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USFL Season in Review: The 2022 Michigan Panthers Defense, Grades & Needs for Next Season.

Most recently I did an article regarding the state of the Michigan Panthers Offense and what the needs and grades of the 2022 inaugural squad. With the 2022-23 off-season picking up many teams like Mike Mitchell’s Generals signing Hasan Muhammed-Rodgers and the Matt Lyon’s Breakers losing Christian Sam to the Dallas Cowboys, the USFL year 2 is on its way. With that being said let’s review the 2022 Michigan Panthers Defense, A unit that at times was extremely underwhelming.

Defensive Line: C-

A unit that was originally looked at as a strength due to XFL sack leader Cavon Walker, athletic project Defensive End Chase DeMoor, and the first defensive end taken in the USFL draft Adewale Adeoye, the Panthers were thought to have potentially dynamic defensive front. Unfortunately, none of that happened in 2022. DeMoor, and Walker had more hits on each other than opposing QBs and DeMoor was last seen at a HUB workout looking to get back in the USFL or XFL as his next goal. Adeoye had registered only one sack and Walker only attributed to 3 of his own.

Even though the original “big 3” of the Panthers seemed to be well, underwhelming (a theme of the Panthers), Coach Fisher and company were extremely proactive in making moves to help the struggling unit. The Panthers brought in Ethan Westbrooks, and Ventral McMillan were signed and provided immediate aide. The emergence of JaQuan Bailey and T.J. Carter also helped to combat an anemic unit.

Moving forward, I would argue that the Panthers could use their first overall pick on a Defensive Edge/Pass Rusher. As we saw around the league, players like Evan Rodriguez, Shareef Miller, Devin Bellamy, and Chris Odom (USFL Sack Leader whose getting NFL attention) all changed the dynamic of their defensives and made the players around them better. This unit has some amazing pieces and if the Panthers can pair an elite pass rusher with the rest of their defense the Panthers will be to contend with top teams of the USFL and stifle opposing offenses.

Linebackers: B-

This unit at times were all over the place whether it be in pass coverage or assisting in stopping the run. Led by Frank Ginda, the Panthers linebacking corps providing stability and was able to keep the Panthers in games for most of the season.

Moving forward I do believe the Panthers need to be better in having a “coverage” linebacker, one player that comes to mind is the 2007 New York Giants having Michael Boley to cover Brian Westbrook when they played the Eagles. With running backs being so dynamic in the passing game, the Panthers need to be able to have a linebacker keep up. As much as I love Ginda at times he could be viewed as a liability in the passing game. An acquisition of a true coverage linebacker could allow the Panthers defensive front to provide more pressure and take a lot of pressure of Ginda and company.

Defensive Backs: B+

Led by the “Captain” Sean Williams, the Panthers defensive backfield was my most successful unit for the Panthers. Despite, the injuries and lack of “big name” recognition the Panthers DBs were extremely serviceable throughout the USFL Season.

After dealing with early injuries to Warren Saba, and Orion Stewart, cornerbacks like Tino Ellis and Jameson Houston stepped up with even Houston being nominated for a player of the week award. The Panthers were constantly in flux with the Defensive backfield, adding Eddie Graham, Cory Rahman, Sean Mahome, Corrion Ballard (who would be released), and Dominque Martin.

Moving forward I think the Panthers upgrading their secondary could be the least of their concerns right now. Though not perfect, the secondary performed well for most of the season and has pieces that can be expanded upon. Adding a more prevalent pass-rusher or help at the Linebacker position will improve the secondary by proxy, as the pressure will be taken off the other cornerbacks.

Overall Grade: C+

The Panthers Defense put up some memorable performances in Week 1+2 specifically, including a week 3 shutout of the anemic Pittsburgh Maulers. However, like with many units of the USFL injuries, fatigue, and seemingly the improvement of Offenses did lead to some less than stellar performances. Hopefully going into 2023 the Panthers can continue to adjust and build up this unit in an effort to contend for the Northern Division and ultimately a USFL championship.

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Pat Rifino is a former Security Contractor turned writer. He began his writing career talking about geo-politics, and the defense industry. Now Pat writes about alt-league football, while hanging out with his dogs in his off time.

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