On Saturday, April 16th, the USFL season kicks off with the New Jersey Generals against the Birmingham Stallions. The game, held at the primary hub site of the USFL, Protective Stadium, will be the Generals’ only true road game this season.
Because New Jersey and Birmingham are non-divisional opponents. The only other potential time they can play each other in 2022 would be in the championship game held at Tom Benson Hall Of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.
New Jersey will be looking to spoil Birmingham’s debut in front of their home crowd. The Generals and Stallions will be the USFL’s premiere kickoff game, 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 early betting line from FOX Bet Sportsbook has the Stallions as 1.5 point favorites over the Generals. The money line has the Stallions as -149 favorites to win; the Generals are +115 underdogs to win. The total scoring over/under is 55.5 points.
The early weather forecast in Birmingham is projecting a 40 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms during Saturday evening’s contest. So that, along with the early season kinks expected on offense, could limit the overall scoring. You can purchase tickets to the opener at this link.
But before we get in a full game preview of the opener later this coming week. Here’s everything you need to know about the New Jersey Generals heading into the ten-week 2022 USFL Regular Season:
Alternate Pro Football League Advantage
No head coach in the USFL has had the experience and success in non-NFL pro football leagues that New Jersey Generals HC Mike Riley has. Riley’s NFL record isn’t impressive at 14-34 overall; however, he does have a winning record in college, having won 112 contests and going 7-3 in bowl games.
But what stands out most concerning the USFL is Riley’s winning record and experience coaching in alternative pro-football leagues.
Mike Riley has coached 100 games combined in the CFL, the World League Of American Football, and the AAF. Riley had winning records at all three stops, and his overall record in these leagues is 56-44. Riley also won two Grey Cup championships in Canada, and no other coach in the USFL has that specific type of pro league experience.
And it’s an essential asset, simply because operating and winning in alt leagues is no simple endeavor. Mike Riley has the experience and a successful track record of working on the fly, with often a limited budget, in a short time frame, in leagues with different rule sets than the NFL and College.
Half of the head coaches in the USFL will be coaching for the first time on the pro level. Only three besides Mike Riley have experience in that area. Philadelphia Stars HC Bart Andrus, Michigan Panthers HC Jeff Fisher, and Tampa Bay Bandits HC Todd Haley. But the latter two have never led a team anywhere but the NFL. And while Andrus has coached in alt-pro leagues before, winning a World Bowl in NFL Europe in 2005, with three brief stints in the UFL, CFL, and TSL, his overall pro coaching record is 42-53.
New Jersey Generals Player/Coaching Connections
Mike Riley’s experience working with and leading college players and the types of young players that play in alternative pro leagues is a great asset for the New Jersey Generals this coming season.
But more importantly, in the USFL, Riley also has assistants on his staff who have worked with him in his several coaching stops. Familiarity helps in a league setting where eight brand new pro football teams are starting from scratch.
Teammates obtaining familiarity with one another will take time. But having coaches, who have been in these types of trenches before, is an advantage for New Jersey. Offensive coordinator/O-Line Coach Steve Smith and RB/TEs coach Jay Locey have experience coaching under Riley.
It just so happens that Mike Riley and his key staff members like DC Chris Dishman have stacked the Generals roster with several players they have coached before. It’s an important aspect in a league where every team is getting ready for the regular season on a crash course.
Of the 45 players on the Generals’ current roster, 35 of whom will be on the active roster on game day, a dozen of them have past playing experience with the coaches on their Generals’ staff.
Defensive Coordinator Chris Dishman has five players on defense from his last stop with the New York Guardians in the XFL. Mike Riley has direct experience in the past with veteran players like DB Devante Bausby, RB Trey Williams, and WR Alonzo Moore, who can help be stewards in the Generals’ locker room and show the younger players the ropes.
Opening Day New Jersey Generals QB1
The New Jersey Generals have lost their presumed starting quarterback for the season. The team’s fourth overall draft pick in late February, Ben Holmes, went down to a foot injury in training camp. As a result, Holmes was released by the Generals’.
Luis Perez to the rescue. The well-traveled 27-year old signal-caller has starting experience in alternative pro football leagues and is well equipped to take the helm and lead the Generals’ offense on short notice. After all, it’s something he did successfully in the XFL, after spending an entire training camp with LA before being traded to NY before the season started. Perez came off the bench early in the season and led the Guardians into playoff contention.
Luis Perez’s most recent playing experience was in The Spring League. Playing a truncated season in a hub setting, Perez led the Jousters to a TSL championship game in 2021.
The former Division II Harlon Hill award winner Perez, who has had a few stints in the NFL after graduating from Texas A & M-Commerce, made his name, ironically enough, in Birmingham three years ago, quarterbacking the Iron in 2019.
