Philadelphia Stars: Top Off-Season Priorities

Philadelphia Stars: Top Off-Season Priorities

With approximately six weeks until the Philadelphia Stars and the rest of the USFL open training camp, Philadelphia is primed for a repeat run at the USFL Championship. One glaring hole at quarterback remains, but Philadelphia will also have opportunities to tighten up other parts of their roster before the season kicks off.

The Stars currently have 53 players signed for the 2023 season and with roster sizes expected to expand to around 75 in training camp according to a person with knowledge of the situation, the Stars will have a chance to add depth and competition across the roster.

The league is rumored to host a draft prior to training camp and an influx of released XFL players may also become available for the league.

With the stage set for a frenzied roster acquisition period the next few weeks, here are Philadelphia’s top remaining needs heading into training camp.

Re-Sign QB Case Cookus

Case Cookus’ magical 2022 season ended with a tough injury in the 2022 USFL Championship game that ultimately caused the Stars to face defeat. Following the season Cookus rehabbed over the summer before receiving a tryout with the Cowboys before ultimately signing to the Los Angeles Rams’ practice squad.

Cookus was not signed to a futures contract with the Rams following the season and became a free agent weeks ago. The passer is free to sign with any team in any league at this moment, but expect Cookus to try and wait on an NFL opportunity.

NFL teams are still finalizing their coaching staffs and front office staffs, so it’s possible that Cookus could sign on with another NFL team before the USFL kicks off camp. I’d expect Cookus to wait for as long as possible before any reunion with the USFL.

Unless Cookus signs with an XFL team over the next few days, I’d be hard pressed to see Cookus join the XFL at this stage with the league kicking off in a matter of days. Anything is possible.

Philadelphia has a crater sized hole in their roster at quarterback, with only newcomer Kevin Thomson under contract. It would seem that Philadelphia’s plan is bringing Cookus back but the team should line up some contingencies in the event Cookus returns to the NFL.

One contingency could be K.J. Costello, who backed up Cookus after Bryan Scott’s injury last season. Costello struggled in the USFL Championship but showed well at other times. Thomson is an intriguing player but the Stars would be wise to add some competition.

Find a Big DE to Replace Freedom Akinmoladun

One of the more disappointing offseason moves was the Stars losing DE St. Louis Battlehawks to the XFL’s Arlington Renegades. Akinmoladun is from Missouri, so returning to St. Louis is close to home for the Stars’ standout end.  While you respect the player’s decision, losing Akinmoladun leaves a big hole in Philadelphia’s roster.

At 6-3, 286, Akinmoladun helped set the edge for the Stars in 2022 and earned a tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers following the season. The Stars currently do not have any defensive player on their roster who fits the mold as a “big” defensive end.

Antwan Owens is Philadelphia’s smallest defensive tackle at 6’4, 280, but he is not listed as an edge defender on Philly’s roster. Owens did play some defensive end with the Stars in 2022 including the USFL Championship game where he was productive. If Owens takes over Akinmoladun’s role in 2023, he could be in line for a breakout season.

Philadelphia was worst in the USFL against the run in 2022 and improving their run defense has to be one of their top priorities in 2023.

Re-Sign TE Bug Howard

One big surprise this offseason has been that the XFL did not draft Bug Howard and the Stars did not re-sign Howard after he spent the fall of 2022 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Howard appeared open to going to both the XFL and returning to the USFL following his release from Tampa Bay.

The Stars added NFL veteran Ryan Izzo and unknown prospect Larry Dalla Betta to their tight end room this offseason. Izzo is the complete opposite of Howard, a great run blocker who won’t be used much as a receiver. Dalla Betta is a complete mystery, as he has not played football since 2019 when he was with the DII West Florida Argonauts, where he redshirted.

Pro Wells also returns for 2023 and Wells showed some promise as a receiver in his rookie season. Still, losing Howard removes an explosive receiving option for the Stars. Howard was a dominant wide receiver at UNC during his college days and provided a spark for the Stars as a big slot receiver last season.

If Howard doesn’t return in 2023, the Stars could replace Howard with more action for the 6’4 Diondre Overton, who is just an inch shorter than Howard and made some plays when he was healthy in 2022.

Add Some Competition Along The Offensive Line

Philadelphia lost both of their starting left tackles this offseason as Gunnar Vogel’s 2023 option was not exercised and Alex Akingbulu left the Stars for the Washington Commanders following the season.

Leon Johnson didn’t see any action with the Stars in 2022 but is projected to be Philadelphia’s starting left tackle. Johnson started one game at left tackle in 2021 with the Calgary Stampeders and made ten starts at left tackle with the Temple Owls in 2017. In 2019 he saw time with the AAF’s Salt Lake Stallions. Adding competition and depth at left tackle would be a smart idea as Johnson is unproven in the USFL.

Guard Jackson Scott-Brown saw significant action for the Stars last season and his 2023 option was also not exercised. Jahair Jones, Paul Nosworthy, and Jake Burton return as options at guard for the Stars in 2023, but more depth and competition is always a positive.

Colby Ragland was a 2x-All-Conference USA guard/tackle at UAB and could factor in at left guard or right tackle. The Stars return 2022 starting right tackle Blake Camper who may be an option at left tackle with Akingbulu and Vogel gone.

At center the Stars return Sean Brown and C.J. Perez, who could also face outside competition.

Sign A Punter

The Philadelphia Stars are the only team in the USFL that does not have a primary punter. Kicker Luis Aguilar is under contract for 2023 and Aguilar handled punting duties for the Stars last season following the release of kicker/punter Matt Mengel. Aguilar was bottom of the league in net punt average at just 35 yards per punt.

With expanded rosters in 2023, it would make sense for Philadelphia to sign a primary punter. Among the many reasons, signing a punter would allow the Stars special teams unit to have a holder with near unlimited time to focus solely on special teams. In 2022 the Stars were forced to have Case Cookus hold on field goals and extra points.

Re-Sign S Ahmad Dixon

Philadelphia surprisingly did not bring back safety Ahmad Dixon in the offseason. Dixon proved to be a playmaker for the Stars who rotated four safeties last year.

The Stars’ other top safeties, Evan Worthington, Cody Brown, and LaDarius Wiley will all return next season, making safety less of a priority.

An argument can be made that the Stars would not have won their week nine game against the Maulers had Dixon not made a spectacular play to force a fumble late in the game.

Find a playmaker at LB

The Stars had the worst run defense in the USFL a season ago and have not done much to add to their linebacker group for 2023.

Philadelphia watched as the Stallions’ star linebacker duo of Scooby Wright and DeMarquis Gates led the Stallions defense to a championship victory. In Houston, Donald Payne and Reggie Northrup led an exciting defense while in New Orleans Vontae Diggs and Jerod Fernandez kept offenses in check.

The league’s linebacker groups have improved this offseason among other teams with big signings like Reuben Foster, Leon Jacobs, Elijah Sullivan, and Jakoby McClain.

Philadelphia returns Jordan Moore, Gabriel Sewell Jr., and Te’von Coney at linebacker and added Kadofi Wright and Jordan Genmark Heath. Genmark Heath had a productive senior season at UCLA in 2021 but was not signed by an NFL team after the draft and had a short CFL stint. Wright was a productive player at Buffalo but was not a dominant force and was with the Broncos in the 2022 offseason.

How do you think the Philadelphia Stars will do compared to last season? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below or join the coinversation on Discord.