One of the XFL’s most interesting innovations is also one of its biggest secrets.
If a player gets hurt during the NFL season, there are a few different ways that owners and general managers can go about finding a replacement. Teams could pull players from their practice squad, find another team to trade with or sign a low-cost free agent.
While the XFL allows trading between teams, it offers a new solution for teams looking for a midseason pickup. Enter “Team Nine,” a roster comprised of 40 players that can fill any open roster spot on any team in the league at any time.
XFL CEO Oliver Luck tabbed Bart Andrus to lead the roster of replacements. Andrus was a long-time offensive coordinator at the Division I and II level in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and more recently headed the Amsterdam Admirals in NFL Europe from 2001-07.
The idea for Team Nine came directly from the now-defunct NFL Europe. Luck served as commissioner of the league from 1996-2000, implementing a practice roster of game-ready players who could get on a plane and fly to Europe at a moment’s notice. The concept made perfect sense, as it was difficult to find high-level American football talent in Europe at that time.
While none of the players on Team Nine need to be worried about being shipped to Europe, Andrus is installing basic offensive and defensive schemes with the goal of keeping players fresh. The league-maintained roster of 40 players has only one player who didn’t compete in an XFL training camp. The roster doesn’t have any notable names, but most of the roster will get an opportunity to prove themselves soon.
In fact, it’ll happen this week. After week five, each XFL team’s roster expands from 52 to 57 players to help keep players fresh, but gameday active rosters will remain at 46 players. When the entirety of Team Nine is absorbed onto XFL rosters, it will refill its roster with available free agents to finish the season.
Two former Huskers could get another chance at professional football when Team Nine refills. On Feb. 25, former Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. posted a picture on Instagram with former Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp at Globe Life Park, the “home” facility of Team Nine. There’s a belief among those who follow the league closely that Armstrong Jr. and Westerkamp will get a chance to play on Team Nine and potentially end up on an XFL roster.
Week five didn’t see much production from the former Huskers currently on XFL rosters, but it did feature a record-long beer snake, a referee reassignment and some XFL after dark. Let’s take a look at the action around the league and how former Huskers fared at the midpoint of the regular season.
In week five’s non-Husker action, the New York Guardians defeated the Dallas Renegades 30-12. Dallas turned the ball over three times and former AAF standout Luis Perez led the Guardian offense with 229 passing yards and one touchdown. New York extended its winning streak to two games, while Dallas dropped its second contest in a row.
The Guardians visit Houston on March 14 at 1 p.m. on ABC and Dallas hosts the DC Defenders on March 15 at 3 p.m. on FS1.
Jerald Foster, Tampa Bay Vipers, offensive guard
Foster picked up another start for the Vipers in week five at left guard.
Last week, Foster and his fellow offensive linemen dominated the Defenders’ defensive line as Tampa Bay had two running backs eclipse 100 yards on the ground in a 25-0 victory. In week five, Tampa Bay found success in the air.
Viper quarterback Taylor Cornelius completed 22-34 passes for 300 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions against the LA Wildcats on Sunday night. He added 45 yards on the ground and had a two-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter to give the Vipers a 17-0 lead.
As a team, the Vipers managed 142 yards on the ground after running for 266 yards in week four.
The Vipers extended their lead to 24-6 in the second quarter before Wildcat quarterback Josh Johnson helped bring LA back. He tossed two touchdowns in the final two minutes of the first half to cut Tampa Bay’s advantage to 24-20 at halftime. Johnson continued to tear up the Viper defense in the second half, throwing two more touchdowns to give the Wildcats a 33-24 lead with 14:07 left in the fourth quarter.
Tampa Bay countered with a field goal, but on the ensuing possession, the Wildcats returned a Cornelius fumble for a 23-yard touchdown to take a 41-27 lead with just over five minutes left in the contest. Cornelius quickly countered, tossing a 24-yard pass to wide receiver Reece Horn for a touchdown to cut LA’s lead in half.
Cornelius had a chance to lead the Vipers on a comeback drive, but threw a backbreaking interception in the Wildcat endzone with 37 seconds left. The Wildcats kneeled out the clock and preserved a victory in the highest-scoring contest in XFL history.
