Birmingham Stallions 2023 USFL Breakdown: Defensive Line

Birmingham Stallions 2023 USFL Breakdown: Defensive Line

We kicked this series off by looking at the Birmingham Stallions offensive roster. Now, we turn to the defensive side of the ball. Led by veteran defensive coach John Chavis, aka “The Chief,” the Stallions’ defense was one of the best in the league last year. They allowed the fewest yards per game and the second-fewest points per game during the regular season. The Stallions would not have been able to make their USFL championship run without being so stout on this side of the ball.

But how will things fare in 2023? We will try to answer that question by first considering the Stallions defensive line. Later articles will consider the linebacking crew and secondary.

Birmingham’s defensive line was arguably the best in the USFL last year. During the regular season, they only allowed 95.5 yards per game on the ground (good enough for second in the league) and led the league with 27 sacks (2.7 sacks per game). Given their success, you might expect some turnover for this unit. However, here is the great news for Stallions fans: nearly all of the defensive line returns in 2023. Only three players from last season are gone: Doug Costin and Aaron Adeoye are with the Arlington Renegades of the XFL and Seth Thomas was released last month to make room for new signings. None of the three were starters last year. Plus, in addition to retaining their core from last year’s team, the Stallions also added some talented players this offseason. Let’s take a look at every defensive lineman currently on the roster.

Returning Interior Defensive Linemen

Three interior defensive linemen return from last year: Willie Yarbary, Willie Henry, and Keyshon Camp. Yarbary is the most notable figure in the group, having started at defensive tackle last season. He led all Stallions defensive linemen with 44 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He also added five tackles for loss and four passes deflected. He was dominant in the USFL Championship, registering five tackles, one tackle for loss, and two sacks. Expect him to anchor the Stallions’ defensive front again in 2023.

The Stallions picked up Henry, a former contributor on the Ravens’ defensive line, a couple of weeks into last season. He immediately made an impact and finished the season with 15 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. I would expect him to be a regular part of the Stallions’ defensive line rotation this year.

Camp only played in a few games last year, but he was productive when he was in. He had nine tackles, two tackles for loss, and two sacks in 2022. Given the Stallions’ offseason additions, Camp could find himself fighting for a spot on the roster during camp.

New Interior Defensive Linemen

The Stallions made a big splash this off-season when they signed defensive tackle Darius Stills. Stills, a former first team All-American and Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year at West Virginia, was expected to be a big pickup for Birmingham. However, Stills found himself the odd man out after the Stallions released him a week into training camp.

Shortly after Stills’ release, the Stallions announced they had signed defensive tackle Khalil Davis. Davis (6’1, 310) played college football at Nebraska where he had 106 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, two passes deflected, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovered. In his final two years at Nebraska, he was their Defensive Lineman of the Year and was voted Big Ten Honorable Mention. His combine numbers were impressive as he ran a 4.75 40-yard dash and bench pressed 225 pounds 32 times. This led to him being rated the most athletic defensive tackle in his class. Tampa Bay drafted him in the sixth round of the 2020 draft. He also spent time with the Colts and Steelers and most recently was on the Rams practice squad. General manager Zachary Potter has a penchant for players who are explosive, fast, and dynamic, and Davis certainly fits that bill.

Returning Edge Defensive Linemen

The Stallions return four defensive ends from 2022: Dondrea Tillman, Jonathan Newsome, Chauncy Haney, and Jordan Thompson. Tillman and Newsome started for the Stallions last year and were often in opposing backfields terrorizing quarterbacks. Tillman had 40 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and six passes deflected.

Newsome, the Stallions’ oldest player, provided veteran leadership to the Stallions’ defense last year. He was also productive, finishing the season with 34 tackles, three tackles for loss, four sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles, and four passes deflected.

Haney was a key player for the Stallions last year, providing depth on the defensive line. He finished the season with 13 tackles, three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one fumble recovered, and one pass deflected. He will have to compete for playing time again this year given the crowded defensive line room, but I expect him to be in the mix at times.

Thompson didn’t see the field much last year, being released a few weeks into the season to make room for Willie Henry. However, he was resigned in the offseason and returns with the Stallions in 2023. In the two games Thompson played in, he registered 10 tackles, one tackle for loss, and 1.5 sacks. Thompson will likely be fighting for a roster spot again this year.

New Edge Defensive Linemen

The Stallions added three defensive ends this offseason: Joe Jackson, Darrion Daniels, and Joe Ozougwu. Of the three, Jackson (6’4, 280) has the most impressive resume. He was a multi-year starter at Miami, earning All-ACC Honorable Mention his senior season. In three years, he totaled 129 tackles, 35.5 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered, one interception, and two touchdowns. He was drafted by Dallas in the fifth round in 2019 and was with the Browns in 2020 and 2021. In his first three seasons in the league, he totaled 25 tackles, three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one fumble recovered, and one pass deflected. He spent some time on the Chiefs and Panthers practice squads before signing with the Stallions. I’d expect Jackson to compete for a starting spot on the edge.

Daniels (6’3, 310) is also a nice pickup for the Stallions. Daniels started his college career at Oklahoma State before transferring to Nebraska (where he played with Khalil Davis). In his lone season at Nebraska, Daniels registered 34 tackles, four tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and one interception. He was recognized for his efforts, earning All-Big Ten Honorable Mention and being named a team captain. He has spent time in the NFL with the 49ers and Falcons.

Ozougwu (6’2, 235) played at the University of North Texas for three years before transferring to Arkansas State. At North Texas, Ozougwu earned a spot on the C-USA All-Freshman team. In his lone year at ASU, he had 57 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and two passes deflected. His efforts earned him the Larry Lacewell Award as the team’s most valuable player. He graduated in 2022 and signed with Tampa Bay as an undrafted free agent.

Defensive Line Outlook

This group is loaded; there is just no other way to put it. The fact that the Stallions felt comfortable cutting Darius Stills is a testament to this fact. I’d expect a few more of these players to get cut given how many there are. Who might that be? I’d expect Camp, Thompson, and Ozougwu to be on the bubble, but I could be mistaken. I would not have expected Stills would be the first to go. Regardless of who the Stallions choose to stick with, they are going to have a top unit in the league.

It would have been a win if the Stallions could have brought back half their defensive line from 2022. The fact that they brought back all their starters plus added some decorated free agents likely has opposing offensive coordinators, lines, and quarterbacks scrambling to figure out how they are going to deal with this unit in 2023. I would expect another league-leading performance given this unit’s skill, experience, and depth. It is no secret that championship teams dominate the line of scrimmage. That was true with the Stallions’ championship run last year, and if they are going to make another run, it will be true again this year. The pieces they have assembled going into 2023 have to leave them feeling good about their chances.

What are your thoughts on the Birmingham Stallions defensive line? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!