So the story of Luis Perez returning to Birmingham, but this time on the opposing side is juicy for followers of spring pro football.
However, the question is, will Luis Perez be the Generals’ opening game starter? As of press time, the Generals’ haven’t released their depth chart for week one’s game against the Stallions. The general feeling because of Perez’s experience is that he will be starting for New Jersey next Saturday.
However, Perez is operating in a short time frame to get ready. He joined the team at the start of April, and he’s been on a rapid crash course learning the offense and getting used to his teammates.
On the other hand, former Texas Southern quarterback and Last Chance U star De’Andre Johnson has been with the team since being drafted back in February.
The once upon a time back up to FSU superstar QB Jameis Winston, De’Andre Johnson, is an amazing athlete. Johnson has 4.3-4.4 speed. There’s no doubt that he is as raw as they come as a passer, with some experience playing sparingly in TSL last year. But Johnson’s athleticism has stood out in training camp. Even if Ben Holmes had not been injured, Johnson figured to have a role on offense because of his elite mobility. And with the USFL adopting the XFL’s extra points system, with the ability to go for two and three-point conversions. De’Andre Johnson can be a great asset in the red zone.
The question is, will Mike Riley and his staff be enamored enough with Johnson to allow him to start and play the entire week one game against the Stallions?
Back with San Antonio in the AAF, Riley employed a rotational system at QB with current Tennessee Titans quarterback Logan Woodside and Marquise Williams. The original Commanders would give Williams a series or more during every game. Could that be the Generals’ game plan at QB moving forward?
Luis Perez is accustomed to having the odds stacked against him, and he is also used to operating in an offensive system that rotates its quarterbacks. He experienced that in the AAF and last year in The Spring League, and he may be headed for the same situation with New Jersey.
New Jersey Generals Offense
On paper, the strength of the New Jersey Generals’ offense appears to be their rushing attack. The Generals boast an impressive three-headed backfield led by Ohio State standout Mike Weber, veteran tailback Trey Williams, and former XFL and FCS superstar Darius Victor. All three different runners have varying skill sets that should complement each other nicely. The Generals don’t have a traditional fullback on its roster. So TE/H-Back tweener Braedon Bowman could be tasked with assuming that role.
New Jersey has some quality players with pro league experience in the trenches like Terry Poole, Brandon Haskin, Garrett McGhin, and Robert Myers. But the player to watch out for is Calvin Ashley. The former five-star recruit out of Auburn has the potential and talent to be one of the better offensive linemen in the USFL.
It will be interesting to see who emerges at the wide receiver position for the Generals this year.
Alonzo Moore is the most experienced in the receiving group. Excluding him, New Jersey has a very young depth chart at the position. A raw but talented group that includes players like Darrius Shepherd, Cam Echols-Luper, and Randy Satterfield Jr.
Former TCU receiver/returner KaVontae Turpin is one of the fastest players in the USFL. He has a chance to be a game-breaker in the open field on both offense and special teams.
One of the more intriguing pass-catchers for the Generals is WR J’Mon Moore, the former fourth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers in 2018, has been with four different NFL teams since starring at the University of Missouri. In his final two years with the Tigers, Moore scored 18 touchdowns and averaged over 16 yards per catch while recording 127 receptions. It’s that type of production that caught the attention of NFL teams.
But ever since being drafted, Moore hasn’t been able to break through the glass ceiling to earn playing time. He has only played 12 games in the NFL as a reserve, recording just two receptions. The 6’2 226lb pass-catcher couldn’t carve out a role for himself. But with the Generals, he could be their feature receiver, particularly in the red zone, because of his favorable measurables.
Early in the season, the most senior member of the Generals’ roster, 32-year-old TE Nick Truesdell, who had a good measure of success in the AAF and XFL, could be a reliable safety blanket in the passing game.
New Jersey Generals Special Teams
This will be one of the more fascinating aspects to track during USFL games. Because of the limited game day roster size of 35, multiple players on offense and defense could be pulling double duty.
The multi-tasking goes beyond the players. New Jersey doesn’t have a designated special teams coordinator. So multiple members of the Generals’ staff are tasked with assuming coaching duties in this area.
For example, offensive assistant Jay Locey will be handling kick and punt returns. Defensive Coordinator Chris Dishman kickoffs. Linebackers coach Ken Watson punts. OC Steve Smith, field goals. D-line coach Robert Diaco and the defensive staff will handle the field goal rush. It’s a very unique setup.
New Jersey has two quality kicking specialists in kicker Nick Rose and punter Brock Miller, and both of them have experience kicking and punting on former Mike Riley teams. The Generals’ long snapper is Scott Flanick, fittingly from Army.
