CEO of the AAF, Charlie Ebersol, stops by the USA TODAY studio to discuss the start of the new football league.
AMES, Ia. — The Dallas Cowboys thought Ankeny native and former Iowa State star Joel Lanning was the ideal candidate as a practice squad player.
But what the versatile quarterback-turned-linebacker needed most was more developmental time and experience.
Lanning is getting both now, and hopefully developing into the player he needs to be with the new Alliance of American Football League. He made his debut playing in the league’s opening game Saturday night for the San Antonio Commanders.
“That’s kind of what this league is — it’s a developmental league,” Lanning said. “It’s a chance for you to get more film so teams can actually see you play at a higher level and can see your skills develop and all that. That’s pretty much what I’m taking it as — trying to get more film, trying to play the best I can against some great athletes.”
And Lanning still feels like he has plenty to offer in professional football.
He showed some of that unique skillset in college when he became a versatile star for the Cyclones, bouncing between linebacker, quarterback and special teams. After college, Lanning went undrafted but landed in a training camp with the Cowboys. He appeared in three preseason games, tallying two total tackles.
But the Cowboys didn’t think he was ready yet.
So Lanning set sail for the new AAF, an eight-team professional football league that kicked off Saturday. It’s not expected to be a competitor of the NFL, but it should function as a developmental system for the NFL. The league reportedly went after players who didn’t make the NFL or Canadian Football League rosters, offering three-year deals worth $250,000.
Players like Lanning are the ideal fit. Lanning offers a wide range of skills but began his college career at quarterback. He didn’t start playing linebacker until his senior season and he starred there. Because he was still learning the ins and outs of linebacker and special teams, the Cowboys ended up cutting him last year.
Not long after, Lanning, who had heard about the new league taking shape, got a contract sent to him. While Lanning couldn’t help an NFL team right away, he was almost an ideal candidate for the league with all of his talent. He jumped at the shot to keep playing and make his case to NFL teams because he feels like he still has a lot to offer.
“I’m just a guy that can help you anywhere really on the field that you need me to help — and I’m willing to do it, as well,” Lanning said. “I can help you on offense. I can help you on defense and special teams, obviously. I’m just trying to get more film on special teams and just trying to get more film on linebacker as well. I think I have enough film from college to show what I can do, offensively. I just need to get better at linebacker and special teams and show teams that I can do it.”
That’s where the AAF comes in. Even though Landing is willing to do anything, his future is on special teams and at linebacker. That means his quarterback days are probably behind him.
During San Antonio’s game Saturday, Lanning started at linebacker and tallied two tackles.
“It’s kind of cool,” Lanning said. “I was sitting with my parents after the game, and they were talking about keeping their tickets because it’s the first game.”
Lanning said he expects the AAF to stay in the spotlight.
“They understand how to start a new league and I think if it stays in the springtime and doesn’t try to interfere and get big-time with the NFL, I think they could sustain,” Lanning said.
Even though Lanning would like to see the league stick around for a while, his hope is that he isn’t in it very long.
“That’s everyone’s goal — to get better, to get some film out there and, hopefully, a team calls you back up and gives you another chance,” he said.
Source: Des Moines Register