With New York Guardians training camp underway in Houston, head coach Kevin Gilbride spoke to ESNY about progress and new rules.
Kevin Gilbride has been involved in football coaching since 1974. But he hasn’t seen anything quite like this.
The XFL unveiled its official rulebook to the public on Tuesday, just over a month before the league hosts its debut weekend across its cities. As the head coach of the New York Guardians, one of the eight newly formed teams, Gilbride is one of the lucky minority who knew the rules prior to the unveiling.
He’s currently working with his team in Houston to master the new regulations. The Guardians are holding their first training camp sessions on the campus of Houston Baptist University.
“(The rules) are interesting,” Gilbride told ESNY. “It’s designed to make the game more exciting.”
The rebooted XFL has repeatedly stated that they will be avoiding the gimmick-dominated football prevalent in its original single-season incarnation in 2001. But changes described as “innovations” will separate a league game from a typical professional football setting.
“Over the past 18 months, we have listened to fans. We have asked what they like about professional football and what they’d like to change,” XFL commissioner Oliver Luck said in a conference call on Tuesday. “The answer is more surprises…less idle time, fewer interruptions.”
The new developments include the allowance of two forward passes (provided the first is completed behind the line of scrimmage), a shootout style overtime system (in which teams run plays from their opponent’s five-yard line and attempt to reach the end zone), and receivers needing only one foot inbounds to complete a catch.
Other changes are intended to speed the game up. While NFL and college games routinely last over three hours, the XFL is aiming for a runtime of two hours and 45 minutes. Teams will be allotted only two timeouts per half and the play clock will run for 25 seconds instead of the customary 40.
Gilbride is particularly intrigued by the developments on special teams.
“(The rules are) particularly out to make the kicking game much more important,” he said. “We’ve always given lip service to football being one-third, one-third, one-third, but you better believe it is here because they’ve structured (the rules) so the return game is essential.”
The XFL will eschew kicking on points-after-touchdowns. Teams will instead run a single play from their choice of the opponent’s two, five, or 10-yard line. If the play reaches the end zone, the team will receive one, two, or three points respectively. This creates touchdowns worth up to nine points.
But, to Gilbride’s point, kickoffs and punts will look very different.
Football kickoffs have taken on increased scrutiny due to high-speed collisions. The defunct Alliance of American Football eliminated the concept entirely during their doomed 2019 run. But the XFL has created a system that they believe maximizes safety and excitement.
Teams will line up five apart from each other. Only the kicker and returner will be afforded a running start. The other ten players will be free to move once the ball is caught or is on the ground for three seconds.
On punts, the kicking team cannot release the line of scrimmage before the ball is kicked. Gunners line up at the line and can move laterally once the ball is snapped but before it’s kicked.
Gilbride is particularly intrigued by the penalties assessed on special teams. If a kickoff goes out-of-bounds or fails to reach the receiving team’s 20-yard-line, the receiving team gets the ball on the opponent’s 45. Touchbacks on punts will place the ball on the receiving team’s own 35. The latter rule has been created to disincentivize punting, especially in an opponent’s territory.
The goal is to increase big plays and dramatics, namely those on fourth down.
“What’s punting in the NFL? You angle it and kick it out of bounds and you kick it as far as you can and kick it out of bounds,” he said. “You do that (in the XFL) and you’re bringing it to the 35-yard line. If you take a chance and try to kick it too exact on the kickoff and you’re wrong, you’re bringing it to the 45-yard line. The penalties are so severe that you have to kick it so the guy has a chance to return it.”
The Guardians’ current specialists are kicker Matthew McCrane and punter Justin Vogel. McCrane earned first-team All-Big 12 honors at Kansas State while Vogel spent the entire 2017 season with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.
Specialists aren’t the only ones adjusting and preparing. The Guardians’ on-field star is likely quarterback Matt McGloin, an alum of Penn State and seven NFL starts. He’s looking forward to seeing what this second chance of professional football has in store for him.
“I made a promise to myself that I was going to play as long as somebody wanted me to,” McGloin told ESNY. “I just love being out here playing football, meetings, watching film. I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s part of who I am and I really enjoy it and at the end of the day it’s a great opportunity. Play for the New York Guardians, be on national TV every week.”
The Guardians will continue training camp at Husky Stadium at Houston Baptist. Their regular-season debut comes on Feb. 9 at MetLife Stadium against the Tampa Bay Vipers (2 p.m. ET, Fox).
The full set of XFL rules can be viewed here.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490.