The USFL 2022 season has arrived. The New Jersey Generals and Birmingham Stallions have the honor of being the league’s premier game. The game will take place at the USFL’s primary in-season hub site, Protective Stadium, on Saturday night.
USFL 2022: New Jersey Generals-Birmingham Stallions Week 1 Preview
The USFL’s neutral site aspect only applies to teams when they don’t play the Stallions during the regular season, and select games during the season will be played at Legion Field. So, in essence, week one represents the New Jersey Generals’ only road game of the season. Because the Generals and Stallions are in opposite divisions, the North and South, the only other time they can meet up again in 2022 is the league’s championship game on Sunday, July 3rd, at Hall Of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
It’s always challenging for brand new teams in an upstart league to come out the gates ready to go. But the Generals’ challenge as a genuine road team in week one is the most difficult of all eight USFL teams. Birmingham fans should be amped up to see pro football return to their city. And the atmosphere for the opening game could be the most electric one all season. New Jersey will be looking to start their season off strong by spoiling Birmingham’s debut in front of their home crowd.
The Generals and Stallions game will be simulcast on FOX and NBC, starting at 7:30 pm ET. Curt Menefee and Joel Klatt will be on the call for both networks.
The betting line from FOX Bet Sportsbook has the Stallions as 2.5-point favorites over the Generals. The line opened initially at 1.5 in favor of Birmingham. The money line has the Stallions as -154 favorites to win; the Generals are +120 underdogs to win. The total scoring over/under started at 55.5 points but has dipped to 42.5.
The early weather forecast in Birmingham calls for temperatures in the 60s, with thunderstorms and gusty winds throughout the day and a 60% percent chance of scattered showers during Saturday evening’s contest. So that, along with the early season kinks expected on offense, these teams’ newness could limit the overall scoring.
USFL 2022: Week 1 Practice/Injury Report
Before the USFL released team practice injury reports this week, the most significant injury that occurred for the New Jersey Generals was their loss of starting quarterback Ben Holmes to a foot injury in training camp two weeks ago.
But now, just days before the season starts. More key players for New Jersey are being subtracted from their main roster. Two of them, RB Mike Weber and OL Calvin Ashley were projected to be top starters in the Generals’ offense. For now, Mike Weber and Calvin Ashley, who both have knee injuries, have been moved to the team’s practice squad for week one. Along with five other non-injured players.
Birmingham has fewer injuries to deal with heading into the season opener. They will be without RB Jordan Chunn and OL O’Shea Dugas. But the rest of the Stallions roster is ready to ride on Saturday night.
New Jersey’s Offense Versus Birmingham’s Defense
With no history to speak of because these are brand new teams. It makes breaking down the matchups in the opening games quite challenging. The solace for writers who are covering the USFL is that the teams themselves are also facing the same dilemma.
The New Jersey Generals, in particular, are facing a lot of uncertainty as they start their season. They will be without their starting quarterback Ben Holmes, who they lost to a foot injury two weeks ago. To make matters worse, the player who was projected to be the team’s feature back, Mike Weber is also out of the equation, at least for now.
Having a healthy Mike Weber would have greatly assisted the Generals’ offense in week one against the Stallions’ defense. Simply because, on paper, New Jersey’s strength was their three-headed backfield Generals’ will now lean on Towson University and New York Guardians standout runner Darius Victor and veteran tailback Trey Williams.
And considering what the field at Protective Stadium could be like on Saturday evening because of the rainy conditions. New Jersey might need a mudder like Darius Victor to shoulder the load in the ground game. And he is perfectly cast to assume that type of role. The former Towson University and XFL standout, Darius Victor is a bruising low gravity runner who routinely breaks tackles in the open field.
The ground game might be the Generals’ best chance for success on Saturday.
The Stallions’ defense has only two defensive linemen over 275 pounds in Jordan Thompson (292) and Willie Yarbary (295). The latter, Yarbary, has been one of the best interior defenders playing in the Spring for TSL. And he could be a handful for the Generals’ offensive line. However, Birmingham’s lack of size up front could work against them if New Jersey deploys a run-heavy attack.
