The Philadelphia Stars run a unique defensive scheme once made known in Philly by the Eagles. They ran this system from 1999-2008 under defensive coordinator Jim Johnson a former USFL coach with the Jacksonville Bulls and legend in his own right. Quickly growing their legend is the Stars staff, who run the Wide 9 the scheme I alluded to. The name “Wide 9” is sort of a coaching slang term based on the ‘9’ gap you line up your defensive end in to attack the offensive tackle’s outside shoulder.
In this scheme, you look to smaller, quicker, defensive ends that can bend the edge. You then line up your defensive ends, wide of the offensive tackle putting them on an island. In our recent interview Defensive Coordinator Brad Miller said, “offensive linemen like to operate in a phone booth, I want to make them play in a pasture.”
Shout out to Big Blue Interactive for this very informative graphic.
This scheme with the right personnel can be dangerous. Names like Jevon Kearse, Trent Cole, and Hugh Douglas come to mind when I think about that Eagles team led by Johnson. Looking at the Stars it’s quite clear that Adam Rodriguez was utilized in the best possible scheme for his style of play. Allowed to utilize his speed and agility he wound up second in the league in sacks. Having once run a 4.69 40, and 6.69 3 cone drill, it’s no surprise that the newest addition to the defensive end position is very similar in athletic ability. Darius Hodge, at 6’1 245 lbs is a perfect fit for this scheme.
Darius Hodge came out of Wake Forest High School in North Carolina. At the time he stood 6’1 257 pounds and played outside linebacker. Showcasing his abilities as a pass rusher, and in coverage with 17 sacks and 10 interceptions. He also played special teams and offense, even logging a couple kick returns, some carries, and 1 reception for his school. He would end up attending Marshall University.
From the moment he arrived at Marshall, they knew he would be playing defensive end at the college level. Marshall decided it would be best to redshirt him for the 2017 season allowing him to learn the playbook and focus on defensive end. After sitting out the 2017 season he was eased into the lineup in 2018. Playing in 9 games as a rotational defensive end he collected 13 tackles, 3 for a loss, 2 sacks, 1 tipped pass, and 1 fumble recovery.
In 2019 the Thundering Herd let Hodge loose. He played in 12 games, racking up 41 tackles, 7 sacks, with 8.5 tackles for a loss. He was quickly showing a knack for being in the opposing backfield. In 2020 he was a nearly identical season with 63 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 9 tackles for a loss, 1 forced fumble, and 1 recovery. Heading into the NFL draft he was rated as anywhere from a 6th-round pick to a priority free agent.
NFL Draft 2021
Hodge would end up on the latter end of the draft projection spectrum. Falling out of the draft entirely. He sat on the free agent market For nearly a month. Having slipped out of the NFL draft in 2021, Hodge found his way to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Quickly after signing in Cincy, He was arrested in July for an incident in 2019, but the Bengals chose to retain him. A strong showing in training camp and during the preseason helped the linebacker/defensive end produce 6 tackles and 2.5 sacks in just 3 games.
After this performance, he would make the active roster and appear in four games. He appeared in 2% of defensive snaps but showed value on special teams playing 13% of the special team’s snaps. After being waived by the Bengals, he would sign with Miami’s practice squad the following day.
From the Cincinnati Cold to the Beaches of Miami
Shortly after joining the Dolphins, he would serve a two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. After the 2021 season, he would remain with the Dolphins throughout the offseason. The Dolphins gave him every chance to make the roster before an injury curtailed his progress and led him to injured reserve.
However, the Dolphins would release him off of injured reserve just 2 weeks later. Hodge is 100% healed after spending last season rehabbing. If there’s one thing we can take from his brief NFL career it’s that teams believe he has the talent to be an NFL player. In Cincinnati, they kept him even after he was arrested, and in Miami held on after a PED suspension. I anticipate him having a significant impact in 2023 for the Stars. Just look at some of these highlight plays below:
While writing this article I reached out to Star’s defensive line coach Brandon Macguire, and he had this to say about Darius Hodge: “Yeah excited about him. Marshall is a place that typically puts out some tough football players that really understand the game.”
When asked about what he brings to the Stars for the 2023 season: “Athletically if you look at his pro day numbers it would be hard to find many as explosive as he is. Then the versatility he can add not just on base downs but in ST and 3rd down packages he is a great pair with Adam. He plays aggressively which is hard to coach someone to do.”
Spring Leagues Offer Road to Redemption
While it ultimately was an injury, not off-field issues that led to his dismissal in September, Hodge is looking for a chance to play in a scheme that fits him and showcases his potential. Although he briefly displayed dominance during the 2021 preseason, that may as well have been forever ago. In a league that has always been about what have you done for me lately, Hodge heads to the USFL to remind teams what they’re missing.
Hodge showed he could be another dominant pass rusher for the Stars during his brief stay in the NFL. This allows coach Brad Miller to get creative with where he lines these guys up. Alfieri is another guy who may be listed as a linebacker, but he could line up at defensive end in a wide 9 scheme as well. This defense specifically in the front seven is stocked full of versatile players that will allow the base defense for the Stars to match up with most offenses even when they go to a 4-5 receiver set.
It could prove very intriguing if they incorporate a “NASCAR” package including their best pass rushers when they’re in obvious passing situations. A combination of Joey Alfieri, Adam Rodriguez, and/or Darius Hodge, maybe guys like Antwan Owens or Ralph Holley in there to add some bulk inside. I’m quickly becoming very excited for the 2023 season. One thing is certain, the Stars realize they needed to improve to win a championship in 2023, and there is no doubt the moves they have made have done that. However, they have also made sure to bring back their own players from 2022 to avoid a large transition.
Rumors are abound that the USFL is preparing for a college draft, and cuts are already beginning to start across the league in anticipation. If this is the case, I will be intrigued to see which areas the Stars choose to address, as we all know, they still have not signed another quarterback and currently only have one on the roster. Could we see the Stars look to the draft to fill this need? One thing is for sure the Stars sitting at just 54 players, is on par with what Coach Miller mentioned about increasing roster size in 2023 the Stars as a staff kind of liked knowing who would be on the roster from day one, and didn’t make many changes to their lineup on a week-to-week basis.
I have preached the importance of continuity to successful teams all offseason, and again this is a display that the Stars simply operate differently from most teams. While some teams like the Generals have inflated their roster to the maximum of 75 that Skip Holtz mentioned during an interview with USFL Podcast, the Stars have chosen to focus on retaining their own, and upgrading areas of need. Darius Hodge is a clear upgrade in the pass rush department over last season. Freedom Akinmoladun was second on the team in 2022 with just 3.5 sacks. It’s a safe bet that Hodge if healthy will easily top this mark, especially with the other talented linemen next to him.