USFL Week 1 Recap: More Defense, More (Great) Hits

BIRMINGHAM, AL - APRIL 18: Tampa Bay Bandits quarterback Jordan Ta'amu (10) during the USFL game between the Pittsburgh Maulers and Tampa Bay Bandits on April 18, 2022 at Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

If the USFL is a developmental league meant to get guys to the next level, I think I learned a very important lesson moving forward after Week 1: Defense wins championships and, apparently, it’s going to get a lot of guys a spot in training camp this summer, too.

The Tampa Bay Bandits, New Orleans Breakers, and Houston Gamblers all put on performances that stamped their team’s identities moving forward. Even though the Bandits were facing a team already mired in controversy, they kept the Pittsburgh Maulers out of the endzone for all 60 minutes. The New Orleans Breakers ran the ball and did their best to keep the Philadelphia Stars from throwing theirs by having resident rush man extraordinaire Davin Bellamy rack up three sacks in his USFL debut and help the entire team finish the game with 6. Finally, the Houston Gamblers made both of Jeff Fisher’s quarterbacks struggle, as they kept the Panthers from breaking the 10-point barrier until the latter stages of the second half.

As Pat McAfee mentioned on the April 18th edition of his eponymous show, the quarterbacking put on display this weekend left a lot to be desired. However, the men on the defensive side of the ball get paid to make plays as well. With that in mind, I want the first recap article of the USFL season to focus on the defensive enforcers that roamed the field this weekend and some other positives I noticed throughout the first week of the regular season.

USFL Week 1 Featured Defense and Great Hits

The Brothers Were Hitting When Hitting Was Necessary

I knew this league was aware of how its bread would be buttered when I saw a running back get hit so hard he flew back five yards in the first quarter ever. Shalom Luani came flying in from the right safety spot and launched the ball carrier with a textbook form tackle that coaches will be playing on repeat at every level of the game all summer. It occurred around five minutes into the first quarter and gave way to a weekend that would see a lot of action at all three levels of the defense. However, Luani’s feat of fear-mongering actually set the tone for all the DBs across the league.

Big plays on all three levels of defense were routine in Week 1. Along with the big hits produced by the secondary, there were a lot of game-changing interceptions and run stuffs on 3rd and 4th and short. New Jersey reached a point where they ran the ball 24 straight times and almost ran all the clock out. Unfortunately for the Generals, Birmingham’s defense kept the score close enough for the Stallions’ offense to execute a methodical game winning drive at the very end of the game.

Moments like these show why developing the defensive line of scrimmage will always be worth the investment when it’s time to pay up. Interestingly enough, they also help highlight the next big hitter who caught my eye this weekend.

The DLs and LBs Rushed The Pass Like It Was Paying For Gas

I’m being facetious with these subheadings, but the aforementioned Davin Bellamy put up his three sacks in the first quarter. This means he’s either setting himself up to be paid a lot of money by the New Orleans Breakers in two years or, possibly, the New Orleans Saints if he can maintain that kind of ridiculous pace throughout his entire USFL career.

The fifth-highest paid (in terms of annual value) NFL EDGE, 25-year-old Maxx Crosby, just signed a deal for $94 million with $26,515,000 fully guaranteed. This comes after a three-year start to his career that’s seen him rack up 25 sacks in 49 games played. While it is a different level of competition, Bellamy is currently strutting around with three sacks in one USFL game played.

Seeing that each team is guaranteed 10 regular season games, this means the Breaker has nine games of wiggle room to find seven more successful rushes and reach a double digit figure for the entire USFL season. That should lead to his agent fielding some calls from NFL teams who are looking to find a bargain in street free agency once the NFL Draft is over.

Pro Coaching Experience In One League Didn’t Always Mean Anything In The USFL

Speaking of the NFL, it appears the Tampa Bay Bandits’ Head Coach, Todd Haley, is the only former NFLer who was able to figure out the nuances of the USFL’s outdoor pro game in Week 1. Jeff Fisher (.500 is still in reach), Kirby Wilson (but the chicken salad is not), and Bart Andrus (whose resume is literally all over the place) all lost their games as lead men in the USFL.

Mike Riley was the only coach who could be viewed as a true college guy who lost his opening matchup. However, he suffered defeat while coaching an offense that looked like a pro team from the 80s and did everything he could to keep the ball out of Birmingham’s hands until he couldn’t. So, I’ll just group him in with the rest of the pros who lost in Week 1 to smooth it all out.

I like the balance between college guys who never got a chance in the NFL and NFL guys who never got a chance in the NFL (wait a minute…). It helps us see what the highest level of coaching can do for leaders’ development once they trickle down to the minor leagues and focus more on teaching proper technique and fundamentals instead of solely worrying about how to win games in the hardest gridiron league in the world.

Pizza shortages aside, I think most of the rosters bright spots on their teams that showed what their coaches could offer to the sport moving forward. This makes me excited to see what Week 2 has to offer and, of course, the gameplans every Defensive Coordinator has in store after having a week of official game film to reference.

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