The goal for these eight new teams in Week 1 could require a ‘keep it simple’ strategy. The weather might reinforce that type of mentality from New Jersey’s offense. And it could lend itself to quarterback De’Andre Johnson playing a significant amount of snaps, regardless of whether he is the anointed starter. And it appears that it’s headed that way.
Veteran quarterback Luis Perez is no stranger to playing spring pro football, having played in the AAF with Birmingham, in the XFL with New York, and last year in the Spring League. Because of this, Perez seemed like a logical bet to start in week one. But he has only been with the Generals for two weeks since Ben Holmes went down to injury. It’s possible that even if Perez starts, there could be a timeshare situation at QB.
It’s quite possible that Generals head coach Mike Riley could decide to employ a two QB approach Saturday evening against the Stallions. It’s something Riley did in San Antonio with the original Commanders in the AAF. But it’s looking like De’Andre Johnson, who has been with the team since February is going to get his shot to make an impact on the offense.
Johnson, the former Last Chance U star and FSU player, once upon a time, as Jameis Winston’s backup, has 4.3 timed speed. And his mobility could be an asset in a game where yards may be hard to obtain.
The strength of the Stallions’ defense could be their linebacker position, where they have two spring football standouts in Scooby Wright and DeMarquis Gates. Those two players could be very active players on Saturday chasing down New Jersey’s running quarterback.
Birmingham also has some accomplished pass rushers on the edge who could give New Jersey’s offensive line some trouble. OT Terry Poole, who was the third highest-graded offensive lineman in the XFL by Pro Football Focus, will be challenged by former Colts’ edge rusher Jonathan Newsome, who has come out of retirement to play in the USFL.
An interesting battle on the outside could be former Green Bay Packers and Mizzou star wide receiver J’Mon Moore and former NFL and Utah cornerback Brian Allen. The 6’2 Moore and 6’3 Allen could be in line for all-day combat as they jostle for positioning all over the field.
TCU speedster KaVontae Turpin would benefit from better field conditions, and the Generals would love to get him space against the Stallions’ secondary. But the elements in the game could negate Turpin’s big-play capabilities. Be that as it may, NFL veteran Josh Shaw might be tasked with chasing Turpin around on Saturday.
Over the years, long-time college and now Stallions’defensive coordinator John Chavis’s defense have been known for its aggressiveness. The former Broyles Award winner and national champion as the nation’s top assistant coach has a long history of being aggressive in blitzing opposing offenses into oblivion. Often by using safeties close to the line of scrimmage. Tyran Mathieu at LSU is one of the most famous safeties he has coached over his long-tenured career.
The trade-off in Chavis’s havoc-producing style is that his defenses can be susceptible to big plays, particularly in the run game. Steve Smith, who is the Generals o-line coach and offensive coordinator, needs to have his offense ready to pick up the blitz and counter Birmingham’s bring the house crashing down style.
The contrasting approaches and styles between the Generals’ offense and Stallions’ defense can be the difference in this game. The clash of playing it safe versus letting it loose.
New Jersey’s Defense Versus Birmingham’s Offense
Stallions head coach Skip Holtz is essentially running the whole show on offense for Birmingham, as the team’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The question is, which one of his two quarterbacks will he lean on in week one.
The expectation is that Birmingham’s first-round draft pick, FIU, and former NFL QB Alex McGough will be riding the saddle for the Stallions. But J’Mar Smith, Skip Holtz’s former quarterback at Louisiana Tech, could get the call because he has familiarity with the offensive system.
The experienced college play-caller and son of the legendary Lou Holtz. Skip has has a lengthy record of success on offense. Over the years, Skip’s offenses have traditionally been one of the best passing attacks in the country. At LA Tech, Holtz’s offenses were ranked in the top five nationally.
At their peak, Holtz’s spread-based offenses play up-tempo and protect their offensive lines by making quick throws and reads.
On the opposite side of the sidelines, Chris Dishman is coaching his first game as a defensive coordinator for the Generals’. One of his generation’s best defensive backs, Dishman has been coaching up secondaries for quite some time. But this is a big step for him, playing chess against someone as experienced as Holtz.
The Generals have a few things going for them on paper defensively. Provided that DT Destiny Vaeao is healthy. New Jersey has a solid duo of space eaters on the interior with Toby Johnson, and Vaeao. Stopping the Stallions’ rushing attack with CJ Marable would be a good way to slow down Birmingham’s operation. But because they play an up-tempo style, New Jersey’s rotation and depth on the d-line will be challenged.
