Parks’s Pulse: On open mics, Barcoos, and Toilet Bowls

DC Defenders head coach Reggie Barlow introduces the "takeaway chain" to his squad, Sunday march 12, 2023. (ESPN2)
DC Defenders head coach Reggie Barlow introduces the “takeaway chain” to his squad, Sunday march 12, 2023. (ESPN2)

Ranking the games

  1. Defenders 32, Vipers 18: For the second time, these two ended up playing in the rain, though it didn’t seem to hamper the offenses much as they were both able to put together sustained drives. As has been the case all year, Vegas simply couldn’t finish them with touchdowns often enough. Just two punts all game!
  2. Battlehawks 24, Renegades 11: The switch to Kyle Sloter at QB hasn’t jump-started the Arlington offense as intended. The atmosphere in St. Louis almost vaulted this to number one on the list.
  3. Sea Dragons 15, Brahmas 6: San Antonio kept Seattle’s powerful offense at bay, but they couldn’t muster enough points of their own.
  4. Roughnecks 44, Guardians 16: Anyone who thought this may have been a “trap” game was way off. Speaking of “way off,” the Guardians are still just that, showing little improvement four weeks into the season.

AJ’s open mic night

Through four weeks, we’ve seen offensive coordinators use a variety of techniques to communicate their play calls. Remember that in the XFL, not only can teams designate up to 15 players to wear the coach-to-player communication device inside their helmet, but that communication does not cut off before the snap. Sea Dragons offensive coordinator June Jones doesn’t want his wide receivers to carry those communication devices. Other coordinators will give the play to the quarterback and perhaps some advice, but then let the QB take over.

Roughnecks offensive coordinator AJ Smith is a little more hands-on. As the all-access piece of ESPN’s broadcast has shown, he’ll talk to the QB and receivers up until the snap, diagnosing what he sees from the defensive alignment from his eagle-eye point of view in the booth. “Read it, Jontre,” he told WR Jontre Kirklin just prior to the Kirklin-to-Deontay Burnett TD pass. “Scoot in just a little bit Jontre,” he told Kirklin another time, adjusting his receiver’s pre-snap positioning on the line of scrimmage. He would also call out coverages for his players. “Deontay, block your ass off if it’s two-deep” was the advice before a WR screen play in which Burnett was tasked with blocking on the edge.

Bark-who? Barcoo 

For much of the San Antonio vs. Seattle game, it was CB Luq Barcoo matched up against former NFL first-round draft pick and athletic freak Josh Gordon. It was mentioned on the broadcast that Brahmas Head Coach Hines Ward told Barcoo before the game that if he shuts down Gordon, he’ll punch his ticket back to the NFL after the XFL season. Gordon finished the game with five catches for 57 yards while Barcoo had himself a game: He made six tackles, notched a sack, came up with a late interception to keep San Antonio’s hopes alive, and broke up at least three other passes. He also had a PBU and made a tackle to prevent post-touchdown conversions. It remains to be seen whether Barcoo will end up back in the NFL, but if he continues to put performances like this on tape, it’ll be difficult for NFL personnel departments to ignore him.

All-Access Moment of the Week, Part One

Orlando Head Coach Terrell Buckley’s frustrations with his 0-4 Guardians have been on display for all the world to see each week. This week, offensive coordinator Robert Ford felt Buckley’s wrath on the sidelines. “I’m freakin’ about to take over in a freakin’ minute and call what I need to,” Buckley told Ford at one point. After the game, Buckley indicated all options were on the table when it came to changes he’d consider making to ensure his team was more competitive in the coming weeks.

Chain gang

Last week, the San Antonio Brahmas debuted their own version of the turnover chain, first introduced to the world by the University of Miami Hurricanes in 2017. When a defensive player takes the ball away, he gets to wear the turnover chain around his neck on the sidelines. This week, the DC Defenders had a chain of their own, shown in the locker room during Head Coach Reggie Barlow’s pre-game speech. Each team personalizes the chain for their own use, and DC has one with the numbers “202” hanging from it, indicating the city’s area code.

Second verse, same as the first

A quirk of XFL scheduling led to two rematches taking place already in just the fourth week. DC and Vegas squared off two weeks prior, while Houston and Orlando opened the season against each other in week one. Each team that won the first matchup also won the second, with both DC and Houston actually extending their margin of victory. Because the winners are now 4-0 and the losing teams 0-4, it does bring up the question: Are DC and Houston undefeated because half their games have been against the bottom-tier teams in the league? Or are Orlando and Vegas only winless because half their games have been against the best two teams in the XFL? We’ll find out the answers to those questions over the next few weeks.

All-Access Moment of the Week, Part Two

Up by nine points with just 1:44 left in the game, it appeared as if Seattle was in clock-killing mode on 2nd-and-7 from the San Antonio 46 yard-line. Instead, QB Ben DiNucci went to pass, and the pass landed in the arms of Luq Barcoo at the 20. It was a strange play call and even stranger throw, appearing to be a mis-read on the part of DiNucci. San Antonio was unable to turn the interception into points and Seattle held on to win, but Head Coach Jim Haslett didn’t hide his displeasure with his QB’s decision on that play.

Prior to speaking with the ESPN sideline reporter after the game, he had a word with DiNucci. When asked what he told his quarterback, Haslett responded, “The throw he made was bullcrap, so…he’s a better football player than that play there, that’s all.” Because Haslett was mic’d, the production truck went back a little later to show exactly what Haslett told DiNucci: “I’m going to kill you,” is all he said in his calm, Haslett-like way.

Toilet Bowl on deck

There are a couple marquee games on the docket this coming weekend, but perhaps the most intriguing is the one in which a winless team will walk away with their first victory of the season: Orlando battles Vegas on Saturday night at 10pm EST on FX. Not only will it keep the slim playoff hopes alive for one team, but it also means 51 players will go home with a $1,000 win bonus for the first time this season. In a clash between two desperate teams, anything can happen, and that could make an otherwise unwatchable game worth watching.

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