Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Past spring leagues showed glimpses of A11FL’s coming player versatility

The A11 Football League will launch with showcase games next spring, and will play its first full season in the spring of 2015.

Prior to this, there have been three major spring outdoor alternative professional football leagues – the United States Football League (1983-85), the World League of American Football/NFL Europe (1991-92, 1995-2007) and the XFL (2001).

And in those leagues, there have been glimpses of the player versatility that will be commonplace in the A11FL:

-       Prior to the debut of the USFL, professional football in the United States was loathed to feature any quarterback who wasn’t of the “pocket passer” mold. In fact, in the strike-shortened 1982 National Football League regular-season (nine games), the leading quarterback rusher was David Woodley of the Miami Dolphins with 207 yards. And, only Woodley, Tampa Bay’s Doug Williams (158 yards) and Washington’s Joe Theismann (150) ran for as many as 150 yards from the QB position that year.

The mold was broken beginning with the 1983 USFL campaign, as Birmingham Stallions rookie Reggie Collier made his pro debut with 253 rushing yards and a 6.5-yard average in just seven games. But in 1984, there were two rookie QBs who ran for more than 500 yards, providing their teams with high-quality run-pass dual-threats – Memphis’ Walter Lewis (552 yards) and Los Angeles’ Steve Young (515). And by 1985, Collier, who was with the Orlando Renegades, was running for 606 yards and a dozen touchdowns.

Consequently, the USFL had a hand in changing who/what constituted a quality quarterback. By 1986, the NFL’s leading rushing quarterback was a part-time starter – Philadelphia Eagles youngster Randall Cunningham (540 yards, five touchdowns, 8.2 yards per carry).

-       Long before there was a player in the NFL like Danny Woodhead, who is as productive catching passes out wide as he is taking handoffs, the WLAF featured Eric Mitchel of the Orlando Thunder. In the 1991 season, playing in Head Coach Don Matthews’ four-wide pass-happy, Canadian Football League-style offense, Mitchel spent most of the first half of the season as a slot receiver and most of the second half as a running back. And he racked up yards no matter where he lined up – 281 rushing yards and three touchdowns, 312 receiving yards and one TD and 276 kickoff return yards and another score. Mitchel averaged a whopping 11.4 yards on his 76 touches, and scored five touchdowns.

-       And while the NFL now has running back/receiver types moving all over the field – including as a quarterback in direct-snap/Wildcat situations, the XFL had perhaps the most versatile player of the spring outdoor alternative pro football genre in Memphis Maniax running back/quarterback/wide receiver/special teamer/defensive back Beau Morgan. A quarterback at the Air Force, Morgan ran 17 times for 37 yards, caught 10 passes for 82 yards and two touchdowns, returned six kickoffs for 106 yards and made two total tackles.

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