Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Broad television exposure key factor in spring outdoor pro football

There is no such thing as overstating the importance of a high-quality television contract when talking about a new spring outdoor professional football league.

“There isn’t any question that the single biggest component that we have to get done is television,” said Scott McKibben, A11 Football League Chief Executive Officer/Commissioner. “That’s the gas in the tank.”

The three previous spring outdoor pro football leagues – the United States Football League (1983-85), the World League of American Football (1991-92, 1995-97)/NFL Europe (1998-2007) and the XFL (2001) – all had a substantial television presence for most or all of their lives.

-          The USFL had the advantage when it was getting its ducks in a row in 1982 of having a fledgling sports cable network (ESPN) that needed more big-time live programming. It also didn’t hurt that USFL Commissioner Chet Simmons was an ESPN executive at one time. Having both a broadcast TV deal (ABC) and a cable deal gave the USFL the weekly exposure it desperately needed, given that it was the first league going into the uncharted territory of playing pro football in a non-traditional time of year. It also had the good fortune of having a lead play-by-play announcer like Keith Jackson during ABC telecasts.

-          The WLAF played its first two seasons on two continents and in five countries, and did so on American television with a combo package similar to that of the USFL – a set of games on broadcast (ABC) and a set on cable (USA Network). Easily the biggest name to broadcast early WLAF games was Brent Musburger, and USA Network games were where future broadcasters like Boomer Esiason and Dan Marino cut their teeth. Once the WLAF/NFLE returned after its two-year hiatus, it had a number of broadcast partners, including DirecTV, FX, FOX, FOX Sports Net and NFL Network.

-          The XFL was a joint venture partially owned by NBC, so of course it ended up being one of three networks to broadcast games – and the primary broadcast partner. NBC did Saturday-night telecasts (one national and one regional), and both TNN and UPN did Sunday telecasts. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of those telecasts was having Jesse Ventura as a color analyst for national NBC telecasts. Unlike the bigger USFL and the more spread-out WLAF/NFLE, the XFL saw all of its games televised either nationally or regionally.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Choice of head coach-quarterback combo could make, break an A11FL team

Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr.

Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw.

Bill Walsh and Joe Montana.

Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

These are just some of the famous highly-successful head coach-quarterback combos in the history of the National Football League. A team can win with a great quarterback or a great head coach, but it can win championships with both.

A11 Football League teams are going to have to make the right call in terms of all of their hires – from the very top of the organization to the very bottom. But the choices of head coach and starting quarterback for each team will be among the most crucial.

What would be some of the potential “dream” A11FL head coach-quarterback pairings?

CALIFORNIA – A Rick Neuheisel-Dennis Dixon combination would be quite a site. Neuheisel is a natural here for three reasons – 1) his offensive background as a professional quarterback, assistant coach and head coach, 2) his deep UCLA ties as a quarterback, assistant and head coach and 3) his background in a previous alternative outdoor spring professional football league (as quarterback of the United States Football League’s San Antonio Gunslingers, 1984-85). Dixon ran Oregon’s high-tempo offense as a collegian, and currently is on the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad. His run-pass dual threat and experience would make for a quality pairing with a teacher like Neuheisel.

FLORIDA – Herman Edwards and Tim Tebow. This might seem like an odd pairing at first, Edwards being a defensive-minded coach. But Edwards, who has Florida ties from his time as an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers prior to his two NFL head coaching stints, knows players play to win the game. And Tebow most certainly plays all-out to win the game. Edwards could use his vast pro coaching background to try to stop A11FL offenses, and Tebow was born to run an A11FL offense. Personality-wise, Edwards and Tebow would be a very good match.

ILLINOIS – Charlie Weis and Jordan Lynch. Weis is in his second stint as a college football coach at Kansas after spending many years as an offensive coordinator with the New York Jets, New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and the University of Florida. His fertile offensive mind would go well with the dual-threat of Lynch, who is a senior at Northern Illinois and is racking up yards and touchdowns with his arm and his legs at a high rate. Weis could come up with high-octane offensive game plans with a player like Lynch who throws like a quarterback and runs like a tailback.

