On Monday I spoke to both Cameron Artis-Payne, and Lance Dunbar, RBs for the Dallas Renegades, about how it was to play for the XFL, and how things went down for them when the league stopped because of COVID-19.
To give a bit of a background of this two-headed monster in the Renegades backfield, both backs were in the top 13 of the league in rushing. Now, you might say that’s not so special, but, I’d remind you that they were playing in Hal Mumme’s Air Raid offense, made famous with QB Tim Couch in Kentucky.
Dunbar says he wished he had run the ball more, but he talked about his hands, and how he’s always been a guy that can be that type of weapon. He’s not wrong. In his last 3 years at North Texas, he averaged over 300 yards a season and finished his college career with 8 receiving TDS.
Not to mention he was a 3-time 1000 yard rusher and ended with 41 TDs on the ground. Dunbar averaged 4.9 yards per carry for the Renegades, and 26 receptions for 154 yards through 5 games with the Renegades.
Cameron Artis-Payne was top 5 in rushing, again in the pass-heavy offense. Averaging over 5 yards a carry with 2 TDs in the shortened season. Finishing with 23 catches for 101 yards in receiving.
For Cameron, it was more of a shift than it was for Dunbar. Not that Artis-Payne can’t be a pass catcher out o fthe backfield, he just wasn’t used that way previously. But he certainly has had the opportunity to show that it is part of his game skills.
Which is once again why the XFL is so important. Arguably they had the best RB duo in the XFL, and NFL teams may not have seen how well Cameron can be as a pass catcher, but now, there’s film of him being able to succeed at it.
Can’t leave out the coaching they had in order to make the transition. RBs and assistant OC Bobby Blizzard played in the Air Raid offense under Hal Mumme at Kentucky. So he knows exactly how the system works, and credits Mumme for putting the coaching bug in his ear. What better person to show you how to do something, than someone who has done it themselves.
Both guys said their time was great in the league, and wouldn’t hesitate to commit once that call comes in. Of course they’re looking for a shot to return to the NFL, but Dunbar and Artis-Payne have said the atmosphere in the XFL was more laid back, more comfortable than that of the NFL.
When asked about how they found out that play would stop, they said it was in a team meeting. For Dunbar, he knew. As Blizzard said, once the NBA stopped their play, Dunbar knew it was over.
Artis-Payne wasn’t naive, he knew it was coming too. But he held out a little more hope, maybe, than others. He says when the full shut down happened, he found out through the media, watching ESPN one morning, and the news broke that the XFL was ceasing operations.
A similar feeling that we have gotten from everyone asks, which is different from what we hear from former AAF players, is that everything was going great. The league was run well, the entertainment of it was great, the teams were treating their players well.
Add that the fans were showing up, and watching on TV, and this was the league of all the ones to come so far since the USFL to prove they could have staying power.
Nobody can plan for a pandemic. It shut everything down, to hold that against the XFL, would take away from all the success it had.
It’s still speculation that players will remain on the teams they were part of before the shutdown, but that would seem to make more sense. Obviously it would be an invitation to return, those that do, fill those spots. Hold a free agency period for those who do want to play, but in a different situation, and then hold a draft to fill out the rosters.
It’s less than a week since the new owners have taken official ownership. A lot still to work out.
But when you talk to these guys, they’re more than ready to get back to playing in the XFL.
You can hear the interviews on an upcoming episode of XFL Week in Review.
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