Foster and the Vipers will look to regroup next week when Tampa Bay visits the St. Louis BattleHawks on March 14 at 4 p.m. on FS2.
Alonzo Moore, Seattle Dragons, wide receiver
Seattle opted to start backup quarterback BJ Daniels in its week five matchup with the Houston Roughnecks, which could have meant great things for Moore. Daniels and Moore connected for a 57-yard reception last week in Daniels’ first action under center this season.
Instead, Moore was relatively quiet in week five. Daniels completed 14-22 passes for 114 yards and added two rushing touchdowns, so Moore and the rest of the Dragon receiving corps were bound to have an unproductive afternoon. Moore did have the second-most targets on the team with four, and hauled in three of them for 20 yards.
The Dragons lost to the Roughnecks 32-23. Houston remained undefeated at 5-0 while the loss brought the Dragons to 1-4. However, this game will be remembered for its late-game controversy.
In the XFL, the game clock stops after each play in the final two minutes of each half. With that in mind, Roughneck quarterback PJ Walker kneeled down on a 3rd-and-17 with 24 seconds left in the game. The clock stopped, and per league rules, the play clock runs five seconds off before the game clock starts again.
Essentially, Walker needed to burn a few extra seconds off of the clock to avoid giving Seattle the ball back in a one-score game (remember, teams can attempt a 3-point conversion in the XFL). He didn’t do that. Video clearly shows that Walker kneeled down with three seconds left at Seattle’s 21-yard line.
The referees didn’t review it, and confusion ensued on the field as players and coaches weren’t sure if the game actually ended. Unlike the NFL, a league known for not reprimanding officials’ mistakes, the XFL took immediate action to ensure a situation like this didn’t happen again.
The league announced its error in a statement shortly after the game. Additionally, it announced that the game’s officiating supervisor, Wes Booker, would be reassigned. Good on the XFL for acknowledging its mistakes and taking steps to prevent errors like it in the future. It still would’ve taken a miracle for the Dragons to tie the game, but they were clearly robbed of that opportunity.
Next week, Moore and the Dragons visit the LA Wildcats on March 15 at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.
Mohammed Seisay, Seattle Dragons, cornerback
Seisay looks to be okay after suffering what appeared to be a serious neck injury last week in St. Louis.
He posted a message to his Instagram story last week in which he thanked XFL fans for their support and prayers. Seisay also revealed that he had fractured a bone in his neck in last week’s collision. The Dragons placed Seisay on the reserved/injured list, and he probably won’t play again this season.
Because of that, I won’t be providing any more weekly updates on Seisay unless something dramatic happens with his health. I wish him the best of luck in his recovery and I hope he sees the field again sooner rather than later.
Brandon Reilly, St. Louis BattleHawks, wide receiver
The BattleHawk offense posted a season-low six points in a 15-6 loss to the DC Defenders on Sunday afternoon.
St. Louis quarterback Jordan Ta'amu struggled to finish drives after fairing well against XFL defenses in previous weeks. Ta'amu completed 15-25 passes for 174 yards, with 114 of those yards going to St. Louis wide receiver L’Damian Washington. As a result, Reilly didn’t have a productive outing.
He finished with one reception on one target for 17 yards.
De’Mornay Pierson-El, St. Louis BattleHawks, wide receiver
Pierson-El had his worst game in the XFL by far, finishing with three targets and two receptions for -1 yard.
The BattleHawks couldn’t generate any offense against DC, which is now 3-0 at home this season and 3-2 overall. Like St. Louis, DC has a great home-field advantage that was on full display on Sunday afternoon. Defender fans are raucous and passionate about their team, evident by the massive beer snake they created in the stands in the fourth quarter of the contest.
As for the on-field product, the Defenders made an early quarterback change from starter Cardale Jones after he threw an early interception. Backup quarterback Tyree Jackson fared well, completing 9-14 passes for 39 yards and one touchdown. DC’s ground game stepped up, though. Running back Jhurell Pressley totaled 107 yards on the ground, and DC ran for 229 yards as a team.
Pierson-El and the BattleHawks will look to regroup as they host Seattle next week.