On paper, the Generals’ secondary seems to have the edge over the Stallions’ stable of pass-catchers, especially in the experience department. De’Vante Bausby, Dravon Askew-Henry, and Shalom Luani match up favorably against a Birmingham group led most likely by Victor Bolden Jr. The Stallions have some talented young targets in the passing game but they are largely unproven on the pro level.
The key to this matchup will be pass protection. The Stallions have one of the best offensive line coaches in the league in Jonathan Himebauch, who has a ton of positive experience coaching in non-NFL leagues. Birmingham also has two outstanding interior players in Center Jordan McCray and Marques Tucker, who both have strong experience in spring football. Where this battle up front could be decided is on the outside.
Generals’ edge rushers Cavon Walker, Tyshun Render, and Kolin Hill have a chance to be three of the better pass rushers in the league. Walker led the XFL in sacks back in 2020, and Middle Tennessee State’s Tyshun Render is a highly thought-of young player with a ton of upside and will probably be back on an NFL roster this summer. And the unknown, Kolin Hill is coming off a 2021 campaign in Europe for ELF, where he dominated the opposition.
Like their wide receiver position, the Stallions have a collection of unproven pro players at offensive tackle. This is an area that New Jersey’s defense needs to exploit if they want to have a chance of winning.
Special Teams Matchup
The weather could be the most significant factor in deciding this contest. If the forecast projections hold up, and there are steady showers throughout. One key misstep by either side could decide who wins the game.
The Stallions are rolling the dice and gambling on former Notre Dame star and pro soccer player Brandon Aubrey as their placekicker. The former MLS player has a strong leg and routinely has hit 60-yard field goals in his training videos. But there’s a big difference between doing that with no rush in a relaxed setting versus kicking pressure-packed field goals on a wet surface in a live-action game.
Aubrey has no pro experience as a kicker. On the flip side, former Texas and now Generals kicker Nick Rose does.
Rose has kicked in the AAF for New Jersey coach Mike Riley, where he was a perfect 14/14 with two kicks over 50 yards. Rose is 11/14, 78% in the NFL, with a career-long kick of 55 yards.
The weather could negate the effectiveness of both kickers’ strong legs. But the experience factor is decidedly in New Jersey’s favor.
Both teams have experienced and quality punters in Birmingham’s Coby Waldman and New Jersey’s Brock Miller.
The area, however, that may have the most intrigue in the USFL is their return game. USFL roster sizes are smaller than your typical pro team at only 35 players. As a result, some starting offensive and defensive players will be tasked with playing double and triple duty, by contributing also on special teams.
And on top of that, both Birmingham and New Jersey do not have special teams coordinators on staff. They are both taking a committee approach on their modest-sized staffs to divvy up special teams’ responsibilities.
Furthermore, the rainy conditions could impact field position and kick returns. On Saturday, turnovers on special teams could make or break the day for Birmingham or New Jersey.
USFL 2022 Week 1: Generals-Stallions Prediction
As the 2022 season progresses, everyone will have a better feel for the identities of each USFL team.
Part of the beauty of brand new football leagues is the unknown. Week 1 represents the on-field birth of eight pro football teams built from scratch, and week one is ground zero for the USFL.
Birmingham might have a slight edge on the betting lines. But on paper, the odds seem to be tilting heavily towards the Stallions.
For several reasons, the Stallions are playing at home, the only USFL team that will be doing that for the entire season. And the fact that this is their opening game in front of their city only increases their advantage over New Jersey. Furthermore, the Generals have already been hit with adversity, losing their starting quarterback and running back before the season started. And they are coming into this contest with key players dealing with injuries.
Losing the opening game won’t be the end of the world for New Jersey. After all, the Generals are starting the season in a very tough spot. But in a ten-week regular season, each game takes on more importance, especially since the Generals are set for three straight games against divisional opponents in the coming weeks.
Getting off to a good start is imperative, particularly for new teams going through early-season growing pains. Everything is lining up perfectly for the Stallions in this game. It’s difficult to pick against them in this setting and under the current circumstances.