The 2023 USFL season is almost upon us, with players reporting to training camp in less than two weeks.
To help prepare us for the upcoming season, we are going to look at the Birmingham Stallions 2023 roster position by position, breaking down potential starters and key contributors heading into April.
Today, we will start with what many consider to be the most important position in football: the quarterback. The Stallions have three rostered quarterbacks heading into the season: J’Mar Smith, Alex McGough, and Jalen Morton. Two of those names will be familiar to anyone who watched the USFL in 2022, while Morton is a newcomer to the league. Let’s take a further look at each of these players.
Heading into 2022, Smith was the projected backup to Alex McGough. He did not attend the inaugural USFL Quarterback Draft in Birmingham and received little attention or fanfare before the season. Everything changed on opening night, though, when McGough got injured. Smith entered the game, heroically leading the Stallions to an epic comeback win in the final minute against the New Jersey Generals. From that point on, the Stallions were Smith’s team. It was clear that his history with Skip Holtz (his collegiate coach) translated to immediate success on the field.
Smith went on to start 9 games for the Stallions, leading them to the USFL championship. He completed 158 of 284 passes (55.6%) for 1,891 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also occasionally made plays with his legs, rushing 46 times for 237 yards and three touchdowns. Despite missing some time with injuries, Smith still finished third in the league in most major passing categories. Smith was a critical piece of the Stallions’ 2022 success and projects to be the starter in 2023.
However, Smith was not without his struggles. His main two challenges were injuries and inconsistency. Smith got injured multiple times in the short season, missing one regular season game entirely and being unable to start another. He also sustained an injury in the USFL championship that kept him out for the remainder of the game. For all his shining moments, Smith also had some frustrating ones. His completion percentage was lower than most quarterbacks in the league, and he turned the ball over 11 times (6 interceptions and 5 fumbles). Smith finished the season on a positive note, though, improving his completion percentage and only turning the ball over once in two postseason games. If Smith can continue those trends, it bodes well for his 2023 campaign.
Alex McGough went from competing against Skip Holtz in college to being his starting quarterback in the USFL. However, as noted above, that stint was short-lived. McGough was injured in the opening game and unable to earn the starting job back. However, that did not mean McGough was done seeing the field. McGough played relief for Smith when he was injured, most notably leading the Stallions to their comeback victory against the Philadelphia Stars in the championship. In that game, McGough was a solid 7 of 10 for 77 yards. His one touchdown pass to Victor Bolden was his most clutch play, giving the Stallions a fourth quarter lead and turning the tide of the game for good.
Despite losing the starting job, McGough was still a key contributor for the Stallions. He produced 683 total yards and 6 touchdowns on the season. Often able to provide a spark with his legs, McGough ran the ball 37 times for 146 yards and 3 touchdowns despite his limited playing time. It was clear Holtz never fully gave up on McGough, even unsuccessfully trying to incorporate him into the offense as a wide receiver at one point. While I doubt McGough will start for the Stallions in 2023, expect to see him on the field from time to time.
One thing that remains to be seen is how McGough responds if he continues to be the backup in 2023. McGough is a fiery competitor who surely feels he should be on the field after helping the Stallions win the championship last year. In that game, McGough had a heated exchange with coach Skip Holtz that was caught on camera. Holtz was able to help McGough remain calm and keep his head, which proved critical to the outcome of the game. But will McGough be content to play second fiddle for another season if he does not win the starting job?
The Stallions rostered three quarterbacks in 2022: Smith, McGough, and former Boise State quarterback Montell Cozart. However, in the offseason the Stallions parted ways with Cozart, who’s now a Houston Gambler. In his stead, they added quarterback Jalen Morton. Morton, an HBCU product out of Prairie View A&M, was with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2022. Before that, he had short stints with the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts after going undrafted in 2020.
Morton had an impressive college career, playing in 35 games over five seasons. He thew for 5,237 yards and 42 touchdowns, adding another 1,579 yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground. Morton has big play potential with both his arm and legs: his longest completion in college went for 80 yards, while his longest run was an 89-yard scamper.
Morton is a big, strong quarterback; he stands at 6’4 and weighs in at 225 pounds. He’s so strong, in fact, that he can throw a football 100 yards. Yes, you read that correctly: 100 yards. He could also throw a baseball 98 mph in high school. Needless to say, the man has an arm and a half. It remains to be seen if we ever get to see Morton on the field for the Stallions in 2023, but I, for one, would love to see what someone with his size, strength, and athleticism could do.
I expect J’Mar Smith to remain the starter for the Stallions in 2023. Another year playing under Skip Holtz plus several teammates returning should result in a great season for him. While I expect to primarily see Smith, I do anticipate a sprinkle of Alex McGough from time to time. Barring an injury, I don’t think we will get to see what Jalen Morton can do this year. But it is nice to know that the Stallions have a solid third quarterback on the roster. Expect this experienced quarterback room to anchor the team in 2023 as they attempt to remain the best team in the league.
How do you think the Birmingham Stallions will do in season 2? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below or join the conversation on Discord.