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Orlando Apollos rally on road again for 7-1 start

Florida Football Insiders

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Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

A week after rallying to win against Eastern Conference rival Atlanta on the road, the Orlando Apollos repeated the feat Saturday afternoon in Memphis. The Apollos, once again, put on a great performance in the fourth quarter in all phases to clinch their seventh win in eight tries in the inaugural season of the AAF.

Orlando led 3-0  after first period and the Express turned to former Heisman winning quarterback Johnny Manziel to try to spark them in the second quarter.

However, Manziel was injured after throwing an interception, when it appeared that his own teammate collided with him- knee to helmet causing a concussion.

Brandon Silvers played the remainder of the game and did complete 30 – 49 for 269 yards and a touchdown, as Memphis eventually built a 31 – 22 fourth quarter lead.

But,  just like they did to the Atlanta Legends last week, Orlando came from behind with quarterback Garrett Gilbert. The former SMU and Carolina Panthers QB finished 22 – 44 for 310 yards and a crucial touchdown to receiver Charles Johnson that pulled the Apollos within 31 – 28. Their two-point conversion was no good and kept the margin three points.

Then, with rain falling in the River City, Memphis botched a snap on a punt in their own territory with 2:34 to go.  Orlando recovered and a short time later former Dolphins running back De’Veon Smith powered in from a yard out for the go-ahead touchdown.

Smith was initially called down by the on-field officials but the AAF “Sky Judge,” or extra referee in the booth looking at the TV monitors buzzed down.

He then, overruled them, as the television replays clearly showed Smith had gotten across the goal line before he was down. Again the two pointer was no good for Orlando keeping the lead 34-31.

That’s when Orlando’s defense, which has been very opportunistic all year, got another crucial late game interception. Silver’s was picked by defensive lineman Earl Okine with just over a minute remaining and Steve Spurrier’s team knelt on the ball for yet another victory.

The Apollos had already clinched a playoff spot last week, and have now all but clinched hosting a semifinal playoff game in week one of the postseason in April. The first ever AAF Championship Game will be played at the Dallas Cowboys practice facility known as “The Star” in Frisco, Texas, on April 27th.

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XFL unveiled new rules for reboot season Tuesday morning

Florida Football Insiders

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Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The reboot of Vince McMahon’s eight team XFL Spring football league is coming in 30 days, including with the Tampa Bay Vipers franchise. And on Tuesday, the league unveiled new rules designed to create more excitement and speed up the game.

The short version is: the XFL has new and exciting rules for kickoffs, punts, faster clock/timing and other variations or wrinkles for the games.

Former NFL Head of Officiating, Dean Blandino, is now overseeing the XFL officials and their new rules/ policies.

And Blandino did a online and on social media tutorial on Tuesday for the rules that are different from college and NFL football. And, he gave the rationale behind them. An example, of probably the most intriguing one is the kickoff, as he explained here:

As Blandino laid out, unlike their first XFL playing in 2001, when opening possession was determined by two players on opposite sides of a football running at a sprint and trying to grab it first, there will be an actual kickoff, but with changes from what you are used to.

Now, the XFL will try something innovative to not only create excitement, but also help with player safety on the kickoff. Instead of allowing the kicking team to run full sprint at the receiving blockers and returner, the coverage team will line up at their own 30 with the kicking team lining up only five yards in front of them at the 35.

However, the only players who are allowed to move are the kicker, kicking off and the returner until he has either caught the ball or the ball has been live on the ground for at least three seconds. That’s when the blocking players between the 30 in the 35 can move or try to make the tackle.

Also, if the kicker kicks the ball out of the end zone or out of bounds it will automatically come up to the 35-yard line or to the out-of-bounds spot if it’s greater than the 35 for the receiving team.

Teams may also a traditional onside kick under the NFL rules, but they must designate that to the officials  prior to, and then teams will traditionally lineup for the onside try.

As for punts and returns, the XFL will not allow the punting team to leave the line of scrimmage until the ball is kicked and the defenders over the top of gunners will not be allowed to go into the backfield until it is kicked. This is to give a much bigger advantage to the returner to make a big play

Just as with the kickoff, if the punt team kicks out of bounds inside the 35-yard line it will come back to the 35 or will go to the spot, if it’s greater than the 35-yard line for the receiving team.

If the ball lands in the end zone or is all the way out of the endzone on a punt it will also come to the 35 yard line. Clearly, the XFL is trying to encourage more excitement with punt returns and a fair catch will be allowed, although it is greatly de-emphasized, now.

