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What we loved, hated from long-awaited XFL reboot

XFL, Dragons, Defenders
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After more than a year of waiting, the XFL reboot kicked off on Saturday with the Seattle Dragons and DC Defenders battling it out in the first game of the season.

Of course, the new XFL isn’t anything like Vince McMahon’s first run at professional football. McMahon and commissioner Oliver Luck dedicated months to creating a league that would deliver excitement and innovation to football fans. Everything about the XFL is dedicated to what football fans love and, for the most part, we saw that from the opening kickoff and on.

The product itself wasn’t entirely perfect. The XFL’s first game and broadcast came with some missteps and the gap in talent at some positions became clear. But if the Dragons-Defenders game is any indication of what’s to come in the XFL this season, football fans will be more than happy every weekend.

Let’s take a look at the things we loved and hated from the XFL’s long-awaited reboot.

Loved: Cardale Jones humiliating his opponents

Defenders’ coach and general manager Pep Hamilton had to be elated when Cardale Jones was available with the No. 2 overall pick. A 6-foot-5 quarterback with a rocket arm, NFL-caliber talent and the strength to fight out of sacks – he is perfect for this league. It didn’t take Jones long to earn the “M-V-P” chants from the home fans, which started on the opening drive.

Frankly, Jones’ final numbers could have been even better if the Defenders’ defense and their special-teams unit didn’t account for two touchdowns. He picked Seattle’s secondary apart, slipping out of sacks and making throws that only NFL quarterbacks can make. If the defense keeps playing to this level, Jones will be well on his way to putting another championship ring on his finger.

Hated: Excessive sideline interviews

Wild sideline interviews with players were a staple in the old XFL and they will remain an integral part of the reboot. ABC learned its lesson early about putting a live microphone in front of a player. Networks will work around players cursing on live television, but the number of sideline interviews became excessive.

ABC interviewed a player after every big play, a missed field goal, an injury and seemingly at the end of each series. Interviews with players and coaches can bring the audience closer to the game, but ABC overdid it. The audience doesn’t need to hear from a defensive lineman after a minor injury and interviews after nearly every drive distract from the game. Let’s hope every network finds the right balance between insight and excessive intrusion.

Loved: Trick plays, creativity bringing needed excitement

We predicted trick plays would quickly become a theme in the XFL and this game didn’t disappoint. The Defenders got their fans off the seats to open the third quarter with a gorgeous design for an incredible 39-yard touchdown. It’s these exact types of plays, with the help of the XFL’s new rules, that bring more excitement to football. It’s also still early in the season, so teams are likely just giving fans a taste of the trickery to come. The XFL is full of creative minds and with plenty of speed on the field, the highlights will keep coming.

Hated: Offensive line play

It’s become apparent in the NFL in recent years that there are far more talented athletes on the defensive line than the offensive line. The glaring disparity in talent and development is even more evident in the XFL. There is no shortage of strong, athletic players that XFL teams have scooped up on defense, but the same can’t be said for big guys on the other side.

Between a lack of development – lacking the necessary technique and tools to protect the quarterbacks – and underwhelming strength and movement skills, the offensive linemen in the XFL are underwhelming. As a result, quarterbacks will be under pressure more often and these offenses might not be able to open up the entire playbook.

Loved: XFL kickoff format is perfect

Fans love big returns and players want to be protected from head injuries. After years of the NFL failing to figure out the perfect solution to this conflict, the XFL solved it instantly. From the moment fans and former players saw the XFL’s kickoff format, everyone fell in love.

There’s simply no excuse for the NFL not to adopt this format. It can not only lead to an increase in return touchdowns on kickoffs, which the game desperately needs, but it also reduces player collisions at violent speeds. The XFL deserves enormous credit for putting this together because it has the potential to change football. There are plenty of things to love about this new game and this is near the top.

Hated: Sloppy football could become a theme

It really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. Many of the players on these rosters had chances to make NFL rosters, but little mistakes aren’t tolerated at the highest level. As we saw in the XFL’s first game, mental errors and blown opportunities are going to be far more frequent in this league.

The Dragons and Defenders combined to go 9-for-30 on third-down conversions. We also saw turnovers become a theme of this game and there could have been more if not for dropped interceptions and fumble recoveries. It’s the type of thing NFL fans see in the preseason and they will see it even more in the XFL. Given the alternative, no football for months, we’ll gladly take some sloppy play for more action.

Loved: Accountability, transparency in the replay process

We hope NFL executives watched the XFL debut on Saturday. If they take nothing else from this entire season, it must be the need to adopt the kickoff format and the XFL’s delightful replay process.

It’s all about accountability and transparency. When a referee makes a mistake, a sky judge immediately alerts the official about the error and it is corrected. When that process happens, or when a play needs to be reviewed, football fans are brought into the process. Hearing the officials explain precisely what they saw and what influenced their decision is the type of information fans deserve. Let’s all hope the NFL brings this type of transparency to the league one day.