MICHIGAN – Steve Mariucci and Dan LeFevour. Mariucci has been out of coaching since 2005, and who knows whether or not he has an itch to go back to the sidelines? But someone like “Mooch” with his offensive background, his Michigan ties (born in Iron Mountain and played quarterback/coached at Northern Michigan) and a brief alternative outdoor spring pro football league (assistant with the USFL’s Orlando Renegades in 1985) would go well with a pivot like LeFevour. The dual-threat LeFevour has been a backup in the Canadian Football League after “touring” the NFL for a couple seasons, but has the ability to be a pro starting quarterback.

NEW YORK/NEW JERSEY – Mike Shanahan and JaMarcus Russell. Big markets deserve big names. And head coach Mike Shanahan, currently in his 20th season as an NFL head coach and fourth season leading the Washington Redskins, and quarterback JaMarcus Russell, once the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, both fit that bill. Shanahan has 170 wins at the NFL level, as well as back-to-back Super Bowl titles, and has adapted his team’s offense to fit the skills of dynamic quarterback Robert Griffin III. Russell, six years removed from being the top pick in the draft, also is four years removed from any pro game action. He is attempting a comeback, and could be the face of a team – or an entire league.

PENNSYLVANIA – Brad Childress and Pat White. Childress has a Pennsylvania background as a longtime assistant coach under Andy Reid with the Philadelphia Eagles, and has been an offensive assistant or head coach in the NFL since 1999. He currently serves as “spread game analyst” for the Kansas City Chiefs. Childress’ playbook would be even thicker thanks to the ability of White to both run and pass the ball down the field. White has had a checkered pro career after setting many records at West Virginia, and this would be White’s first true shot at a pro starting job.

TEXAS – Houston Nutt and Vince Young. Nutt never has been a pro head coach, but has plenty of coaching experience in the South, including his two most-recent head coaching jobs at Arkansas and Ole Miss. This would be a pairing of a head coach who flat-out wins (11 winning seasons, .584 overall winning percentage in 19 college seasons), and a quarterback who flat-out wins. Young is 31-19 as a starter in the NFL, and was 30-2 as a starter at Texas. Young would be a fan favorite in the state of Texas, and with Nutt running the show, the two could have the Texas A11FL team winning right away.

Monday, November 25, 2013

McKibben – A11FL fans will get TV, most market details before Christmas

A11 Football League Chief Executive Officer/Commissioner Scott McKibben knows fans of the new spring outdoor professional football league want more details about various aspects of the progress of the circuit.

And those fans are about to get some of those details.

“We are getting very close to where we will do our national announcement,” said McKibben, adding that the announcement will include who the league’s television partner will be, as well as announcing six of the league’s eight initial markets as being “solid.” “There are still two (markets) that could change and could be in flux, and that’s because of interest from different ownership groups and interest in TV. Within the next 30 days, certainly before Christmas, we will make an announcement.”

McKibben said the conclusion of the television deal, of which the A11FL is in serious late-stage negotiations with three networks, is what has delayed the league’s national announcement. He added that the league’s equipment/merchandise/apparel sponsor will tie in with the television announcement.

“When we do our national announcement, we want to do it with something of substance,” said McKibben. “Television is probably the single-most important and critical element of a league, whether it is a professional league or a college conference. We’ve all seen what the value economically is. But equally as important is, with the various types of distribution, having your product in the hands of a high-quality network broadcaster. There isn’t any question that the single biggest component that we have to get done is television. That’s the gas in the tank.”

“The development of the league and the launch of the league continues to move forward. We’ve been very pleased. On the fundraising side, we’ve spent a lot of time on the road, and we’re getting a lot of interest on the team and league level.”

