Bears News: Previewing the USFL: New Jersey Generals

Bears News: Previewing the USFL: New Jersey Generals

by - Senior Writer -

Despite being in the middle of the NFL offseason, where free agency is king, there is still plenty to talk about regarding the NFL or some form of football. Last week saw the Bears stole the show as they were not only the most aggressive team in free agency but made several impact signings to help their team now and in the future.

Things started to slow toward the end of the week, and they remain slow for now. That doesn't mean Ryan Poles and his guys are not hard at work trying to work something out with free agents, as they are also preparing for the NFL draft. Even with all that going on, there is still more football to discuss as the XFL has hit the midway point in the regular season.

This was when the league folded in 2020 due to COVID-19, but that doesn't appear to be an issue anymore. Even with the XFL running the spring football headlines, they won't be alone much longer as the USFL is set to return for its second season on April 15. Unlike the AAF, XFL, TSL, and other past spring leagues, the USFL managed to get through their entire 10-game season last year before conducting the postseason.

They did that by playing all of their games in Birmingham to cut down on travel, but that didn't go too well. This season, the league has expanded to four hubs, with Birmingham, Detroit, Canton, and Memphis set to host games this season.

New Jersey Generals

We start our USFL preview series with the New Jersey Generals, who will call Canton, Ohio, home for 2023.

The Generals were among the best teams in the league last season, losing to the eventual champions Birmingham Stallions in week one before winning their final nine games to win the North Division. The Generals were then upset by the Philadelphia Stars in the postseason, but look for them to be one of the favorites again this season.

Led by veteran head Coach Mike Riley, the Generals are loaded with talent and are looking for a better end than what they experienced last season. Riley is a decorated head coach with a 112-99 Collegiate record, 14-34 NFL record, 40-32 CFL record, 5-3 AAF record with the San Antonio Commanders, and a 9-1 record in the USFL. That is worth noting as he is no stranger to the spring football leagues going 14-4 during his two tenures thus far.

Riley has a limited coaching staff that starts with Assistant Head Coach and offensive coordinator Steven Smith. The most notable coach on his staff is the defensive coordinator/LB coach as Ted Cottrell takes his perch at a young 75 years old. Cottrell was out of the game for a decade before latching on with the Birmingham Iron of the AAF in 2019 and has been involved with spring football ever since.

Looking at their roster and the one significant change is at the QB position, where Luis Perez is no longer part of their roster. That is because Perez elected to sign with the XFL and is currently calling the shots for the Vegas Vipers. Without him, look for the Generals to roll with De'Andre Johnson or Kyle Lauletta as the signal caller. Johnson has the upper hand, as he saw time in this offense a season ago and completed 72% of his passes for 772 yards. Johnson didn't score a ton, as he had two TDs and two Int, but he did very well when given the opportunity.

Along with Johnson comes the RB duo of Trey Williams and Darius Victor.

Both are veterans of spring league football, with Victor having the most success. Regarding the pass catchers on offense, Marcus Green, Darrell Stewart Jr, and several others will have chances, but it will be De'Monray Pierson-El as the No. 1 target for this offense. Pair him with Wes Saxton at the TE position, and the Generals should have one of the better offenses in the league.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Generals will be led by Hercules Mata'afa up front, with Chris Orr anchoring the LB room. Mata'afa has proven to be a great run stuffer, while Orr is an athletic LB looking to overcome injuries and find his way back to the NFL.

As far as the secondary goes, this is the one area of concern on this team as they have to figure out the leaders of this group. Trae Elston (CB) and Paris Ford (S) appear to be the locks right now, but this is one of the position battles to watch in camp.

Given the coaching staff in place, this team's talent, and their hunger from a painful exit, this is a Generals team to look out for in 2023. I expect them to not only contend for the North Division crown once again, but also to be in a position to play for the USFL title this season.

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