Also, they want teams to think more about going for it on fourth down, as the punt favors the return team so greatly.

Next, Blandino made clear that an XFL receiver will, just like in college, only need one foot down or an equivalent for a catch. This differs from the two feet necessary in the NFL.

The XFL also announced that there will be no coaches challenges for replays, however, again like college, all plays will be under review. And, the replay official has the right to initiate certain reviews, even if the officials didn’t rule it on the field like fumble / no fumble,  or out of bounds or not, etc.

The XFL also has interesting “running clock” timing rules that will differ from the NFL and college, in that incomplete passes, penalties and plays out of bounds will not stop the clock at all until the final two minutes.

Further the XFL will use a 25 second play clock only and designate one specific official whose sole job it is to make sure that the ball is spotted quickly,

Once inside the 2-minute warning if a play ends in the field of play the clock will only stop for that official to spot the ball and once five Seconds runoff the play clock, it will start again.

To increase scoring chances, on an incomplete or out of bounds play inside of 2 minutes, the clock will stop just like it does for the NFL and college football.

The new Spring league will allow field goal attempts, but not have kicking extra points.

Instead, the offensive team will have a chance to run one play (conversion) but choose to run the play from the 1, 5 or 10 yard line. They will receive 1, 2 or 3 points depending on where the play started. Also, the defensive team would be able to score 1, 2 or 3 points on a fumble or INT return.

Finally, the XFL will also take another very interesting idea to playing out their overtimes.

Instead of the college rule of each team getting a possession from the 25-yard line to score a touchdown or field goal. Or, the NFL “modified sudden death rules” that don’t guarantee that both teams touch the ball. if the first team scores a touchdown (like what happened to the Saints Sunday when the Vikings scored a TD on the opening possession), the XFL will give both teams chances to possess it in a 5 round OT.

The XFL will utilize a format like the NHL post-overtime “shootout” where each team will have the ball spotted on the 5-yard line with the offense getting to run one play.

No kicks will be allowed.

If there is a defensive penalty on the play that is unsuccessful, then ball is moved to the 1-yard line for re-try. If there is a second defensive penalty in overtime, then the offensive team will automatically be awarded it’s two points for that round. And any subsequent defensive penalty, will again be the automatic awarding of two points during the overtime to the offense.

And, importantly, the defense cannot score, even if there is a possible fumble or interception return. The play in the XFL will be ruled dead or over.

The two teams will continue playing the five round OT until one has an insurmountable lead over the other. If the two teams are tied after five rounds, it’s essentially sudden death of two point rounds until there is a leader / winner.

Some of these rules will create excitement and also, controversy, and that’s what McMahon, XFL Commissioner Oliver Luck (above), and Blandino are intending to have.

The Vipers are coached by former Bears coach Mark Trestman and will be playing home games at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

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Colts Kicker Adam Vinateri out for Bucs game

Abbey Radeka

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Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Colts are traveling to Tampa Bay but will likely take on the Bucs without their future Hall of Fame Kicker, Adam Vinatieri.

Before the matchup last week against the Titans, Vinatieri had began to experience a bit of pain in his left knee, the leg he plants to kick with his right leg. He told reporters that the pain began to increase through the week which led him to be placed on the Colt’s injury report for the first time this season.

Later Friday afternoon, Indy made Vinatieri’s “out” status official:

Vinatieri who is currently the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, has struggled to be consistent this season and has made a career-low 68% of his field goal attempts. He’s cost the Colt’s a couple of games in his missed eight field goals and six extra points.

Colts head coach Frank Reich said Wednesday that Vinatieri saw some doctors and got scans to figure out the severity of the problem. From there, they’ll consult with doctors and make a decision, which could potentially end his career. He’s currently sitting at 599 made FGs in his 24 seasons, just one shy of the 600 mark.

Earlier this week, Indianapolis secured rookie kicker Chase McLaughlin off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers and the 45 year old Pro Bowler had said on Thursday that if he got the go ahead from everyone, he’d take the field on Sunday.

“Docs and trainers and everybody will put their two cents in and we’ll see if we can go,” Vinatieri said. “If I can go, I’ll go.”

Obviously, he did not get good news, and that means the rookie McLaughlin is in to kick at Raymond James Stadium.

The Colts are looking to stay in the race for the AFC wild card spot, in a similar situation as the Bucs, so this Sunday (and really every Sunday from here on out) is a do or die for both teams.

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