McKibben said the A11FL will go ahead with two “showcase games,” both nationally-televised, in May 2014. The coaching staffs for the two showcase games will be the eight head coaches for the full inaugural A11FL season, as well as a few more additional assistant coaches for each team.

“I’m not going to mention any of them by name,” McKibben said of potential A11FL head coaches. “We’re looking for coaches who want to coach at the professional level who are great at developing players, who understand this is a league that isn’t like Arena Football or any of the others – this is National Football League-kind of football. It’s not about names as it is about the quality of the coach.”

The inaugural A11FL season will begin the last weekend of March 2015, and end with the first A11FL championship game on or around Fourth of July weekend.

The A11FL has the advantage, or disadvantage, depending on your point of view, of coming into being in the “digital age” of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. – things previous spring outdoor pro football leagues didn’t have access to.

McKibben sees this as a positive, saying, “I think we have an advantage that the USFL, the XFL and the UFL didn’t have. While we haven’t made an official announcement, it has piqued the interest of our fan base. This continues to go on, and it feeds on itself. It feeds on the interest of our fans. While at times, it has consumed some of our time in having to respond, I think it’s better to have visibility than silence. I’ll take the chatter over silence any day.”

The A11FL will have four player drafts/allocations over 60 days through January of 2015 to stock the bulk of its eight teams’ rosters for training camp:

-       A territorial allocation of players who were eligible for the National Football League Draft from 2009-14.
-       A common draft of non-territorial players who were eligible for the NFL Draft from 2009-14.
-       A territorial allocation of players eligible for the NFL Draft in 2015.
-       A common draft of non-territorial players eligible for the NFL Draft in 2015.

“The regional component is quite attractive for a league starting up because of the familiarity of the fans in the region, of the media familiarity,” McKibben said, “and a lot of these players will want to stay reasonably close to home, if possible. We only protect a few schools for a few rounds, so we think we have just the right mix. I think we’ve struck the right balance.”

The behind-the-scenes developments with the A11FL in recent months have served to heighten McKibben’s excitement about what’s to come in 2014, 2015 and beyond.

“As you get closer and you become more of what I would call ‘real’ to people, the excitement picks up, no question about it,” he said. “The real threshold point for us is when we have completed a national television agreement. We haven’t done an official announcement, because it’s our view that one of the most important components is, what’s the media going to be, what’s the television going to be.

“It (the excitement) has continued to grow by the day. The closer you get to the reality of this thing really coming together, the more excited you get. When you get down to the deep points, it begins to feel more like it’s real. We’re set and ready to go.”

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A11FL’s high-quality players will come in many shapes, sizes

The A11 Football League has made this crystal clear – it will have National Football League-quality players who fit the A11 game.

That might mean that teams will have more running backs that look like Darren Sproles than Jerome Bettis, but there will be a role for both types of runners.

Sproles, perhaps the poster boy for NFL overachievers, is listed at 5-foot-6 and 190 pounds. There aren’t many players in the NFL his size, but that says more about the NFL’s continuing biases (scouting combine numbers over actual on-field college numbers) than Sproles’ productivity – 2,147 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing, 3,240 yards and 27 touchdowns receiving, 8,253 yards and two touchdowns on kickoff returns and 1,559 yards and three touchdowns on punt returns.

In almost nine full NFL seasons with the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints, Sproles has racked up 15,199 all-purpose yards and 43 total touchdowns. Not bad for a player who said prior to the 2005 NFL Draft had as negatives, “Lacks the pure speed to run to daylight. Looks small to the point of being tiny on the football field,” and said, in conclusion, “Lacking the size to be anything other than a role player at the next level.”

Now imagine a player of Sproles’ stature – a player who is NFL-quality but might not get much/any chance because of the NFL’s aforementioned biases – thriving in the A11FL, running draws, screens, pitches, halfback options and out routes from the slot, and returning kickoffs and punts in Florida, Illinois, California, Texas and all the other league locales.

