The Houston Gamblers look to capture the magic of their 80’s team as they aim for a 2022 USFL title.
Houston comes into the season as one of the teams near the bottom of the odds of winning the USFL Championship this year.
The roster is filled with individual players that can make the Gamblers a contending team off the bat. Questions arise as to whether they can put it all together and win a title. Head coach Kevin Sumlin has his work cut out for him as he puts this roster together and works as a team.
All In on Kevin Sumlin & Houston’s Coaching Staff
Heading into the USFL season, Kevin Sumlin comes in as one of the biggest names of the coaches who joined the league. While he doesn’t have professional coaching experience, his success in college made him a perfect fit to coach younger players to play at the next level.
Sumlin won 95 games in 13 seasons at Houston, Texas A&M, and Arizona. He only posted four losing seasons with three of them being at Arizona. His high-powered, fast pace offenses made his teams near the top of the conference in total offense every season.
His top assistants leading the offense and defense are David Beaty and Tim Lewis. Both have previous head coaching experience with Beaty leading the Kansas Jayhawks and Lewis being a head coach for the AAF’s Birmingham Iron. Beaty brings the high pace, up-tempo style of offense that made the original Gamblers so successful. Lewis had typically had either five defenders on the line or in the secondary depending on the style of offense they played against.
Thorson Leads Houston’s High-Powered Offense
Running the fast pace offense appears to be former Northwestern star quarterback Clayton Thorson. He left the school as their all-time leading passer and one of the all-time leading passers in Big Ten history. Thorson has pro experience with the ability to throw short to middle length passes with accuracy. Teams shouldn’t underestimate what he can do on the ground for when he has a running lane, he takes advantage of it and finds the end zone. Kenji Bahar provides depth in the position as his mobility makes him a dangerous weapon through the air and on the ground.
Dalyn Dawkins is one of the three running backs on the roster that could lead the way in rushing. Dawkins finished third on Colorado State’s all-time rushing list and played in the NFL for the Titans and Lions. While a smaller back, he’s a versatile back who will have an impact on the passing game in short-yardage situations. Expect Mark Thompson and Devwah Whaley to contribute in the passing and running games as well. This group of backs can make plays.
The receiving core has multiple receivers who could make an impact in the passing game. Teo Redding is a veteran receiver who has played in the NFL, CFL, and XFL so he should provide impact immediately. JoJo Ward and Isaiah Zuber have also bounced around NFL camps and will use that experience to help Thorson.
Another receiver to watch out for is Tyler Simmons who enjoyed success at the University of Georgia as one of their top targets. Anthony Ratliff-Williams played for the Titans in the NFL and should play a role on the team. Tyler Palka was a part of the DC Defenders in the XFL back in 2020 and could be an option for trick plays thanks to him being a former quarterback. Julian Allen and Brandon Barnes are both former XFL tight ends who can block and impact the passing game.
Gamblers Defense Full of Aces
The Houston defensive line has a lot of experience and speed that will be coming off the edge to get to the quarterback. Two guys to look at are Chris Odom and Ahmad Gooden. Gooden could be used as a defensive end or lineup as a linebacker on the outside in pass-rushing situations. Odom is quick coming off the line and with his experience in the NFL, AAF, and CFL, he should be an immediate asset to the team. Dominique Davis was one of the players Fox had as one of the ones to watch out for before the draft.
Donald Payne leads the linebacking core as he brings his 76 career NFL tackles with him to the USFL. Azeem Victor is another who has experience in the NFL and spring leagues that will help the defense stop the run. Reggie Northrup played well in the XFL for the Tampa Bay Vipers with 12 tackles and a sack in 2020. Beniquez Brown also played in the XFL for the Houston Roughnecks and should know the defensive scheme from his time playing under current defensive coordinator Tim Lewis when he was the head coach for the AAF’s Birmingham Iron.
Jamar Summers is the biggest name in the secondary after being considered one of the best shutdown corners in the XFL for the New York Guardians in 2020. Micah Abernathy played for the Dallas Renegades as a safety and was a sure tackler for them. William Likely is another interesting piece that could play a role on special teams in the return game.
How Special are Houston’s Special Teams
While not known as a long-range kicker, Nick Vogel has proven to be accurate under 49 yards in his career only missing 12 out of 64 field goals from that range. He found early success with the CFL’s BC Lions last year hitting a perfect 8-8 in field goals for the season before joining the USFL. Andrew Galitz was a two-time all Big-12 punter for the conference during his time at Baylor. Galitz averaged over 42 yards per punt and pinned offense inside the 20-yard line 46 times in four seasons. He performed even better for the XFL with the Dallas Renegades averaging over 43 yards per punt back in 2020.
Final Analysis of Houston’s Season
Houston has a talented group of players who have found success in other leagues. There are those experts who are not seeing Houston as a legitimate threat in the USFL. What the league underestimates is the impact that Sumlin will have on this roster.
He has found success in college at Houston and Texas A&M and knows how to develop players to succeed at the next level. The group here are players who may need one or two traits to their game that will help them be successful at the NFL level. Sumlin is the right man for the job. The defense is stacked led by coach Lewis. Thorson has plenty of weapons at receiver and in the backfield to lead a wide-open offense. Taking a gamble on Houston might pay off if you bet on the team this season.