Philadelphia Stars focused on taking next step to USFL title

The Philadelphia Stars had a lead in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t hold on in a loss to the Birmingham Stallions in the USFL title game.

The disheartening loss has been a source of motivation for head coach Bart Andrus during the offseason. The Stars lost starting quarterback Case Cookus to a broken ankle in the fourth quarter, which hurt the team’s ability to move the football consistently late in the game.

[Everything to know about Stars 2023 schedule]

“Part of it is keeping the quarterback healthy through the championship game,” Andrus said. “That really had an effect on the game because he couldn’t finish. But again, we’ve got to dial things up a little bit on our defensive end. We had games on both ends that were up and down.”

Cookus is now fully healed and Andrus is hoping to bring him back for a second season. The Northern Arizona product spent time on the Los Angeles Rams’ practice squad last season.

“At the beginning of this year, we addressed the areas where we felt we needed to make progress in terms of personnel,” Andrus said. “We’ve looked at the scheme, to make sure we’re doing the right things scheme-wise. So that’s what the offseason is all about: reflection and study. We’ve got to be self-critical of what we do and how we’ve done it .”

The Stars will join the Michigan Panthers in downtown Detroit, playing their home games at Ford Field this season.

“One of the things it creates is exposure,” Andrus said of the expanded locations. “Statistically, for the viewer, it’s better for it. So I think it’s going to be a positive. From a coaching standpoint, you’re dealing with road games now. There’s a reason in the NFL, still that feel like the two teams are evenly matched, they will go one to three points ahead of the home team. The trips will give us something else to talk about and work on, but that’s what football is. I think it will be refreshing for the players to see other stadiums, see other places.”

The Stars open their season on the road against the Memphis Showboats on April 15. Andrus said the success of the USFL last season has helped recruit new players, along with the word of mouth of guys who spent time in the league in 2022. .

“Just the fact that we got through a season,” Andrus said. “Everybody was getting paid every week. That’s important in these alternative football leagues because it’s been a long time since a league that starts and ends. And that started and ended. We fulfilled all the promises that were made .and that’s a testament to the ownership and the people who are above my pay grade.And they learned along the way too.

“So going into year two, we can kind of slow down a little bit. I’m really excited about everything about this league. And I thought the level of play was really good. I’ve been in several of these leagues. My first experience in these types of alternative leagues was NFL Europe, after coaching in the NFL. So that set the standard for the game. We’re at the same level. It’s between Power University 5 and college. NFL, in terms of the level of play and the speed of the game. The speed of the game is a little faster than the Power 5 college.”

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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