With the USFL season now officially underway in Birmingham, The Tampa Bay Bandits are preparing to close out opening weekend against the Pittsburgh Maulers. While it likely won’t be Tampa’s most exciting matchup of the year, it will give fans an idea of how the team will function under former NFL head coach Todd Haley. Specifically, it will demonstrate Haley’s offensive system with Jordan Ta’amu for the first time, who is widely regarded to be the USFL’s best quarterback alongside Kyle Sloter (New Orleans Breakers).
Haley has had the privilege of working with some of the best signal-callers in football, such as Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner. He was also a receivers coach earlier in his career, meaning he understands the important connection between the two positions. Ta’amu’s top targets in this game will likely be Rashard Davis, Jordan Lasley, and Derrick Willies, all of which have NFL experience. The other two receivers on the active roster, Derrick Dillon and Vinny Papale, are a bit more unproven given their background, but still have plenty of upside and could also have a sizable role.
On defense, the Bandits will be looking to stop the Maulers on the ground. While their passing game should be fine with Kyle Lauletta under center, the team simply doesn’t have the same type of receiving depth. With running backs being the main focus, Madre London is a name to look out for. London won the European League of Football (ELF) MVP in 2021, rushing for over 2,100 yards and scoring 23 touchdowns with the Cologne Centurions. London was signed as a replacement for XFL rushing yards leader De’Veon Smith, who was released shortly after the draft. Given these roster moves, it’s clear that Pittsburgh wants to have a run-first identity when they can. A lot of pressure will be put on Tampa’s defensive line, ensuring they don’t give London too much space.
Ultimately, this game will be a test to see if the Bandits’ can live up to the hype. There will certainly be opponents down the road that present more difficult challenges, so Tampa needs to establish their identity now and come out strong. From Pittsburgh’s perspective, this might not be the prettiest way to start the season, but they shouldn’t be discouraged if the outcome is a loss. For both teams, it will be the first time they’re competing in a meaningful game together, so culture and chemistry outweigh most of the positional value here. Hopefully, this matchup will result in something memorable, being the week one finale of a new league.