Kevin Gilbride
Photo: Geoff Magliocchetti

The New York Guardians, along with the rest of their XFL brethren, took the field for the first as a team on Thursday in New Jersey.

Geoff Magliocchetti

Springtime may be a distant wish for the icy metropolitan era. Nonetheless, football minicamp is nonetheless underway in New Jersey as a new year on the gridiron prepares to get underway.

The New York Guardians unofficially opened their franchise on Thursday afternoon, as the area’s new XFL franchise met practice for the first time.

Thursday’s session, held at the Superdome Sports training facility in Waldwick, marked the opening of the Guardians’ inaugural minicamp en route to their opener at MetLife Stadium on Feb. 9. Minicamp began with just over 70 players, who will be whittled down to 52 by the time the league opens one week after Super Bowl 54.

Guardians head coach Kevin Gilbride remarked that it was hard to truly take anything away from Thursday’s opening session. After all, the players were gathered for the first time in an unpadded practice, mostly limited to drills and seven-on-seven sessions. Camp’s earliest days may be best spent adjust to the new rules and innovations of the rebooted XFL.

While the league is avoiding the gimmicks 2001’s original incarnation was notorious for, it is still set to unveil new innovations and adjustments that will make it different from a typical professional football game. For example, Gilbride said that touchbacks on XFL punts will situate the next possession on the 35-yard-line rather than the 20. Gunners will also be barred from running downfield before the ball is kicked.

Gilbride, however, was pleased to report his team’s enthusiasm was through the roofs as they inch closer toward opening weekend.

“You can’t ask for more in terms of excitement,” Gilbride said. “They’re all happy to be here. We can’t get them off the field, so that’s always a good sign. I think the fact that it seems like they understand that the only way that they’re going to get where we want to go, which is to win the championship, is to put forth great effort. They certainly did that (today).”

True to his words, members of the Guardians’ passing and receiving corps remained on the field to run routes while Gilbride spoke to reporters.

The former New York Giants offensive coordinator and San Diego Chargers head coach is one of many names on the Guardians’ ledger boasting NFL experience. For example, Gilbride is assisted by fellow ex-Giant Jim Herrman, as the former blue linebackers coach is now the defensive coordinator for the XFL squad. Herrman is assisted by C.J. Ah You, who played six seasons with the Rams.

On the field, professional experience and college accolades are present in nearly every depth chart slot. Gilbride believes it will make for a relatively seamless transition for a new league, and allow New York to make some instant noise.

“I think the fact they’ve been exposed to what is demanded out of professional athletes, that’s certainly in our favor,” Gilbride said. “I think the experience is something that we’re looking for to serve as a catalyst in terms of helping with the learning curve, helping (younger) guys grow. They know what to expect. They’re not going to shy about pointing things out to the guys.”

New York’s most notable addition is perhaps quarterback Matt McGloin. Allocated by the league to the Guardians, the Penn State product has made seven starts at the NFL level. McGloin took the majority of snaps when the offense was on the field, throwing to a diverse cast that included fellow Big Ten alum DeAngelo Yancey of Purdue. Yancey was the Guardians’ first selection in last month’s draft.

McGloin and Yancey were on hand in Waldwick earlier in the week to model the Guardians’ new uniform set, in which they were adorned during Thursday’s proceedings. The quarterback likewise expressed enthusiasm in his new opportunity with his new team.

“We’re doing everything that we can in the short time that we have, just constantly trying to get reps,” McGloin said. “We’ve got a good group of guys and it’s been a lot of fun so far.”

“This is new for everybody. (Minicamp) is slow-paced, so we’re just trying to throw as much as we can out there, see what sticks, see what we’re good at, and keep building.”

The Guardians’ next open practice session comes on Monday afternoon in Waldwick. A practice on Dec. 14 will be open to select fans and season ticket holders and will be held at the West Point Military Academy. Training camps commence in January, with proceedings shifting to college football fields in Texas. The Guardians’ training camp will be held at Husky Stadium on the campus of Houston Baptist University.

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