Philadelphia Stars — Team Preview | Defense

Philadelphia Stars: What Each Signee Faces On Their Quest To The NFL

Eight former Philadelphia Stars players have signed on to NFL squads as the league kicks off their first week of the preseason. The USFL’s 2022 player contracts allowed for players to leave for NFL opportunities, but bars players from signing with competing leagues like the XFL or Canadian Football League as the players are signed to two-year agreements.

If a player is cut from the NFL, their rights revert to the USFL, but it’s ultimately up to the player whether they choose to continue playing football. Ex-USFL players who are cut by NFL teams cannot return to any other leagues except the USFL or NFL until their USFL contract is terminated.

For now, eight standout Stars players are fighting for their NFL careers before NFL teams are forced to reduce their rosters to 53 players and establish a 16-player practice squad. The remaining players will either get placed on reserve lists or will be free to sign with other teams. The approximately 15-20 players from each NFL team who fall out of the NFL will become prime candidates for the USFL’s 2023 season.

None of the Philadelphia Stars’ NFL signees received any sort of guarantees, either verbally or financially. Each player’s situation is different and below I examined each player’s situation and their chances of making the 53-man roster or 16-man practice squad.

Channing Stribling – CB – Washington Commanders

Stribling is listed as a third string outside cornerback right now on the Commanders’ media depth chart. Behind the starters, the Commanders have holdover Danny Johnson and rookie seventh rounder Christian Holmes as heavy favorites to make the team. Stribling will need to show better than the likes of Corn Elder, Troy Apke, and Josh Drayden and fellow ex-USFLers DeVante Bausby and DeJaun Neal. Undrafted rookie Drayden and Troy Apke, a special teamer, appear to currently have the leg up on Stribling. Elder will also have a shot at making the team due to his familiarity with Ron Rivera and the system. Stribling will have to show well in preseason action in order to make the practice squad. In the first preseason game Stribling played on 21 defensive snaps and three special teams snaps. Elder, Bausby, Neal, and Drayden also saw significant action while Apke has missed time with injury. Hurting Striblings’ chances will be that he appears to be less of an asset on special teams than some of the Commanders’ other corners.

Dexter Williams – RB – Green Bay Packers

Williams is the sixth and final back in Green Bay’s running back order, playing behind a firmly set duo of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. The Pack rested Jones and Dillon in their preseason opener to allow their backs to fight for the wide-open third running back job. Undrafted Tyler Goodson got the start and was spelled by Patrick Taylor who spent time on the roster at the end of the 2021 season. Williams also played behind undrafted rookie BJ Baylor who took a catch 65 yards in his action but averaged just 2.7 yards per carry. Williams for his part took one of his three runs for 25 yards and also saw action on a special teams snap. The Packers will probably keep two or three of their four back of roster backs on either their 53-man roster or their practice squad. Williams does have the advantage of spending 2019-2021 with the Packers. This will be a fierce battle for jobs these next few weeks.

Maurice Alexander – WR – Detroit Lions

Alexander won’t make the team unless he’s able to lock up a kick or punt returner job. Kalif Raymond and Godwin Igwebuike are listed as the top punt and kick returners. Raymond likely will make the team but Igwebuike is no roster lock, and the team could roll with Trinity Benson, Josh Johnson, D’Andre Swift, or Kalil Pimpleton at kick returner. Alexander is listed as the third punt returner behind Raymond and Pimpleton. Alexander got in on offense in the fourth quarter and caught 3 of 4 targets for 12 yards. He also returned a kick for 22 yards and returned a punt for 10 and fair caught two other punts. Trinity Benson and Igwebuike appear to be competing for the kick returner job while Alexander appears to be getting a real shot at the punt returner job. A practice squad spot wouldn’t be out of the question and the Lions appear serious about giving Alexander a shot, but he’ll have to play well to make the team.

Bug Howard – TE – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Howard is one of seven tight ends on the Buccaneers’ roster and is firmly behind the team’s two drafted rookies and veteran options at the position. Howard will be competing with Ben Beise and J.J. Howland for a spot on the practice squad as Tampa’s fifth tight end. Howard should get a shot in the preseason to state his case for a practice squad role or maybe even 53-man roster spot. In the first preseason game Howard played in the fourth quarter and caught a short pass and got called for a holding penalty. He did get 19 snaps on offense and three snaps on special teams to showcase himself in week one. J.J. Howland appears to be the early favorite for a practice squad spot and played ahead of Howard in preseason action catching three of four targets for 42 yards but Howard may be ahead of undrafted rookie Ben Beise who didn’t see much action.

Alex Akingbulu – OT – Washington Commanders

Akingbulu is listed as the Commanders’ third string right tackle behind Sam Cosimi and Saahdiq Charles. On the left side the Commanders have Charles Leno, Cornelius Lucas, Rashod Hill, and Aaron Monteiro. Cornelius Lucas is the top tackle off the bench, but he’s been on the non-football illness list, so the team has brought in veteran Rashod Hill to compete to be the top reserve at tackle while Lucas is out. Lucas likely will return soon, and the Commanders may choose to move on from a tackle at that point. If Charles ends up not making the team, he could get signed to another teams’ 53-man roster and the Commanders could keep Hill around on the practice squad as insurance. Either way, it will be up to Akingbulu to show well enough in practice and during preseason games to convince the Commanders to keep him around on their practice squad. In the first preseason game the Commanders gave Akingbulu just ten snaps while Hill received 47 snaps and Monteiro received 37 snaps. Akingbulu may be far behind in a race for a job.

