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XFL helmet change will lead to faster games

Also, fans will be able to listen to play calls in real time.
In the new XFL, quarterbacks won't have to relay play calls to offensive skill position players. They will hear the calls directly from the sideline. [XFL]

PLANT CITY — The new XFL promises to bring a faster-paced, exciting brand of football when it debuts this weekend.

At least from the sound of things.

In the NFL, only one player on each side of the ball — always the quarterback on offense — hears the play calls through a speaker in his helmet on offense. XFL quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends will hear them through their helmets.

Teams can designate up to 18 offensive players and six defensive players to receive the transmissions.

Related: Vipers schedule

“There’s no doubt we have the ability to play faster,” said Vipers offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo, whose team opens the season at 2 p.m. Sunday at the New York Guardians. “And it’s such a unique tool and it’s a credit to the league that they’re willing to do this.”

Elizondo said the ability for a skill position player to hear the play call and instantly reposition does two important things: See the defense faster and process the call more quickly.

“Whether you’re a team in the NFL or a team in college that signals from the sideline, there’s still that delay in processing time either from seeing the signal or breaking the huddle,” he said. “With the headsets in the system, we’ve eliminated that."

Two other rule differences will also improve the pace of play: a 25-second play clock — compared to the NFL’s 40 seconds — and a running clock following incomplete passes once the ball is spotted outside the final two minutes of the half.

Combined, the XFL innovations will mean less time in the huddle, more action as the league attempts to play games within three hours.

Related: Seven things to know about the XFL before opening weekend

On Tuesday, the Vipers ran their walk-through with coaches using headsets. Head coach Marc Trestman said that he believes the clock rules will have more impact.

“What if it goes out? What if the technology breaks down?” Trestman said of the helmet transmitters. "What is our Plan B if that happens? We have to work through all of that not knowing what to expect on Sunday. What if it’s bad weather and it affects the communication? Who the heck knows? But so far it’s been good, and we’re learning with each and every day with it.”

The play calls will also be available to the TV broadcasts live, so fans will be able to hear them as they are called and will allow analysts to anticipate plays as they are being run.

“I think that is what come Monday and even Sunday people will be talking about,” said Fox analyst Joel Klatt, who will team with Curt Menefee to form Fox’s lead XFL broadcast team. “We’re going to have the chance to — rather than going to a non-descript replay and talking over it — we’ll be able to go right to the play call and talk about what you’re about to see.”

Related: More Vipers

The Fox team of Kevin Burkhardt (play-by-play), NFL free agent tight end Greg Olsen (color commentary) and Jenny Taft (sidelines) will call the Vipers’ 2 p.m. game Sunday against the New York Guardians at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. The Menefee-Klatt team will broadcast the 5 p.m. Saturday game between Los Angeles and Houston.

Aside from hearing play calls, television broadcasts will have unprecedented sideline access. They will be able to interview players and coaches on the sideline during the game and quickly relay in-game audio from players who are micced up.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.

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