Breathing Fire: Seattle Dragons mini-camp

Seattle Dragond Minicamp. Photo by Jackson Conner.
Seattle Dragons Minicamp. Photo by Jackson Conner.

On a cold, rainy Saturday morning, a crowd was gathering outside of Seattle Memorial Stadium in Seattle, Washington. The gates would not open for over 30 minutes, but the lines were already beginning to form. As 9:00 neared, the lines warped back and across the parking lot, and Dragon Nation was ready to see their team.

The gates opened and fans were greeted with classic stadium activities like a beanbag toss and an inflatable QB throwing area. Most importantly, Dragon fans overlooked the field where multiple players had started warming up. Fans then took a seat in the south stands where they watched practice and listened to speakers such as Jim Zorn, Oliver Luck, and director of player personnel Tony Softli.

At approximately 9:23, players started to huddle up and cheer as an electric sense filled the air. The punt team took the field first and punter Brock Miller blasted some balls into the rainy air. Back on the punt return team for the Dragons was Trey Williams, Fred Ross and Austin Proehl. Towards 9:30, the offense and defense split up. At this time, the stands were starting to fill up and speakers would be coming soon. Towards the east endzone, QBs and RBs worked together perfecting mesh points and passes to the RBs.

The Dragons have an impressive room of running backs, all of which can catch passes. “We just might have the best stable in the backfield,” said 1st round pick RB Trey Williams. “Y’all get ready, get your popcorn because it’s about to go down.”

In the QB room, only Brandon Silvers and BJ Daniels were practicing today. Chase Litton was absent for a non-football related reason and of course, Joe Callahan was signed by the Detroit Lions. Both looked pretty solid, and it is still a competition, but I would give Brandon Silvers the slight edge. In 11-on-11s, Silvers was calm in the pocket and threw with good accuracy to the short and intermediate-ranges but rarely pushed the ball too far down the field. The offense seemed the rely on a quick passing game and showed some pizzaz with end-around to players like Keenan Reynolds.

The WRs that really stood out to me were Austin Proehl and Reuben Mwehla. Austin Proehl ran most of his routes out of the slot and consistently beat man coverage. Reuben Mwehla was a YAC monster and was a guy they really wanted to get involved in the screen game.

Towards the middle of 11-on-11s, the defense really started to get the better of the offense. Good coverage enabled a pass rush to hit home and force the QBs to get out of the pocket or force throws. Ja’Quan Gardner and Trey Williams both sprung some big runs but the defense did not allow any splash plays in the passing game.

An added wrinkle to the 11-on-11s was the shortened 25 seconds play clock. The official rulebook is slated to come out later this month, but Oliver Luck says that coaches already know the rules and are coaching to them. The field’s play clock was set to 25 seconds but the Dragon’s offense could not meet that pace. It is a very tough adjustment, and will require weeks more of practice, but the Dragons will eventually have to move at that expeditious pace.

Another new innovation that the XFL has is the balls. I could not see a difference in ball flight, but they are definitely a little different than a standard football. “They are a little skinnier than the NFL ball and they have a little more grip to them,” said Kasen Williams. “I like them. For a new ball, something different, I like them.”

Trey Williams could also feel the difference too. “They are tough but we are getting the hang of it,” said Williams. “It’s a football you know. You can not go wrong with a football-shaped ball regardless.”

The final innovation I saw implemented was the new kickoff rules. Ten players lined up across from each other and the kicker stood on the other side of the field by himself. Keenan Reynolds was tasked with returning kicks for the Dragons. Oliver Luck said the main things he wants to see out kickoffs is cutting down injuries and making it an exciting play again, i.e., eliminating touchbacks. This rule had been tested extensively and the kickoffs I saw seemed to flow fine.

For special teams players, this is a new wrinkle from what they are taught, and have to learn a whole new way to play kickoffs. Kasen Williams was on the kickoff team and is trying to get adjusted to this new rule. When asked about what he looks for, Williams says he tries to watch both the returner and the ref at the same time. Williams keys off when the ref’s hand goes down and/or when the returner catches the ball. This is one of the more interesting rule changes to look for in the XFL this year

My favorite moments occurred at the end of the practice when the Dragons met at midfield and faced the fans. Dragon Nation started chanting “Seattle…Dragons” and “Breathing…Fire”. You could tell the players really enjoyed this moment.

“This whole fan base is real,” Trey Williams said. “As players, we really appreciate that.”

Clearly, the players appreciate the fans and it is obvious that the Seattle football world appreciates the Dragons.