Matt Colburn – RB – Jacksonville Jaguars

Colburn did not play in Jacksonville’s first preseason game and is behind all six of Jacksonville’s runners on the Jaguars’ pecking order at running back. Colburn will have trouble seeing the field, especially if Jacksonville is able to get James Robinson back on the field in the preseason. Travis Etienne and Robinson are roster locks and rookie fifth round pick Snoop Conner also seems likely to make the team. Ryquell Armstead appears firmly entrenched as one of the top four running backs as well. Mekhi Sargent played well in the Hall of Fame game and has a decent shot at making the practice squad as well. Colburn likely needs an injury at running back to get any relevance for a practice squad spot, but he showed in the USFL season that he’s a special talent at running back and could sneak onto Jacksonville’s practice roster if given a chance.

Devin Gray – WR – Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs have 13 wide receivers on their roster and Gray will have an uphill battle at sticking with the team given the numbers game. JuJu Smith-Shuster, Marques Valdez-Scantling, Mecole Hardman, and Skyy Moore are set as the teams’ top four receivers. Justin Watson has impressed, and the Chiefs remain intrigued in Daurice Fountain, Cornell Powell, and Josh Gordon. Gray will have to show better than other low end roster types like Corey Coleman, Omar Bayless, Aaron Parker, Jerrion Ealy, and Gary Jennings to crack a spot on the practice squad. Gray was added when Fountain was out of camp and the team needed numbers with Gary Jennings also out with a concussion. In the first preseason game Gray received just three snaps on offense and two snaps on special teams and did not record a target. Gray appears like an extreme longshot to stick in Kansas City.

K.J. Costello – QB – New Orleans Saints

With Taysom Hill moved to tight end, the Saints needed a quarterback to share reps with when Jameis Winston sprained his right foot. The Saints turned to Costello because they were familiar with him due to his familiarity with the team from attending the Saints’ minicamp in May. Costello’s chances of making New Orleans’ 53-man roster are essentially zero unless he puts up Hall-of-Fame numbers in the preseason. Costello did not play in the first preseason game and there’s no guarantee he’ll see further action in the preseason. In all likelihood, the Saints will move on from Costello when Winston is back from his ankle injury in a few weeks.

Notebook

  • Case Cookus is likely out six to eight weeks with his broken fibula, so that would put his return to football at around mid-August to early September. Signing on to a team’s practice squad during the season seems like a real possibility and at the very least expect Cookus to get several NFL tryouts during the season.
  • It’s surprising that Chris Rowland, Jordan Suell, Adam Rodriguez, or Freedom Akinmoladun didn’t get more NFL looks. Rowland and Suell have not even had a single NFL workout.
  • No news on a potential second hub location in Philadelphia. Back in June Daryl Johnston mentioned that Philadelphia would be a great location because the city is between New Jersey and Pittsburgh.
  • No news on potential locations or details on Offseason Training Activities, which are expected to take place in each team’s home market in October according to Birmingham Stallions head coach Skip Holtz. Holtz also revealed that the USFL will expand offseason rosters to 75 players.
  • According to Michigan Panthers offensive coordinator Eric Marty, the USFL will be evaluating player pay and accommodations in order to lure players back for the 2023 season. Will be interesting to see how many players decide not to return to the league but appears that most teams will try and welcome every player back with rosters expanding.
  • While some teams have signed players this offseason, including the New Jersey Generals signing intriguing Indoor Football League quarterback Daquan Neal, the Stars have not made any transactions.
  • Players who have tried out with NFL teams but did not yet sign include OG Jake Burton, DE Adam Rodriguez, DE Freedom Akinmoladun, LS Ryan Navarro, and P/K Matt Mengel. Mengel was released mid-season and joined the CFL where he punted until he was again recently released.
  • Behind Birmingham and New Orleans, Tulsa, OK was surprisingly the third best TV market for the USFL in 2022 across NBC and USA. Recently the owner of the Tulsa Drillers minor league hockey team announced an expansion team in the Indoor Football League. It will be interesting to see how much fan support the team is able to attract and how that will impact USFL interest in that city.
  • On August 27, the Ottawa Gee-Gees will kick off their 2022 season. Why is this notable? Stars receivers coach Marcel Bellefeuille is the Gee-Gees’ head coach and Stars defensive coordinator Brad Miller is the Gee-Gees’ linebackers and special teams coach. The Gee-Gees play in U Sports, Canada’s version of the NCAA. Their season runs through October, so they would be notably absent from any potential OTA’s that the Stars would have this October.
  • The XFL plans on holding their player draft in November and team identities are expected to be revealed before then. The XFL and USFL plan on both playing in 2023 with the end of the XFL season overlapping with the start of the USFL season. It remains to be seen if one spring league can last, let alone two leagues. The leagues may end up hurting each other as they fight for the same group of fans and observers have speculated that a merger of the leagues could be a possible solution at some point.
  • The XFL and USFL will be competing for the next batch of players who are cut from NFL camps and there’s concern that the competition for players will result in increased player costs. Publicly the leagues seem aligned on player salaries around $50,000 per season, but there’s a real possibility that one or both leagues attempt to spend big money on quarterbacks and other top talent.

Who would you like to see join the Philadelphia Stars in 2023? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below or join the conversation on Discord.

Fubo