Before the XFL officially makes its comeback Saturday with the DC Defenders – led by former Bears quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton and former Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel – hosting the Seattle Dragons, we’re uncovering every Bears connection, and explaining all the biggest rule changes from the NFL, to maximize fans’ viewing pleasure.
From head coaches to former starters, the Bears will be represented on at least six of the eight XFL rosters. However, before taking a trip down memory lane – and perhaps foreshadowing future reunions – we must familiarize with the basics of the second iteration of the XFL, once again led by WWE czar Vince McMahon, with former NFL player Oliver Luck presiding as commissioner.
Eight teams comprise the XFL, spanning from Saturday through Championship Sunday on April 26, and will play 10 regular-season games, with the top four teams qualifying for the postseason. Unlike in its short-lived maiden voyage in 2001, the XFL returns mostly sans gimmicks with a vow to focus first and foremost on quality of play. There still are a number of rule changes, most notably the introduction of two legal forward passes and revised kickoff and punting protocol. As long as the first forward pass is completed behind the line of scrimmage, the ball can be advanced again via a pass. And rather than the 35-yard line, the kickoff now takes place at the 30, with the coverage and return teams prohibited from running starts. On punts, touchbacks now are moved to the 35, rather than the 20, an effort to encourage teams to more frequently eschew them and go for it on fourth downs.
The XFL will have a 25-second play clock, compared with the NFL’s 40 seconds, and an extra official, whose singular task is spotting the ball, to speed up games. And to spice them up, there are no extra-point kicks, rather 1-, 2- and 3-point conversion attempts, beginning at the 2-, 5- and 10-yard lines, respectively. In other words, any single-digit deficit potentially can be erased with one touchdown.
Point spreads and betting ramifications will be included in broadcasts and on the TV ticker, and the XFL is aiming to remove the ambiguity that’s plagued the NFL catch rule by allowing any part of a receiver’s body to count as two feet inbounds.
For other notable rule changes, such as no illegal men downfield, a five-round overtime format akin to NHL shootouts and modified clock requirements during the final two minutes of halves now deemed “comeback periods,” visit the official XFL rulebook.
With that, let’s revisit a few of the more recognizable former Bears who now are players and/or coaches in the XFL, beginning with the 14th head coach in franchise history, Marc Trestman.
The new head coach of the Tampa Bay Vipers brings his version of the West Coast offense to central Florida where he’ll team with fellow former NFL head coach, Vipers defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville. Their quarterback is ex-Georgia Bulldog star Aaron Murray, and former Bears nickel back Demontre Hurst is a backup safety.
Although Trestman probably is the most famous Bears alum in the new XFL, the largest former Navy and Orange sector arguably resides in our nation’s capital with the DC Defenders. In addition to Hamilton and Gabriel overseeing coaching and personnel, respectively, they have former Bears tight end Khari Lee and linebacker Jameer Thurman. Lee’s greatest Bears distinction probably is costing Ryan Pace a sixth-round draft pick via trade from the Houston Texans a few months after they signed him as an undrafted free agent. No, he didn’t pan out, but Lee’s acquisition foreshadowed the issues Pace would have stabilizing the Bears’ tight end corps.
And no XFL club has a longer list of notable NFL cast-offs than the Defenders, with defensive backs Matt Elam and Rahim Moore and bazooka-launching quarterbacks in Cardale Jones and Tyree Jackson, among others.
Among those on Seattle who’ll be hunting Jones on Saturday: Will Sutton, the former Bears three-technique whom Trestman and then-GM Phil Emery plucked out of Arizona State in 2014 in Round 3.
After Sutton, the ex-Bear-turned-XFLer with the most extensive NFL starting experience is Harold Jones-Quartey, a backup safety with the St. Louis Battlehawks. HJQ was a decent undrafted find by Pace out of tiny Findlay when the two were rookies in 2015. Another decent Pace find, albeit accentuated by the dearth of other NFL-caliber alternatives in the Bears’ position room at the time, wide receiver Tre McBride is on the Los Angeles Wildcats’ receiving end of longtime backup QB Josh Johnson.
There are a number of other XFL players who spent time inside Halas Hall scratching and clawing for Bears roster spots, including offensive lineman Dejon Allen (Battlehawks) and defensive back Dowin Jibowu. Their best shot now at returning to the NFL as early as the 2020 season will be finding ways to stand out in the XFL beginning Saturday.