Think about all the players in the history of the NFL who haven’t “fit the mold,” and still went on to big-time careers – Sproles, Drew Brees, Sam Mills, Joe Morris, etc. Those players quickly become some of the favorite players on the team.

Now think of full teams of those players – players who are more than good enough to be in the NFL, and just want to keep playing football. That means instead of one or two favorite players per team, you will have an entire league of favorites.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sunday’s Grey Cup will showcase many potential A11FL prospects

The lengthy history of the American spring outdoor professional alternative football league genre always has had a distinct Canadian flavor.

From multi-time Grey Cup champion head coach Hugh Campbell joining the United States Football League’s Los Angeles Express in the same capacity, to another Canadian Football League coaching great, Don Matthews, leading the World League of American Football’s Orlando Thunder, to players like running back Kelvin Anderson and wide receiver/return specialist Jimmy “The Jet” Cunningham helping the XFL’s San Francisco Demons to that league’s only title game, the CFL’s influence on American spring outdoor pro alternative football leagues has been strong.

Sunday at 6 p.m., the CFL’s 101st Grey Cup game will be contested by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The game very well could give A11FL fans a glimpse at some of the players (and, perhaps, coaches) who will be on those fields beginning in the spring of 2015.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have a pair of backup quarterbacks who could post big-time numbers in the A11FL – Jeremiah Masoli and Dan LeFevour. Masoli has seen little time in Hamilton after being the starter for the United Football League’s Omaha Nighthawks in 2011. He was in the training camp of the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers in 2011, and was a highly-productive Division I quarterback at both Oregon and Ole Miss. LeFevour has been a solid passer-runner for Hamilton in limited duty, and ran 18 times for 61 yards and a touchdown in the Tiger-Cats’ playoff opener against the Montreal Alouettes. LeFevour was a sixth-round selection of the Chicago Bears three years ago, and is the only player in NCAA history with at least 12,000 passing yards and 2,500 rushing yards.

Two other Hamilton players who would fit the A11FL game are former USC running back C.J. Gable and ex-NFL return specialist Brandon Banks. Gable’s first year in the CFL was a very good one, as the former New Orleans Saints training camper racked up 11 touchdowns and 1,380 yards from scrimmage. Banks, who spent three seasons with the Washington Redskins as an undrafted receiver/returner, was a midseason addition for Hamilton, and did a little bit of everything during the regular season (six rushes, nine catches, 14 kickoff returns and 17 punt returns).

The Saskatchewan Roughriders feature one of the CFL’s best sack artists, the versatile defensive end/linebacker Alex Hall. After spending three seasons in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants, Hall has played two CFL campaigns – and recorded 25 sacks. His 16 sacks in 2013 were second-best in the league.

Saskatchewan features one of the CFL’s top running backs in former Purdue Boilermaker Kory Sheets (2,875 yards, 23 touchdowns rushing; 86 catches in two CFL seasons), a former Miami Dolphin, San Francisco 49er and Carolina Panther. The ’Riders also have some of the more versatile CFL backs in Jock Sanders, a 5-foot-6 dynamo who averages 5.8 yards per carry, 9.6 yards per catch, 21.8 yards per kickoff return and 8.4 yards per punt return in his three-year pro career.

More A11FL prospects come in the form of former Virginia Tech defensive back/returner Macho Harris (fifth-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009) and safety/linebacker Tyron Brackenridge, a versatile defender who played two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, two with the Jacksonville Jaguars and now three with the Roughriders.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

NIU’s Lynch looks like prototypical A11FL quarterback

The mind’s eye can be very powerful.

And ever since the A11 Football League has announced a spring 2015 kickoff for its first full season after a slate of showcase games in the spring of 2014, my mind’s eye has gone to which professional and college football players would be good fits in the new pro football league – especially at quarterback.