Several candidates on New Jersey’s roster have experience returning kicks and punts. Trey Williams, Darrius Shepherd, KaVontae Turpin, and Randy Satterfield all have experience in this area.
New Jersey Generals Defense
There is an old adage in football that says that when it comes to the start of any season, defenses typically have the early advantage. In the USFL, more so than in other leagues, that saying could ring true even more. Simply because of the rushed nature of eight new offenses trying to get on the same page within a few weeks.
Defensive coordinator Chris Dishman certainly hopes that the prevailing theory holds true for his unit.
To further illustrate this point and create a smooth early season transition. Dishman has several players on his side of the ball that he has coached. Like DB Dravon Askew-Henry, LB D’Juan Hines, CB David Rivers, DB Dejuan Neal, and DT Toby Johnson. Having players you have worked with in the past gives you an edge and comfort level when the bullets start flying.
The Generals’strength on defense may be in the trenches at defensive tackle. They have a lot of beef and experience upfront with Destiny Vaeao, Deyon Sizer, Kalani Vakameilalo, and Toby Johnson.
The key on defense will be New Jersey’s ability to generate a pass rush. With offenses likely to be behind defenses, the main area teams can exploit is the opposing team’s offensive lines. Simply lining up correctly and communicating could be a problem early on.
Oregon’s Bryson Young, European League standout Kolin Hill, and Tyshun Render will be tasked with helping the Generals’ defense get to the quarterback. All three players have impressive college backgrounds but are virtually unproven in the states as pro players.
The two best players on New Jersey’s roster, pound for pound, may very well be Wisconsin standout linebacker Chris Orr and NFL veteran DB De’Vante Bausby. Both are strong leaders and could be called upon early to lead their fellow teammates to success.
One of the more intriguing players who will surely get a lot of focus during the TV broadcasts is DB Shalom Luani.
Safety Shalom Luani is a recognizable name in the futbol and football world. The former Raiders seventh-round draft pick is better known worldwide for his association football career. The American Samoan has tried his hand at American Football for several years now. The former first-team All-Pac 12 safety at Washington State in 2016 has been on the fringe of several NFL teams rosters, seeing some regular-season action over the last five years. He recently played in TSL with the Jousters.
The Generals have other young, intriguing players on their defense. Fresno State’s Mike Bell can play safety and has moonlighted as a linebacker for the Buffalo Bills the last few offseasons. Pitt DB Paris Ford, a first-team All ACC player, didn’t test well, running a 4.85, coming out early for the 2021 NFL draft, and went undrafted. On the field, Ford was a playmaker in college at safety. He could be one of those players in the USFL that prove measurables do not define a player’s worth.
USFL Championship Odds/Inside The Generals Schedule
According to the odds set via FOX Bet. The New Jersey Generals are +600 to win the USFL Championship. The oddsmakers don’t see the Generals as being in the top half of the league’s better teams. In fact, two of the three other teams in New Jersey’s North division, Michigan and Philly, both have better odds of winning it all than the Generals.
Michigan Panthers: +333
Tampa Bay Bandits: +425
Philadelphia Stars: +450
Birmingham Stallions: +550
New Jersey Generals: +600
Pittsburgh Maulers: +650
Houston Gamblers: +650
New Orleans Breakers: +700
From weeks one to three, the New Jersey Generals are going to get an opportunity to play three of the top four teams with better odds. Starting with the Stallions in week one, and then back-to-back divisional games against the preseason favorite to win it all, Michigan, followed by the Philadelphia Stars in week three. The Generals will have an opportunity to earn the five stars on their helmets early in the season.
It’s always important for teams to get off to a good start in football. Especially in a shorter season. In the USFL, how teams start the year will take on added importance. Keeping your head above water while you iron out the inevitable early season kinks is imperative. Because an early-season swoon could set a team back too far, it can get late, really early if a team digs themselves too deep of a hole and starts the season at 0-4.
The Generals need to avoid that type of scenario. It won’t be easy because they lost their starting QB just a couple of weeks before the season. And you could argue that the Generals are playing the toughest game to open the season because they will be playing the hometown Stallions in front of what should be an amped-up Birmingham crowd.
One of the smartest aspects of the USFL is the way their schedule is weighted towards the end of the season. The final three weeks feature all-divisional matchups. A team hovering at .500 can presumably walk into week eight, behind in the standings, with a chance if they can sweep through their division rivals in three straight games. The Kings of The North will be crowned during that period.
The New Jersey Generals’ fortunes will all come down to quarterback play and Mike Riley’s leadership and experience. The key to the Generals’ season will be if their late-term answer at quarterback, Luis Perez, can replicate what he did for another tri-state area pro football team two years ago.