With less than a week away from the USFL season kicking off its second season, the Houston Gamblers have plenty of players who can step up and play well for the team.
A good portion of their returning players come from the offensive side as they will have most of their starters back in action. Their defense got younger and only have a handful of players who were on last season’s roster. Despite them being a younger, more inexperienced team, the playmakers are around for Houston and should make major impacts off the bat.
Impact Players for the Houston Gamblers
Kenji Bahar, QB
After starting three games at quarterback and winning two of those starts last season, Kenji Bahar is back for season two with the team. Bahar threw for 541 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions while also completing 61 percent of his passes. He finished third on the team in rushing yards finishing the season at 87.
What makes Bahar so good is he throws a deep ball while being able to scramble around to let receivers get open or pick up yards on the ground. He’s so dynamic with the football which is what made him more successful in his starts than Clayton Thorson. Bahar won’t have the defense he had last season so he will have more responsibility to put the team on his back and carry them to wins.
Mark Thompson, RB
There wasn’t a better running back through the first five games of the season than Mark Thompson who was one of the leading rushers in the USFL. After a tough second half of the season, Thompson finished with 463 yards rushing and two touchdowns while also having 40 yards receiving and two scores.
He returns as most likely the top back and workhorse for this running game. What will help is having Bahar as a running threat as well which should open things up for him. Four of the five starting offensive linemen from last year’s Houston team are back so that will be a major plus for Thompson. He’s a hard runner who has sneaky breakaway speed if given the chance. Look for him to be more consistent this season for Houston.
Teo Redding, WR
While Teo Redding had fewer catches than Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Redding is the more dynamic receiver of the two. Redding finished second on the team in receiving yards with 249 and caught one touchdown last season. A key stat is he was tied for first on the team with Isaiah Zuber in yards per completion with 14.6. Among receivers who played seven or more games, Redding was second on the team with catching 68 percent of the passes that were targeted to him.
He’s the big play receiver for this offense who can turn on the burners and fly past any corner. Bahar will be targeting him multiple times this season on streak routes to hit him for big yards. The receiving core is deep with half of the receivers returning from last season, but with Zuber in the NFL, it’s Redding’s time to step up and be the guy.
Manny Bunch, S
As was mentioned before, there aren’t many players on defense returning with a lot of them either getting chances in the NFL or in the XFL. The Gamblers were happy to have safety Manny Bunch after his stellar season with the team in the secondary. Bunch finished the season with 36 tackles and one pass deflection with most of his work being done in run-stopping situations.
He’s a great tackler with good instincts for finding the ball carrier. Bunch can play a factor in pass coverage as the hope is to see him step up more in creating turnovers for the Gamblers. This is a different defensive unit that will lean more on Bunch to be the man to lead the charge on defense. It’s critical to the success of the Gamblers to see Bunch play well consistently.
Nick Vogel, K
It’s always good to have good special teams and Houston is lucky to have both their kicker and punter back for a second season. Nick Vogel had a strong season in 2022 kicking field goals for Houston. He finished the season converting 18 of his 23 field goal attempts which is good for 78 percent of his field goals. His longest field goal was 53 and also converted 12 of his 15 extra points.
That model of consistency was big for Houston as last season the offense struggled to finish drives with touchdowns. Things should be better this season, but the Gamblers should feel better knowing Vogel is back to kick field goals for them. The team should see him make bigger strides in season two for the team.