One player whose play and statistics keep standing out is Northern Illinois redshirt senior quarterback Jordan Lynch. An A11FL quarterback needs to be able to produce at a high level as a runner, a passer and a decision-maker – and Lynch certainly fits that bill.

It’s one thing to show Lynch’s career statistics, because they are gaudy (3,696 yards and 39 touchdowns rushing, and 5,533 yards, 48 touchdowns and 11 interceptions passing), but what sets Lynch apart is two things – consistency and being a winner.

In nearly two seasons as a full-time starter, Lynch has started 24 games. He’s had at least 100 rushing yards in 17 of those games. He’s has at least 200 passing yards in 16 of those games.

Lynch has had at least 300 total yards of offense in 18 of his 24 collegiate starts. His career-high in rushing yards is 316 yards (on 32 carries with three touchdowns) on October 19 against Central Michigan, and his career-high in passing yards is 407 yards (25-for-36, three touchdowns, one interception) on November 14, 2012, against Toledo.

And Lynch has had a 90-yard run and a 73-yard pass in his collegiate career.

In other words, Lynch isn’t a one-trick pony. And not only is Lynch productive, he’s a winner – a 22-2 record as a starter, 10 straight wins to begin 2013 and a berth in the Orange Bowl, something previously unheard of for a Mid-American Conference program.

Unfortunately for Lynch, the same old tired excuses as for why he won’t be a productive professional quarterback crop up – he’s 6-foot and 216 pounds (talk to Drew Brees), he plays in the MAC (talk to Ben Roethlisberger) and he’s too much of a runner (talk to Colin Kaepernick).

Following NIU’s 48-27 home win over Ball State last week, Lynch told the media he thinks his best is yet to come. He very well might be right.

And, in my mind’s eye, that yet-to-come best is running, throwing and winning for the Illinois A11FL team, beginning in the spring of 2015.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Backup QBs, already important, will be even more so in A11FL

The thought goes that there is no more popular player on a football team than the backup quarterback.

A11 Football League fans better get ready to see a lot of backup quarterbacks – both by design and by necessity.

Think about how much backup quarterbacks already play in professional football:

-       Through 10 weeks of the 2013 National Football League season, 57 quarterbacks have thrown at least one pass for 32 teams, and 46 quarterbacks have started at least one game.

-       Through the entire 2013 Canadian Football League season, 27 quarterbacks threw at least one pass for 8 teams.

That’s an average of 1.78 quarterbacks to throw a pass per NFL team (and the season isn’t over yet), and an average of 3.38 quarterbacks to throw a pass per CFL team.

The reasons for this are obvious – injury, ineffectiveness, goal-line/short-yardage/other packages for backups, etc.

In professional football, having a high-quality backup quarterback isn’t just a luxury, but a necessity. And in the A11FL, having a high-quality backup quarterback will be paramount.

A successful A11FL offense is going to feature a starting quarterback who is equally adept at taking a run-pass option play and turning it into a 30-yard touchdown pass or a 30-yard touchdown run. What that means is an A11FL starting quarterback is going to get hit – a lot. So the first factor of a quarterback change – injury – will apply in the A11FL at some point.

And, of course, there are going to be times when an A11FL starting quarterback starts a game 3-for-10 with two interceptions and a couple negative runs, and the head coach will want to make a change. That’s inevitable, too.

But in the A11FL, there also will be times when an offensive coordinator will want to run some double-QB packages – particularly if the team has a left-handed pivot on the roster. An A11FL backup quarterback may have plays designed for him to throw 5-10 passes per game, and, of course, there are so many scheme possibilities for passes and runs when two quarterbacks are on the field at the same time.

Once A11FL teams begin stocking their rosters, keep an eye not only on the marquee starting quarterbacks who will sign on, but how good the backup quarterbacks will be. Due to the nature of professional football, and the A11FL in particular, those backups are going to have to be just that – good.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Top former college football head coaches could be great fits in A11FL

Recently, the A11 Football Magazine explored why former college football head coaches would be good fits as head coaches in the A11 Football League – and then gave some past examples of successful college-to-alternative football league transitions.

