And we’re off! The first of the eight XFL Summer Showcase workouts took place today at The University of Texas at Arlington only a few short miles from XFL Dallas’ home in Globe Life Park. Roughly 100 athletes with almost equal numbers of offense and defense showed up to showcase their skills for XFL coaches and team management.
The weather was just about Texas perfect for this first XFL Showcase being partly cloudy, almost no wind and going from mid-seventies to mid-eighties toward the end.
The general admittance gates were scheduled to open at 11:30 am, at which time players were already doing drills. The players were on opposite ends of the field, divided almost equally on each side with skill position players on one end and interior players on the other.
The offense in white and defense in navy. There was a smaller group in the middle with what at first looked like quarterbacks receiving the ball out by the hash and then throwing somewhat deep. At closer inspection and wondering why they were not with the other quarterbacks it hit me, these are not quarterbacks they are practicing the double forward pass. Not five minutes in and I’m already seeing new stuff.
They started off doing some simple backpedals, starting from the secondary backwards toward the QB and then would turn a 180 on command about 10 yards out and the QB would fire the ball at them. Then they moved onto some more follow the ball/coach back and forth, followed by a mid or deeper pass. After these one-on-none drills they moved to one-on-one receiver/defensive back routes doing the standard curls, quick-outs and then deep throws.
Before looking at the roster while watching the QBs throw, I started making a quick tally of 1 or 2 points for each throw. 2 for a good, tight, accurate throw and 1 for a lesser one. After four or five rounds one QB kept getting all 2’s and hitting all the marks with nice throws. His number was 24, so I then looked him up, Landry Jones. So, without even knowing who it was beforehand, his previous NFL skills quickly showed through. Christine Michael also looked pretty good; showing fast, multiple cuts and then getting downhill. I also quickly noticed him in the backfield, off play whenever turning away for a bit and looking back. He would be moving lots, just a bit off to the side sometimes for more room and even one of the only players to drop down and bust out a quick set of push-ups when the offense threw an interception. He seemed to be full of energy, enjoying it out there and taking advantage of it.
Besides the more well-known players, there was one other that I noticed was on a long go route and hitting about 40 yards down the right sideline with a leaping one-handed grab over a well covering DB. This guy was big, tall and appeared plenty fast against the DB coverage. One of the few plays to get the crowd cheering. It turned out to be a tight-end and not a wide receiver by the name of Brandon Barnes, from Alabama State. He also had another near one-handed catch over the middle a bit later. Definitely curious to see if he gets drafted.
I am sure there were also a few other standouts and even more from the interior players, but they were a bit harder to judge in this type of setting from the sidelines.
After the workouts during a Q&A in Chalk Talk, Bob Stoops mentioned a couple people that caught his eye as well; Ahmad Dixon (safety from Baylor), Landry Jones (QB from Oklahoma) and Frank Alexander (DE from Oklahoma). He might have been keeping his cards close to the vest as it was Landry Jones and another former OU player, but I am sure he was being honest. He came across genuine and a bit humble for someone with his pedigree. Someone asked him what it was like being the royalty of the XFL coaches, and he said, “I don’t know about all that, I haven’t even won a game yet, I am zero and zero”.
Speaking of Chalk Talk, after the workout there was a presentation and Q&A with CEO/Commissioner Oliver Luck and XFL Dallas Head Coach/General Manager Bob Stoops. This was an invite only gathering in one of the stadium meeting rooms, mostly for season ticket depositors and media to get more versed in the XFL nuances. During this Oliver Luck came out and gave us a presentation about what the XFL was, speedier play, different kickoff, slightly different punt return, OT rules and such. It was a lot of the stuff XFL superfans have seen before, but there were a couple nuggets I heard for the first time.
Oliver Luck did confirm the divisions will be East and West. Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston making up the West and St. Louis, Tampa Bay, New York and Washington DC on the East. The teams will play the three other teams in their division, home and away. Then play the four teams in the other division once to get to the total 10 games. Then, although he didn’t confirm as they were still tinkering, but they were heavily leaning toward cross division scheduling in the playoffs. Leading to having the two best teams in the championship regardless of division. I think this is a great idea for only an eight-team league.
At the end of the day this was a spectacular event, marking the “first official football action of XFL 2020” (Oliver Luck’s words to us at the Chalk Talk).
Everyone there seemed genuinely happy and were very nice to all who were there. And the fans in the Q&A had lots of questions and were really interested in getting up to speed on the XFL game. This event turned out very well and I encourage any fans to get to one of these if they can. And if you can get in the Chalk Talk then drive from even further, because you may not get that type of setting with the league commissioner and local head coach ever again