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Former CFL Marc Trestman smiles during a press conference on March 5, 2019, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa after he was named head coach of the Tampa Bay XFL football team.

Chris Urso/The Associated Press

Marc Trestman heads into the start of the XFL season looking for answers.

The eight-team XFL begins its reincarnation on Saturday with two games (D.C. Defenders vs. Seattle Dragons, L.A. Wildcats vs. Houston Roughnecks). On Sunday, Trestman – a three-time Grey Cup champion – leads the Tampa Bay Vipers into their regular-season opener versus the New York Guardians, while the St. Louis Battlehawks face the Dallas Renegades.

“We don’t know yet,” Trestman said of his team’s 2020 identity. “We’re going to get a measuring stick, certainly on Sunday.

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“Our hope is that we’ll play smart football and eliminate the things that we can control: pre-snap penalties, turnovers. [Sunday] will be our first opportunity to play against somebody else. We haven’t had a chance to do that yet at full speed, not in a real game.”

Trestman, 64, spent seven years in Canada, compiling a 72-54 regular-season record with Montreal (2008-12) and Toronto (2017-18), the Alouettes post being his first as a head coach. He reached four Grey Cups, winning in 2009-10 and 17 before being named Tampa Bay’s head coach/general manager last year.

Trestman is one of two former CFL head coaches leading XFL teams. The other is June Jones, Houston’s head coach/GM who served as an offensive co-ordinator/head coach with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2017-18).

Trestman’s staff includes former CFL players/assistants Jaime Elizondo (offensive co-ordinator), Jonathan Himebach (offensive line), Justin Poindexter (running backs), Josh Neiswander (quarterback), Jerry Glanville (defensive co-ordinator), Mike Archer (linebackers), William Fields (secondary), Billy Parker (secondary assistant) and Frank Gansz Jr. (special teams). Defensive lineman Nikita Whitlock and linebacker Terrence Plumber – who played in Canada with Hamilton and Toronto, respectively – both top Tampa Bay’s depth chart at their respective positions.

Former CFL coaches Robert Lyles (defensive line), Dan Morrison (quarterbacks) and Dennis McKnight (offensive assistant, special teams) are on Jones’s staff. Tackle Kelvin Palmer (B.C., Hamilton) and kicker Sergio Castillo (Winnipeg, Ottawa, Hamilton and B.C.) are both on Houston’s roster.

This marks the second go-around for the XFL and founder Vince McMahon. Back in 2001, the wrestling guru partnered with NBC offering a mix of wrestling and football – with then-WWF personalities Jesse Ventura, Jim Ross, and Jerry Lawler all providing on-air commentary.

Games began with players participating in a dash downfield for a loose ball instead of the traditional coin toss and kickoff. Players wore whatever they wanted on the back of their jerseys, the most memorable being Las Vegas running back Rod Smart donning “He Hate Me.”

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But the experiment failed miserably as the XFL folded after just one season.

This time, the focus is more on football and trying to keep games less than three hours. To help achieve that, the league has adopted some rule changes, such as a continuous clock that won’t stop for incomplete passes or out-of-bound plays except inside the final two minutes of each half.

Other changes include:

  • No kicked converts after touchdowns. Instead, teams will go for one, two or three points by running plays from the two-, five- or 10-yard line, respectively.
  • Multiple forward passes can be thrown on each play so long as they’re behind the line of scrimmage.
  • If a game is tied after regulation, both teams will run five plays from the five-yard line and get a point for each score. Similarly, the defence will earn a point for a turnover. The team with the most points at the end wins.
  • No replay challenges. An on-site official can ask for one that’ll take no more than 30 seconds to complete.
  • A 25-second play clock.

The play clock will be an easy adjustment for Jones and Trestman as CFL teams have 20 seconds to put the ball in play. The NFL, by comparison, allows 40 seconds.

“I think the rest of the league, except Marc and I, will be finding out what the differences are in moving that thing to 25 seconds,” Jones said.

Each XFL team will play 10 regular-season games with the top four team reaching the playoffs. The league final will be held April 26, the day after the NFL draft.

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XFL players will earn about US$55,000 but some quarterbacks will receive higher salaries. The average XFL stipend rivals the CFL’s minimum salary (C$65,000 this season, or roughly US$49,000).

But CFL officials admit they’ve felt the pinch from the new league, especially at quarterback. The XFL gives American-born passers the opportunity to continue pursuing their NFL dreams south of the border and be paid in U.S. currency.

“There’s a lot of talented players, a lot of guys who can play but just weren’t in the right place at the right time when they were on NFL teams,” Jones said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if 30 or so of our players sign NFL contracts after we’re done.”

Another XFL twist is the presence of a 40-man practice team. Should a franchise lose a player to injury, it can call up a replacement from the extra squad but isn’t required to.

The practice squad is based in Arlington, Texas, and coached by Bart Andrus. He guided Toronto to a 3-15 record in 2009 and was fired following his only CFL campaign.

Jones, 66, has an extensive coaching résumé that’s entering its fifth decade and includes stints at the high school, NCAA and pro (CFL, NFL, USFL) levels. The former CFL/NFL quarterback said he couldn’t resist being on the ground floor of the XFL’s resurrection.

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“It kind of re-energized me,” he said. “I’m just excited to be a part of something new.

“I’m convinced these guys have the formula that’s going to make it work. Good players make good coaches and I like to go find those guys.”

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