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Quarterbacks, gameplay get spotlight as Training Camp ends

Dallas Renegades quarterback Philip Nelson

Dallas Renegades QB Philip Nelson (9) warms up before Monday's Training Camp scrimmage against the St. Louis BattleHawks. (Credit: Thomas Campbell)

HOUSTON – That’s a wrap for Houston. Now the real work begins.

The closest we’ve come to real XFL football took centerstage earlier this week, as the entire eight-team league hit the field for scrimmages under actual game conditions. The four contests at TDECU Stadium mimicked the schedule for XFL Kickoff Weekend on Feb. 8-9.

The scoreboard wasn’t the point, so gameplans remained pretty vanilla by design. With these teams seeing each other again in less than three weeks, they felt no need to give away too much.

The teams seemed to have a good feel for the rhythm of the game. The faster pace, including the 25-second play clock, didn’t lead to many procedure penalties, as offenses got in their sets early and defenses were ready.

XFL Training Camp: Week 2 highlights

Dallas Renegades head coach Bob Stoops praised the game flow after scrimmaging the St. Louis Battlehawks.

“Good football, both sides, both teams competed against each other well,” Stoops said. “We really got a lot of work done with just the whole layout of the game, timing of it all. There’s a lot of good football players out there. I thought both sides really played well overall, avoided foolish penalties and played a good clean game of football.”

Instead, the scrimmages were about execution, intensity and another chance for players to make an impression before rosters were finalized.

For the most part, that was on display.

“I saw guys excited to have an opportunity to play the game of football,” DC Defenders head coach Pep Hamilton said. “They enjoyed that feeling of having a gameday atmosphere. It was a good dress rehearsal.”

New York Guardians head coach Kevin Gilbride noted the impact special teams could have, especially the rules regarding kickoffs and punts.

“You’re always hoping for a big play because that can certainly ignite some things for you,” Gilbride said after facing the Tampa Bay Vipers. “And I do believe the way this game is structured, the kicking game becomes paramount.”

CENTERSTAGE UNDER CENTER

Though position battles are occurring up and down the rosters, the eyes of most fans and interested observers will be focused on quarterback play. The approach of how QBs were used throughout the scrimmages ran the gamut as teams continue attempting to solidify the sport’s most important position.

The league invested heavily in attracting quality quarterbacks, many with experience in the NFL and other professional leagues.

“Good quarterback play is absolutely critical,” XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck said. “No question about it. We recognize that. A year ago when we started thinking deeply about signing players, we made a priority to identify and sign quarterbacks that were going to be as good as we could possibly get.”

The Battlehawks used four quarterbacks, including recently signed Nick Fitzgerald, against Dallas. Going into final cuts, St. Louis could be in a strong position to trade depth at quarterback for another area of need.

St. Louis BattleHawks quarterback Jordan Ta'amu

St. Louis BattleHawks QB Jordan Ta'amu (10) looks downfield during Monday's scrimmage against the Dallas Renegades. (Credit: Thomas Campbell)

Decisions on who'll stay and who'll go won't be easy. 

“There’s always tough decisions when you tell men when this is their dream and they can’t do it anymore, at least with us,” St. Louis coach Jonathan Hayes said. “That’s always tough.”

Dallas is in an entirely different spot. With projected starting quarterback Landry Jones still nursing a knee injury and Eric Dungey dinged up, the Renegades went with Philip Nelson for the whole game against St. Louis.

Nelson rebounded after a slow start to throw a pair of touchdown passes.

“Philip was great really after the first quarter,” Stoops said. “From the second quarter on did a fantastic job having to work with a lot of receivers. I liked a lot of what he did."

Quarterback play was also the talk after the Los Angeles Wildcats faced the Houston Roughnecks. The Wildcats dealt Luis Perez to the Guardians for Chad Kanoff, who threw two second-half touchdown passes.

“And the guy just got here a couple damn days ago,” Wildcats head coach Winston Moss said, referring to the Jan. 19 trade. “That’s the most impressive thing. He’s had maybe one-and-a-half installs, and he goes in and runs the show like he’s been here for months.

“For all those naysayers that were killing us on social media about that trade going down … how you like it now? Boom. Mic drop.”

DC signal-caller Cardale Jones, one of the league’s higher-profile players, played the entire first half against the Seattle Dragons. Tyree Jackson, who’s been impressive throughout camp, took over in the second half.

Seattle alternated between B.J. Daniels and Brandon Silvers against the Defenders. Dragons head coach Jim Zorn, who played the position in the NFL, admitted that strategy probably led to the offense’s uneven performance.

“We’re trying to judge a lot of different guys,” he said. “That probably kept the continuity and consistency down, even between quarterbacks. You get one drive and you’re out. That didn’t sit well with an old guy like me, but they stayed positive and played hard.”

The Guardians came out firing against Tampa Bay, with Matt McGloin throwing three touchdowns (and two picks) in the first half.

Vipers starter Aaron Murray played much of the first quarter before giving way to Taylor Cornelius.

The Roughnecks were able to move the ball effectively against Los Angeles at times with both Phillip Walker and Connor Cook.

The attention after the scrimmages immediately shifted to setting the 52-man rosters and pads hitting for real. The next time the real uniforms come on, the scoreboard is going to matter.

So as the teams will settle in their respective markets after spending much of the month in the Houston area, practices will take on a whole new light.

“We’ll look forward to the next two weeks cleaning this stuff up to where we’re going to have to really play a good game Feb. 8,” Moss said.