XFL unveils 'Team 9'
The idea isn’t revolutionary, though it’s unique to professional football today.
The XFL has established “Team 9” for the benefit of the rest of the eight-team league … and for 40 players still chasing their football dreams.
Team 9 is essentially an extra squad stocked with players available to fill open roster spots on any team in the league at any time. Say the St. Louis BattleHawks lose a safety in Week 2, they can “call up” a football-ready replacement in time to face the New York Guardians in Week 3.
“In every football league, there is constant churn,” XFL CEO and Commissioner Oliver Luck said. “I’m sure every one of these rosters is going to change by the time Week 1 rolls around. They’ll bring in new guys or someone pulls a hamstring, it’s just inevitable.
“So Team 9 will be ready to roll as a replacement team that’s got to be constantly replenished, so all these guys that got the bad news about getting cut, a bunch of them of them are going to be back in the league through Team 9.”
XFL director of scouting Eric Galko is overseeing Team 9, which is based in Arlington, Texas, and will practice at Globe Life Park, home of the Dallas Renegades. While Team 9 will share some resources with the Renegades, such as training and medical services, it will largely function as a separate entity.
"You couldn’t pick up a left tackle off the street in Scotland. We needed a group of guys who could practice and literally jump on a plane.”
Meet the new boss
Bart Andrus is coaching Team 9. In a career spanning four decades, Andrus has coached in the NFL, CFL, NFL Europe, college and other spring leagues. He was an NFL offensive assistant in Tennessee and St. Louis, won an NFL Europe championship as head coach of Amsterdam in 2005 and was a CFL head coach with Toronto.
Andrus worked in NFL Europe with Luck, who served as commissioner from 1996-2000. That’s where the concept of an extra practice team was born.
“It was lifted directly from my experience with NFL Europe,” Luck said. “We literally called it ‘Team Dallas’ because it was in Dallas. The genesis of that was with teams in Europe, American players needed work permits. You couldn’t pick up a left tackle off the street in Scotland. We needed a group of guys who could practice and literally jump on a plane.”
Work visas aren’t required this time around, but the need remains. Galko referred to Team 9 as the “best 40 players that our teams want at the ready.” All but one player was in XFL training camps earlier this month in Houston. The league released the eight 52-player rosters earlier this week.
The slimmed-down Team 9 roster won’t include specialists (kickers, punters, long snappers) but will have all other position groups and will practice several times per week. The human performance company EXOS will also work with Team 9 daily to improve strength and conditioning in an effort to cut down on potential injuries.
"Our objective is to teach them how to practice as a professional."
XFL team personnel departments will have constant access to Team 9 coaches and players, including film and the ability to attend practices.
During his time in NFL Europe, Andrus heard from NFL personnel people all the time regarding his players. He’s looking forward to sharing the same intel with the coaches and teams around the XFL.
“The conversations are the important thing,” Andrus said. “You can look at video, but what’s in a player’s head right now? How’s he doing from a psychological standpoint? Is he adjusting? Is he a team guy? What’s the equipment guy say about him?
“It’s more than just football. Teams want guys that are with it mentally and are into it. That’s a big part. This is a chance for those guys to polish their resume with not only what they’re putting on video, but how they’re approaching being a professional football player. They get a chance to learn to be a pro.”
The league will maintain Team 9. It’s not meant to be a “waystation,” Galko said, where teams can send down or stash players. The XFL goal is to build a Team 9 with the players that are familiar and accessible to teams -- and prepared to play.
Andrus and his staff will install basic offensive and defensive schemes with terms that are universal throughout football. It’s not so much about learning specific terminology or building a playbook. Instead, it’s about keeping players ready mentally and physically, getting reps in and reinforcing core concepts.
Andrus will work primarily with quarterbacks. Two former NFL Europe head coaches fill out the staff, with Pete Kuharchek working with the defense and Peter Vaas on offense. Both have experience teaching all position groups.
“They’re going to learn actual offensive and defensive schemes because we have to practice against each other,” Andrus said. “Our objective is to teach them how to practice as a professional. In pro football you go full speed, but you don’t hit or take anybody to the ground. They’re not hurting anybody on the field, but they’re keeping their bodies callused for football.
“We want to refine as much as we can the individual skill and technique. Just something as simple as a receiver actually catching the ball with his hands instead of taking it into his body. We’re going to keep them ready so when they get called up to an XFL team, they’re football-ready.”
Galko acknowledges that the model is foreign to many of the XFL team coaches and personnel departments, so a transition period or “cushion” is being built in regarding call-ups.
For the first two weeks of the season, XFL teams are encouraged to pull from Team 9 to fill an open spot, but it’s not required. The Tampa Bay Vipers, for example, might be more comfortable signing a receiver cut in training camp who’s not on Team 9, and the league understands that perspective.
After Week 2, it’ll be a league requirement to utilize Team 9 players to plug an open roster spot. All XFL teams should be familiar with Team 9 players by then.
“Our team staffs are learning to appreciate having this great access to players," Galko said.
'Team 9' QB Joe Callahan, pictured with the Dragons, gets ready to make a throw while in Houston for a Training Camp scrimmage. (Credit: Thomas Campbell)
As XFL teams dip into this resource, Team 9 will constantly get restocked to stay at 40 players. The league is also planning for the normal attrition that comes with a football season, as players get banged up and are limited in practice.
With that in mind, the 40 players on Team 9 will be absorbed by the eight teams after Week 5, allowing rosters to increase from 52 to 57 players to help run effective practices. (Gameday active rosters are 46.) At that point Team 9 will be reloaded -- Galko estimates around 36 players -- to finish out the season.
Team 9 practices are scheduled to begin Feb. 3. Players will be available to XFL teams for private workouts every other Monday starting Feb. 10. The league can also utilize Team 9 to test new technology, including equipment, and measure other physiological trends.
Tracking injuries in other pro leagues, such as the NFL and the AAF, Galko noted that many players that weren’t on a roster to begin the season end up being starters after four or five weeks.
For the members of Team 9, there’s a legitimate chance for the same.
“Guys that are on Team 9 roster today, probably a quarter of them will end up starting multiple games in the XFL this season,” he said. “Their dreams aren’t close to being dead.”
'Team 9' roster
(Note: Roster as of Jan. 30, 2020)
|QB||Joe Callahan||OT||Patrick Lawrence|
|QB||CJ Collins||OT||Rod Taylor|
|QB||Garrett Fugate||DE||Jesse Aniebonam|
|QB||Marcus McDade||DE||Martin Ifedi|
|RB||Darnell Holland||DE||Alex Jenkins|
|RB||Ray Lawry||DT||Daryle Banfield|
|WR||Davon Grayson||DT||Shane Bowman|
|WR||TreyDonte Hill||DT||Andrew Stelter|
|WR||Taivon Jacobs||DT||Trenton Thompson|
|WR||Dalton Ponchillia||LB||Markus Jones|
|WR||Andrew Verboys||LB||Darnell Leslie|
|WR||Carl Whitley||DB||Bryce Cheek|
|TE||Connor Davis||DB||Reggie Cole|
|TE||Pharoah McKever||DB||Marwin Evans|
|OC||Ryan Anderson||DB||Tyree Holder|
|OG||Korren Kirven||DB||Josh Jenkins|
|OG||Terronne Prescod||DB||Derrick Jones|
|OT||Nick Callander||DB||Jermaine Ponder|
|OT||Gerhard de Beer||DB||Robenson Therezie|