Now, let’s take a look at some recently-displaced college football head coaches, and why they might be a good fit in the A11FL:

-       The much-maligned Gene Chizik might be able to make a triumphant return to coaching in the A11FL. He’s seen the game from the collegiate level from all angles – head coach, assistant head coach, defensive coordinator and position coach. And his extensive defensive background would be critical against A11FL offenses. That’s Chizik’s pluses. The minuses, however, are that he’s never coached professionally, and, while he won a national title and went 14-0 at Auburn in 2010, his three worst head coaching records in college were 2-10, 3-9 and 3-9.

-       A seemingly-natural fit for the A11FL would be former California head coach Jeff Tedford. His mix of experiences – from playing quarterback in the Canadian Football League in the 1980s to an 11-year run as the Golden Bears’ head coach – potentially would make for an ideal A11FL head coach. Tedford’s first eight seasons at Cal all were winning ones, and he finished his tenure there 25 games over .500 (82-57).

-       One ex-college football head coach who boasts former National Football League experience is Ron Zook. Zook was the head coach at Florida (2002-04) and Illinois (2005-11), and had winning records in five of those 10 seasons. Before that, he was an NFL assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints – the last stop being as a defensive coordinator. Zook has been a defensive coach at a high level for 3½ decades, meaning he has the pedigree to take on A11FL offenses.

-       Rick Neuheisel is a familiar name in college football and alternative spring pro football. He was the quarterback of the moribund San Antonio Gunslingers of the United States Football League in 1984-85, and then he embarked on a coaching career which resulted in 12 years as a college head coach – four at Colorado (1995-98), four at Washington (1999-2002) and four at UCLA (2008-11). Of those 12 years, eight ended in winning records, and three ended in double-digit victories.

-       Houston Nutt has spent his entire coaching career at the collegiate level, and recently ended a near-two-decade run as a college head coach. After four seasons at Murray State (1993-96) and a season at Boise State (1997), Nutt spent a decade at Arkansas (1998-2007), where he enjoyed seven plus-.500 seasons. He most recently was the head coach at Ole Miss (2008-11), where he began with back-to-back 9-4 campaigns. He guided his teams to winning records in 11 of 19 seasons.

      These are just some of the high-quality ex-college football head coaching candidates available to the A11FL. Adding up all the available coaches from the college and professional ranks, there is no doubt the quality of coaching talent in the A11FL will be very high.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

UCLA’s Jack showcases versatility commonplace in A11FL game

The A11 Football League will be a showcase for National Football League-caliber players who fit the A11FL game.

Versatility is going to be a big part of an A11FL player’s resume – a running back will need to be able to take a direct snap, take a pitch, take a handoff, line up wide, catch screens, go deep, play special teams, mesh with linemen, etc.

One example of A11FL-type versatility on display in college football late Saturday night was turned in by UCLA true freshman linebacker Myles Jack. Jack, the Bruins’ third-leading tackler through nine games and a four-star recruit, turned in a performance in a 31-26 win at Arizona reminiscent of old-school National Football League.

In his first action on offense, Jack ran six times for a team-high 120 yards and a touchdown. In his natural spot at linebacker, he recorded eight solo tackles, a tackle for loss, a fumble recovery and two pass breakups.

