The XFL is here again to fill everyone’s football needs during the offseason. Maybe.
Time will tell if the league’s reincarnation can survive longer than its first attempt in the early 2000s, but in the meantime, there are plenty of former Panthers playing in it. Those players include:
RB Cameron Artis-Payne, Dallas Renegades.
RB Elijah Hood, Los Angeles Wildcats
QB Taylor Heinicke, St. Louis BattleHawks
C Brian Folkerts, St. Louis BattleHawks
DE Kony Ealy, Houston Roughnecks
WR Austin Duke, New York Guardians
DE Frank Alexander, Dallas Renegades
WR Rashaad Ross, DC Defenders
DE Tracy Sprinkle, DC Defenders
OG Dorian Johnson, DC Defenders
(Hat tip to redditor SickBurnBro on /r/Panthers for putting that list together.)
Former tight end Greg Olsen is calling XFL games as an analyst. He shared he’ll be calling the game between the St. Louis BattleHawks and Houston Roughnecks this Sunday.
But what is most intriguing from an NFL perspective is the fact the XFL is using innovative rules. It would be worth it for the NFL to use the XFL’s experimentation like MLB uses the minor leagues to see how new rules could be beneficial in their games.
Panthers safety, and soon-to-be free agent, Tre Boston took note, making a joke on Twitter about a defensive player not being flagged for an aggressive hit.
“I watched this play and instantly checked my bank account, scared I got Fined another 50k for just watching it! Lol they Making Tackling Fun Again! If it sounds loud it’s a Fine with us,” Boston wrote.
While there’s plenty of time to debate safety versus making the game more fun and fair for defensive players, it’s unlikely that the NFL would adopt any policy that moves the game toward being less safe, especially with the league reportedly pushing for a 17-game season in the new CBA.
Many of the rules that the XFL is using are designed to increase pace of play, making games take less time. These include a 25-second game clock, 15 seconds shorter than the NFL, and allowing helmets with speakers to be worn by more players in order to hear play calls, and thus line up for plays quicker. All offensive skill position players and six defenders are allowed to wear these helmets. In the NFL, only one player on each side of the ball has a speaker in their helmet (the quarterback and a linebacker, usually). The average Panthers game in 2019 lasted 3 hours, 15 minutes and 15 seconds. (Shortest game lasted 2 hours, 56 minutes at Arizona; the longest was 3:51 vs. Tampa Bay.)
Perhaps the most interesting rule is the one that may seem unimportant at first glance. Kickoffs in the NFL have become incredibly routine. So many are just touchbacks, and more often than not, nothing surprising happens.
The XFL is trying to change that. The kicker has been moved back to the 30-yard line and the coverage team and blockers have been moved down field before the kickoff. No one else moves until the returner catches the kick, designed to provide a higher chance for some sort of return. This model minimizes high-speed collisions as the players on the opposing team do not have as much time to build up speed when attempting to tackle the returner, and makes the play more exciting.
Of the 35 kickoffs over the first weekend of the XFL last week, 32 were returned (91 percent), per ESPN. This past season, 60.9 percent of NFL kickoffs went for touchbacks and just 36 percent were returned.
A full XFL season gives the NFL the time to watch whether this could work, while keeping players safe over the duration of the season. Regardless of the XFL 2.0’s longevity, the NFL could learn something from it to improve its product.
XFL Week 2 schedule
New York at DC, 2 p.m. Saturday, ABC
Tampa Bay at Seattle, 5 p.m. Saturday, FOX
Dallas at Los Angeles, 3 p.m. Sunday, ABC
St. Louis at Houston, 6 p.m. Sunday, FS1