michigan panthers

Get to Know The 2024 UFL Michigan Panthers

As the clock ticks down to opening day for the inaugural UFL season, the Michigan Panthers are dealing with some last-minute changes to their roster. Following the loss of quarterback Josh Love to the Memphis Showboats, Head Coach Mike Nolan must select one of three talented quarterbacks competing for the starting assignment this season.  

Meet The 2024 UFL Michigan Panthers

A Quarterback Conundrum

On March 18, 2024, the Panthers placed quarterback Davis Cheek on the retired list. Cheek had been expected to compete against Danny Etling and E.J. Perry.  Now, with Cheek officially out of the picture, the Panthers re-signed former Michigan State University quarterback Brian Lewerke to a new contract.

NFL journeyman Danny Etling brings the most NFL experience of the three quarterbacks. After graduating from LSU where he passed for over 4,500 yards, Etling was drafted by the New England Patriots in 2018. Serving as a backup to Tom Brady, Etling earned a Super Bowl ring during the Patriots 2019 Championship Season.

Over the past several years, Etling made the rounds through the NFL as a backup and learned from the league’s finest quarterbacks, including Brady and Kirk Cousins. During his most recent stint with the Green Bay Packers, one of his teammates was former Birmingham Stallions quarterback, Alex McGough. Perhaps McGough’s USFL success inspired Etling and led to his signing with the Panthers in December of 2023.   

Former Brown University star, E.J.Perry,  won the Bushnell Cup as the top Ivy League offensive player in 2021.  Perry’s college stats were indeed impressive with 3,033 passing yards, and 23 touchdowns, plus 402 rushing yards, and another seven rushing touchdowns. However, despite earning the highest score in the NFL Combine that year, Perry wasn’t selected in the 2022 draft. Instead, Perry rode the NFL merry-go-round of being signed, released, and re-signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Houston Texans, and the Michigan Panthers over the past few seasons. Now in his third stint with the Panthers, let’s hope this talented young man has finally found a home in the UFL.   

Brian Lewerke might be the fan’s sentimental favorite at quarterback. After graduating from MSU as the Spartan’s all-time leader in total offense with 9,548 yards, Lewerke also spent time in the NFL riding the bench with the New England Patriots and the New York Giants before signing with the Michigan Panthers last year. Despite being released during the Panthers 2024 training camp and then re-signed upon Cheek’s retirement, Lewerke has the talent to challenge Perry and Etling for the starting assignment.   

Other Notable Talents On Offense

The Panthers acquired former New Orleans Breakers star running back Wes Hills in the dispersal draft. Hills led the USFL league in rushing last year with 679 yards and can light up a scoreboard. He was named to the All-USFL team and is already a familiar face at Ford Field after playing for the Detroit Lions in 2019 and scoring his first NFL touchdown.

Puka Nacua, the Los Angeles Ram’s 2023 rookie sensation, is not the only Nacua playing professional football. His older brothers, wide receiver Samson Nacua and free safety Kai Nacua made the 2024 roster for the Michigan Panthers. An undrafted free agent from BYU who signed with the Indianapolis Colts after graduating, 6’4″  Samson Nacua brings strength and athleticism to the Panthers receiving core.  

Also a graduate of BYU, Samson’s older brother, Kai Nacua, played defense for several NFL teams including the Cleveland Browns, the San Francisco 49ers, and most recently, the New York Jets. Following Puka’s incredible success with the Rams, Samson and Kai are hoping to prove that their younger brother isn’t the only Nacua to watch out for this year.

Defensive Talent

Another player to keep an eye on this season is former Miami Dolphins defensive back and special teams player, Frank Ginda. The heart of the USFL Panthers’ defense in 2022, Ginda was the USFL Defensive Player of the Year and an All-USFL linebacker. Credited with 115 tackles, three interceptions, two sacks, and two forced fumbles that season, he came to the attention of the Atlanta Falcons who signed him the following season. Now signed to the UFL Panthers, Ginda looks ready to pick up right where he left off.    

Finally, Breeland Speaks, provides another imposing defensive presence on the field. While playing college football at Ole Miss, Speaks was recognized by the Associated Press for 67 tackles and seven sacks in his junior year. Selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the second round of the 2018 draft, Speaks was subsequently placed on injured reserve and then received a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Speaks was waived by the Chiefs the following year and experienced a whirlwind tour of the NFL where he spent time with multiple teams. Now, he has another opportunity to prove himself with the Michigan Panthers. If Speaks regains his winning ways, he could be a real difference-maker for the Panther’s defense.  

Despite the obstacles these players previously faced in their football careers, the inaugural UFL season is an opportunity to showcase their talent and have a breakout season. All it takes is the right combination of talent, solid coaching, and a cohesive team effort to achieve a winning season.      

Main Image: Julie Vennitti Botos / Canton Repository / USA TODAY NETWORK

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