It’s not so much that Jack played both ways – it’s that he did so much playing on both sides of the ball:

-       On Arizona’s first offensive possession, Jack had two solo tackles.
-       On the Wildcats’ second offensive drive, he has one solo stop.
-       He had a solo tackle and a pass breakup on Arizona’s final drive of the first quarter.
-       Early in the second quarter, Jack was the intended receiver on an incomplete fake punt.
-       On UCLA’s next drive, he ran once for 29 yards – his first collegiate carry.
-       Jack had a solo tackle on each of Arizona’s next two possessions.
-       He then saw his most extensive offensive action to date on a 16-play, 90-yard drive, running for 4, 13, 8 and 0 yards.
-       Ahead 24-10 early in the third quarter, Jack had a solo tackle and recovered a fumble in the end zone to stop a potential Arizona scoring threat.
-       Jack then put a temporary halt to Arizona’s comeback hopes, running for a 66-yard touchdown to put the Bruins ahead 31-19 with 10:46 left in the game.
-       He had his eighth and final solo tackle of the game on Arizona’s ensuing drive.
-       Jack finished his day with a pass breakup on Arizona’s final drive.

“I’d rather hit people than get hit,” Jack said after his throwback performance.

A player like Jack, however, who is productive on both sides of the ball, will be a big asset in the A11FL – and will have to learn to like hitting and getting hit equally.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Current NFL standouts give glimpse into potential A11FL defensive superstars

How will A11 Football League defensive coordinators counter the seemingly endless offensive possibilities?

Thanks to the league’s signature rule change – returning football to its roots by eliminating the jersey-numbering rule for offensive players, and allowing as many as all 11 players in an offensive huddle to have eligible-receiver numbers – A11FL defensive coordinators are going to need players who won’t be one-trick ponies.

Defensive ends will have to be able to rush the passer, stop an option run and drop into coverage. Linebackers will need to have good hands to intercept passes, feature the agility to run sideline-to-sideline tracking down running backs and blitz the quarterback. Defensive backs won’t be able to shy away from a running back running downhill after a pitch, and they will have to make good decisions on when to stay with a receiver and when to go after a scrambling quarterback.

There are several linebackers who fit the description of an A11FL-type player in the National Football League, as Kiko Alonso, DeAndre Levy, Sean Lee and Luke Kuechly all have shown a propensity in 2013 to stop drives with interceptions and stop running backs in their tracks.

Examples of 2013 NFL defensive ends (or 3-4 outside linebackers) who are among league sack leaders and have at least one interception are Osi Umenyiora, Tamba Hali, Shaun Phillips and DeMarcus Ware.

What kind of cornerbacks and safeties would thrive in an A11FL defense? How about names like Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Charles Tillman, DeAngelo Hall, Antrel Rolle and Patrick Peterson (21 tackles, three interceptions, 14 punt returns, 1 kickoff return, one pass attempt, one rushing attempt and four catches in a half-season)?

The A11FL is going to have NFL-quality players who fit the A11 game. These are just a few examples of those who would fit the bill. I am sure you can come up with many more when watching the NFL and college football this weekend.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Who fits in an A11FL offense? NFL superstars provide some prototypes

The A11 Football League is going to give football fans an offensive buffet not seen since the early 1950s.

Thanks to the league’s signature rule change – returning football to its roots by eliminating the jersey-numbering rule for offensive players, and allowing as many as all 11 players in an offensive huddle to have eligible-receiver numbers – the play choices for A11FL offensive coordinators will almost be limitless.

It’s one thing to look at a playbook and see how a play might work on the field. It’s another thing to try to plug in players to see which ones might be the best at running said play.

As with any other offense, an A11FL offense has to have a reliable quarterback. An A11FL quarterback has to be proficient as both a passer and a runner – able to take a rollout and turn it into either a 30-yard touchdown pass or a 30-yard touchdown run. National Football League quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson could perfect an A11FL offense in short order.

There a few intriguing choices as to who could play beside the quarterback in the shotgun in an A11FL offense. An O-coordinator could go with a lefty quarterback (Michael Vick?) to put a dual passing threat back on certain plays. He also could go conventional, sticking a fullback in for short-yardage plays, or a tailback (like LeSean McCoy, Jamal Charles or Matt Forte) in for draws, screens or options.

