player on defense is linebacker Steve Russ who earned two Super Bowl rings playing for the Denver Broncos.

Al Luginbill is an offensive- minded coach. He coached Kurt Warner in NFL Europe. Look for the Xtreme to be putting a lot of points on the scoreboard.

TEAM PREVIEW - San Francisco Demons

Stadium: Pac Bell Park

Head Coach: Jim Skipper

Familiar Faces: QB Mike Pawlawski, QB Pat Barnes, RB Vaughn Dunbar, DB Dwayne Harper, RB Derek Brown.

Player to keep an eye on: WR Calvin Shexnayder

In 1998, Shexnayder was the offensive player of the year for the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League. Since then he was on the San Diego Chargers practice roster briefly. He is a fast receiver and could be the favorite target of Pawlawski.

Outlook

Pawlawski was named the starting quarterback for the Demons. He is the most accomplished quarterback in the XFL. In his five years with the Albany Firebirds, he threw for 16,673 yards and 303 touchdowns, leading the Firebirds to an Arena Football Championship in 1999. Barnes is a more than capable backup. His played in NFL Europe, and helped lead the Frankfurt Galaxy to a World Bowl championship in 1999. It's a shame one of these guys will have to be the backup.

The starting running back for the Demons will be Dunbar. He has not played football since 1995, but was a first round pick in the XFL draft.

Skipper was one of his coaches in New Orleans and feels he still has talent. Another running back who could see some playing time is Derek Brown who did play for the New Orleans Saints.

The Demons have a very experienced secondary. Harper played with three NFL teams(Seattle, Detroit and San Diego). Wendall Davis played with the Dallas Cowboys.

The Demons will have the best home field advantage in the XFL. They have sold over 25,000 season tickets. Pac Bell Park where the San Francisco Giants play has been transformed into a football field with the fans very close to the action.

TEAM PREVIEW - Memphis Maniax

Stadium: Liberty Bowl

Head Coach: Kippy Brown

Familiar Faces: QB Jim Drukenmiller, QB Craig Whelihan, RB Rashaan Salaam, WR Alvin Harper, WR Darryl Hobbs, WR Charles Jordan, K Jeff Hall, LB Patrick Sapp, DB Corey Sawyer.

Player to keep an eye on: QB Beau Morgan.

Despite Morgan being listed as a quarterback, coach Kippy Brown has said he will also be used as a wide receiver, defensive back and holder. Morgan was a wishbone quarterback at Air Force. I wouldn't be too surprised to see Morgan run the wishbone on goal line situations.

With only 38 active players on XFL rosters his versatility will be a tremendous asset.

Outlook

Marcus Crandell beat out Drukenmiller and Whelihan for the starting quarterback job. He played college football at East Carolina. Most of his playing experience has been in the CFL. He is a mobile quarterback with a good arm. He will have plenty of experienced wide receivers to throw to. Harper won two Super Bowl rings with the Dallas Cowboys. Charles Jordan has played with the Packers, Raiders and Dolphins. Darryl Hobbs has played with the Raiders, Saints and Seahawks.

The starting running back for the Maniax will be Heisman Trophy winner Salaam. He hopes playing in the XFL will get him back with an NFL team.

Jeff Hall kicked briefly for the St. Louis Rams connecting on 4 of 5 field goals. He may be the best field goal kicker in the XFL but kickers also have to punt.

The Maniax have some experienced players on defense. Linebacker Patrick Sapp played for the Chargers and the Cardinals. Defensive back Corey Sawyer played with the Bengals and the NY Jets.

One player to keep an eye on is linebacker Shin Yamada. He was a long shot to make the Maniax roster but made enough of an impression with coaches to make the team. He is the first Japanese player to play professional football in the United States.

Yamada played football in Japan for the X-League. He was named X-League western division MVP in 1998 and 1999. Like MLB pitcher Hideo Nomo look for many Japanese nationals to follow his progress.

TEAM PREVIEW - Las Vegas Outlaws

Stadium: Sam Boyd Stadium

Head coach: Jim Criner

Familiar Faces: QB Ryan Clement, G David Diaz Infante, LB Kurt Gouveia, G Lonnie Palelie, DB Toby Wright.

Player to keep an eye on: G David Diaz Infante

At the age of 36, Diaz Infante was brought in to provide veteran leadership to the offensive line. He will coach the younger lineman on the team. He won two Super Bowl rings with the Denver Broncos.

Outlook

Ryan Clement will be the starting quarterback. He played college football at Miami Fla. His favorite target could be Todd Floyd. He played college football at UNLV and helped the Frankfurt Galaxy win a World Bowl championship in 1999.

The running backs for the Outlaws only have college football playing experience. Chrys Chukwuma (Arkansas) and Rod Smart (Western Kentucky).

On defense their leader will be Gouveia who has played with the Chargers, Eagles and Redskins. Defensive end Antonio Edwards played with the Atlanta Falcons. Defensive back Ron Carpenter has played with the NY Jets and won a Super Bowl ring with the St. Louis Rams.

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