Anthony Becht spent 11 years in the NFL playing a thinking man’s version of tight end, the 6-6, 280-pound grinder sporting good hands but not nearly the separation skills popularized by Travis Kelce.
Through the tour spanning five cities, the product of Monsignor Bonner and West Virginia has been a student of adaptation and showing up every day (152 consecutive games played).
On Sunday the 45-year-old Drexel Hill native steps into the role of XFL head coach as he leads the St. Louis BattleHawks into their opener against Hines Ward and the San Antonio Brahmas at the Alamodome (3 p.m., Channel 6, ESPN+).
Becht, who spent much of the past decade coaching on the scholastic level in Florida (including a long stint at IMG Academy), is pumped up with enthusiasm over the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson-charged XFL. It has pulled out all the stops to produce a watchable product, from innovative rules to the time slots it plays.
Among rules Becht cannot wait to sink his teeth into is the point-after touchdown. You don’t kick extra points in the XFL. Instead, you go for one point running a play from the 2-yard line, two points from the 5-yard line or three points from the 10.
The three-point conversion is a winner because it basically turns an 18-point deficit into a two-possession game.
“For me, it’s probably the point after touchdown, to have those three options available to you,” Becht said of his favorite of radical rules. “The scores are going to be unconventional game to game, week to week, and there’s challenges there to figure out what best approach you want to have in a football game. The fact that you can tie a game if you’re down by nine points, to me that’s pretty cool. You’re really never out of this thing.”
Becht was a first round pick of the New York Jets in 2000. He registered 188 receptions for 1,537 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns over his career for the Jets (2000-04), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2005-07), St. Louis Rams (2008), Arizona Cardinals (2009) and Kansas City Chiefs (2011). To him, coaching is a natural transition from the playing career spent coaching up the younger guys. Coaching against Ward, Rod Woodson (Vegas Vipers) and Reggie Barlow (D.C. Defenders), guys he’s played against, adds another element to the job.
“Playing against Hines Ward, I just know how Hines played the game,” Becht said. “He was physical, tough, focused, dialed in, with an attention to details. That’s going to be in the forefront of what the culture of his team is going to be. I know for me the bar is set high for our tight ends in respect of the standards that I place on them, while I know the receiver play for his team is going to be very similar.
“I’m excited to go against Hines. I’m excited to be a part of that opener. I think it’s going to be electric. I’m excited to be in front of the fans, but I’m really excited to see our players compete, and ultimately that stuff will be great to kick off. From there it’s going to be the players’ game, the players’ showcase, the players’ platform.”
Becht is eager to have one of the top quarterbacks in the league in A.J. McCarron, who led Alabama to a couple of national championships and suited up for 17 games over six years with the Cincinnati Bengals (2015-17), who took him off the board in the fifth round, the Oakland Raiders (2018) and Houston Texans (2019-20).
In his only NFL playoff action, McCarron almost beat Ben Roethlisberger as he rallied the Bengals to 16 straight second-half points before the Steelers rallied for the triumphant field goal and a 17-16 decision.
“With our quarterback situation we looked at 100 quarterbacks like everybody else, and A.J. was a guy that we felt like was going to be best to lead our football team,” Becht said. “He’s been phenomenal. He has bought in and he’s got a chip on his shoulder. He’s been a great leader for our football team. He’s been a great almost coach, a general on the field, as well. He has really helped groom a lot of players for our football team. As far as our defense is concerned, I think we may have some of the best group of linebackers in our league. We have speed. We have smarts. Our football IQ across each level of our linebacking corps is extremely high, in my opinion. They’re very understanding of what they do, but they play fast, play aggressive, and they play as one.”
Dean Blandino, the last totally competent head of NFL officiating, oversees the XFL officiating and operates a command post that actually shows and communicates the process of plays being evaluated on replay. The drill is extremely informative.
There are plenty of other innovations, as well, including the opportunity to challenge any call once in a game providing he has a timeout. Penalties, anything can be challenged.
Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni, for example, could have challenged the controversial defensive holding penalty on James Bradberry (even though it likely would have been upheld) in the Super Bowl. In lieu of onside kicks, teams have the opportunity to convert a fourth-and-15 from their own 25-yard line.
All of that said, it’s still football. And if Becht’s hunch is right, you’ll be seeing XFL players in the NFL.
“I watch the practice film, and I see guys that quite frankly, I scratch my head because I’ve seen a lot of players over my career,” Becht said. “I’ve seen a lot of different organizations. I know what NFL players look like. We have those guys from a practice standpoint. Now it’s OK, when they get on the field, the lights are on and the showcase is now theirs, can they perform in that level on a consistent basis?”
We shall see.
Contact Bob Grotz at [email protected]
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