The Philadelphia Stars have done it again. After wooing Dexter Williams back from the XFL’s clutches, they have done the same with All-USFL cornerback Channing Stribling. Stribling, a former XFL player was widely expected to make the jump back to the league he once knew. However, Stribling wasn’t the only player the Stars signed to a contract.
The Ballhawk is Back
Channing Stribling is one of many names on the Stars roster in 2022 that are spring football icons. Ask most avid Spring Football fans who Stribling is; depending on where or whom you ask, you could get a team from the AAF, one of two teams in the XFL, or USFL, or maybe even the TSL from the diehard fans. The ironic part is Stribling will forever have a faint tie to the St. Louis Battlehawks, even though it’s only as the Battlehawks’ first USFL player selected in the XFL Draft to say no thank you.
During his time in the AAF, XFL, and USFL, he has amassed 44 tackles, 1 sack, and 9 interceptions in 18 regular season games. An impressive beginning to his career. The Stars have made a strong push to bring back their own this offseason. It has paid off with key contributors like Matt Colburn, Devin Gray, Dexter Williams, and now Channing Stribling.
Their success in year one was based on continuity carried over from The Spring League. This staff has formed a strong bond with its veteran players. Coming off of the most productive season, of his career, Stribling likely saw the value in building on the knowledge he has of Brad Miller’s scheme. Coach Miller has discussed how he actively schemes to make it clear to NFL scouts what each player’s responsibilities are.
This is an effort to put his players where they ultimately want to be, the NFL. This fact isn’t lost on his players, and I have no doubt it factored into Stribling, and Coney’s decisions. With these moves now complete they can put the full-court press on Freedom Akinmoladun, who was selected in the supplemental draft class last week.
LB Te’von Coney Returns
Another key member of the Stars in 2022 is returning to the team for the 2023 season. The 6’1 230 pound linebacker returns following a solid showing in 2022. Producing 38 tackles, and 1 interception last season. The Palm Beach Gardens, Florida native attended Notre Dame for college.
During his college career, he was used a lot more as a pass rusher. This led him to produce 7 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss in his final two seasons of college football. He would graduate in 2018 and turn to the 2019 NFL draft. Unfortunately, all seven rounds came and went with Coney’s name never called. He would sign with the Raiders and spend parts of the next three seasons with the team.
It wasn’t until 2021 that his tenure with the Raiders came to an end. This left him a free agent with something to prove in 2022. During his first NFL preseason, he played in all four games collecting 11 sacks along the way. In 2020 he was a part of the XFL Draft class but wasn’t selected in the process. He wouldn’t see any more in-game action until the 2021 season. He appeared in one game but didn’t produce any statistics. He will return to the Stars in 2023 hoping to return to a championship.
TE Ryan Izzo, Former NFL Starter Added
If you’ve never heard Ryan Izzo’s name, I would be somewhat surprised. Izzo was selected by the New England Patriots in the 2018 NFL Draft to add depth to their tight end room. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury and was placed on injured reserve during his first season in New England. Despite landing on IR, Izzo would win a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots as a rookie. As a part of the only NFL dynasty, and fresh off of a Super Bowl win in his first season as a professional, Izzo’s career was off to a good start.
In 2019 Izzo would return from injury. He would become the 73rd different player to catch a touchdown pass from Tom Brady during the season. Izzo would play in just 6 games, with 4 coming as starts. He was targeted 9 times, catching 6 passes for 114 yards and 1 touchdown. In 2020 he would return to an even more prominent role within the team.
As we know 2020 was a year of transition in New England. Tom Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Mac Jones was selected in the first round to lead the Patriots into the future. He seemed to develop a connection with Izzo who had transitioned into a starting role alongside Mac Jones. He started the first 12 games of the season before suffering another injury and missing the last 4 games of the season. He was targeted 20 times, catching 13 for 199 yards.
New England decided not to retain him following the 2020 season, instead turning to big-name free agents for the position. Izzo was traded to the Houston Texans for a 7th-round pick before the 2021 season. He wound end up being released before the season, and see stints on four teams during the season. He would end up with Tennessee to finish out the season appearing in one game but logging no statistics, the Titans kept him until June of 2022 before releasing him. The Carolina Panthers brought Izzo in to compete at tight end during training camp, but he lasted just 6 days. This left him available for the Stars to bring in for the 2023 season to solidify a position that to this point has not seen leading receiver Bug Howard re-sign yet.
Stability is the Name of the Game
With the shortened training camps in the initial season of the USFL, the Stars leaned heavily on drafting and signing players they had familiarity with from The Spring League, or other avenues in the past. This led to a roster that felt like it had been together before. The Stars had over 15 players who had played under someone on the staff before the 2022 season.
This helped them start fast on offense, but the opposite was true for the defense. Coach Miller has mentioned before that he is more concerned with how he finishes than how he begins. A great coach is measured by the adjustments he makes to correct issues on his team as a season progresses. The Stars were able to make these necessary adjustments on both sides of the field to play their way into a championship berth in season one.
Now with most of the core members of that roster seemingly still intact, can the Stars be even better in 2023? Their 6-4 record left plenty of “meat on the bone” in terms of room for improvement in season two, but we still don’t have an answer as to what will happen with the Star’s quarterback situation. Once we get an answer to this question, Stars fans will be put at ease knowing what to expect in 2023.
As the NFL season progresses it seems to become more and more likely Case Cookus sticks with the Rams into next season. Signed on November 23rd, he remains on the roster to this point. McVay is a former Spring Football League coach, he knows the value of the playing time Cookus received in the USFL, and has shown a history of working with these quarterbacks. John Wolford, a former Alliance of American Football Quarterback, is his current number 2 quarterback. Despite having no on-field professional football experience before signing with the AAF, he latched on with the Rams and has never left. Could Cookus be the next to do so?