At the four wide receiver positions, A11FL offenses will look for a “Z” (Calvin Johnson is the best NFL comparison, but A.J. Green and Andre Johnson also are great choices), an “A” (a Wes Welker- or Danny Amendola-type wideout), an “X” (think Vincent Jackson, Cecil Shorts or Anquan Boldin) and a “B” (Jordy Nelson or Eric Decker).

An A11FL offense’s two “anchors” are, like everyone else on the field, going to have to be versatile players – tight ends like Jordan Cameron, Jimmy Graham or Antonio Gates, or a hybrid fullback/tight end type like Charles Clay, who can catch, take a handoff on an end-around or block.

The most important A11FL offensive player will be the center, who has to be spot-on with snaps all game long in order for the offense to click. With more than half of NFL offensive plays beginning with a shotgun snap, almost any NFL center would do well here. A guard, one who is as good at conventional pass protection as he is at blocking downfield on screens and run blocking, is essential, as is a lineman on the other side of the center who could be a tight end like Michael Hoomanawanui – a high-quality blocker who can catch a backward pass from time to time.

The A11FL is going to have NFL-quality players who fit the A11 game. These are just a few examples of those who would fit the bill. I am sure you can come up with many more when watching the NFL and college football this weekend.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A11FL will afford players showcase to jumpstart long pro careers

The A11 Football League has been clear about what players it will look for come opening kickoff in March of 2015 – National Football League-caliber players who fit the A11 game.

In the last three-plus decades, the United States Football League (1983-85), the World League of American Football (1991-92, 1995-97)/NFL Europe (1998-2007) and the XFL (2001) all have featured NFL-caliber players in providing varying degrees of high-quality outdoor spring professional football. And all three leagues ended up employing players who went on to long, productive NFL careers.

-       In the case of the USFL, it widely was expected that once that league finally went under in August of 1986, there would be few players (outside of Jim Kelly, Herschel Walker, Kelvin Bryant and a few others) to move from the upstart league to the long-since-established NFL. NFL general managers publicly (and perhaps privately) didn’t anticipate much help from the USFL.

The opposite was true, as hundreds of USFL ex-patriots went on to play in the NFL from 1986 on. And there was something no other person involved in either league could foresee – one former USFLer went on to play professional football for almost a quarter century.

Punter Sean Landeta came out of Towson and immediately went to the USFL, playing three seasons for the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars and playing in three USFL Championship Games, winning two rings. Landeta then went on to play 21 seasons in the NFL with the New York Giants, Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles, winning two Super Bowls with the Giants.

-       The WLAF/NFLE was an NFL-sponsored league for 15 seasons, with its main purpose to develop players on the lower rung of NFL offseason rosters. Sure there have been the Kurt Warners, Brad Johnsons and Michael Sinclairs who used their 10-game spring auditions as a springboard to long NFL careers, but there is one current longtime NFLer who still is kicking who you may not know had to first toil in Europe prior to finding the professional football spotlight.

Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri was one of the top WLAF kickers in the spring of 1996, playing for the Amsterdam Admirals and doing double duty as a kicker/punter. Since, he has gone on to what may very well be a Pro Football Hall of Fame career, currently participating in his 18th NFL season, scoring 1,937 career points, winning four Super Bowl titles and hitting clutch postseason kick after clutch postseason kick.

-       Even the XFL, which lasted just one season, had a lasting impact that reached far beyond Rod “He Hate Me” Smart (Philadelphia Eagles/Carolina Panthers, 2001-05) and league Most Valuable Player Tommy Maddox (Pittsburgh Steelers, 2001-05).

Denver Broncos linebacker Paris Lenon is the last NFL player who played in Vince McMahon’s brainchild. Lenon, who was the 10th-leading tackler for the Memphis Maniax, is in his 12th NFL season with his fifth team (Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos – and has started all 16 games in six of the last eight campaigns.

Who in the A11FL is going to be the next Kurt Warner? The next Adam Vinatieri? The next Paris Lenon? Get ready, because in 16 months, we will begin to find out the answer.