After starting the season with a loss to the Michigan Panthers, the Houston Gamblers kick off week two of the USFL season by facing division rivals New Orleans Breakers.
Last week was a lot of the same Houston Gamblers team we saw last week as they got off to a good start leading 13-9 at halftime against the Michigan Panthers. The bad part is like they did last season, they blew a second-half lead that ended up resulting in a 29-13 loss to the Panthers. Pretty much the only reason for that is four of their five second-half possessions ended in turnovers (two interceptions and two fumbles).
Going into this week, the team has made some changes to their roster as they got a major upgrade with the addition of wide receiver Isaiah Zuber returning. More will be spoken about that big move as well as the news that running back Mark Thompson was moved up to the active roster. This is in the hopes to create a spark in an offense that finished under 200 yards of total offense and 109 passing yards in the loss to Michigan.
They don’t have the easiest opponent either this week as they face the New Orleans Breakers. With new quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, New Orleans picked up a 22-15 opening weekend win over the Pittsburgh Maulers thanks to over 300 yards passing from Bethel-Thompson. This Breakers team has a different feel from last season’s team as this offense got even better than last year’s unit.
Line: Breakers -6, O/U 39
Date/Location: Saturday, April 22nd, 2023, at Protective Stadium in Birmingham, Alabama
Kickoff Time: 11:30 AM CST
Weather Forecast: Sunny, 74 degrees, Wind 11 mph, Humidity 34%
TV/Streaming: USA Network
Gamblers Injury Report
Bad news this weekend for the Gamblers as they reported on Friday that they will not have one of their starting offensive linemen Tyler Higby for this weekend’s game. It’s a blow to an offensive line unit that is one of the most experienced in the USFL. This will most likely mean that backup Braylon Jones could move up and start at left guard unless they decide to swap players around on the line.
Ikenna Onwuasoanya is the other player who is out for the Gamblers as he is dealing with a knee injury. Onwauasoanya was listed as the backup defensive tackle leaving the team with just three on the depth chart. It’s unknown what kind of moves they will make if it changes their scheme or moves players on the defensive line around like the offensive line.
Key players who showed up on the injury report include quarterback Kenji Bahar and safety Manny Bunch. Bahar is dealing with a right foot injury he will still play, but it does bring an interesting scenario as to whether Terry Wilson gets to play more. Houston should be happy to see Bunch be ready to play this weekend despite a left elbow injury as he is a key player to the defense.
Gamblers Signings/Active Roster Moves
Looking at the active roster moves, fans will be excited to see running back Mark Thompson back after he was one of the eight players on the inactive list last week. Thompson was the leading rusher for the team last season and top five in the USFL in rushing yards. T.J. Pledger took his place as the top rusher for Houston last week leading the team in rushing yards while adding two touchdowns on the ground.
Another notable player who is active is defensive end Tim Bonner who will be a good sight to see as an intriguing prospect. With Onwuasoanya’s injury, it should open the door for Bonner to get some reps this week in the game. One other lineman to make note of is guard Jair Joseph who is directly linked to the Higby injury.
This article can’t continue without discussing the Zuber signing and what it means to the team. He led the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns last season for Houston. While the return of Zuber is impactful on the offense and on special teams, it’s unclear whether they will play him this weekend. It may not be a bad idea to have him play at least as a returner as the new rule changes to the kickoff could make him even more dangerous.
Gamblers head coach Curtis Johnson must see improvement from his quarterback Bahar if they have any chance of being competitive. There is a chance Wilson will get more playing time as he got a few plays last week. Zuber’s signing should make the passing game better and give them a dynamic player to gain more yards than 23 yards for a receiver.
Defensively, they have a major challenge in the secondary with Breakers receiver Jonathan Adams and Johnnie Dixon being one of the best-receiving duos in the USFL. Houston cornerback Nick Grant and Jeremiah Johnson will be tested early and often as New Orleans is a passing team. The Gamblers will need help from their defensive line to get a good pass rush on Bethel-Thompson to force bad passes.
This game is going to be more challenging for Houston as the Gamblers have seen early issues on offense and defense. Houston needs to create early turnovers and score on one of their first two possessions if they have any shot of winning this game. Right now, it’s hard to be optimistic about this team, but if they put on a good showing, that could go a long way in how the outcome of the season goes.