USFL 2023 season preview: For high-flying Philadelphia Stars, it’s championship or bust

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The Philadelphia Stars were minutes away from a USFL championship last season.

Unsurprisingly, an injury to quarterback Case Cookus derailed the Stars’ title hopes after Cookus broke his leg in the fourth quarter of the championship game. While it’s discouraging right off the bat, it means Philadelphia doesn’t have far to get over the hump.

The Stars had the league’s highest scoring offense last season, averaging 26.2 points per game thanks in large part to Cookus, who didn’t even become the team’s starter until Bryan Scott was injured in Week 3. Cookus finished the season 6-3 as a starter, including the postseason, completing 62.5% of his passes for 1,334 yards, 12 touchdowns and just five interceptions in the regular season . Despite his limited time as a starter, Cookus’ 1,334 passing yards ranked fourth in the league and his 12 touchdowns ranked second. He led the league in passer rating (130.6) among QBs with at least 200 attempts.

Philadelphia enters 2023 with Cookus back at the helm, this time as the unquestioned starter. After the championship game, he returned to health in time to land on the Los Angeles Rams’ practice squad at the back of their 2022 season.

Cookus will once again have catcher Jordan Suell to lean on after Suell re-signed for another season last December. Suell caught 36 passes for 370 yards and three touchdowns in 2022, including a touchdown in the championship game. Suell spent his college years at Southern Oregon from 2016 to 2019 before returning to football with the Stars last season.

Cookus will also have a new target with promise as he joins wide receiver Corey Coleman this year, who will be making his USFL debut. Coleman was a first-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and appeared with four other teams in a tumultuous NFL career that included trades, suspensions and eventually firings. Coleman was most recently with the Kansas City Chiefs, spending all of 2022 training camp with the team before being signed to the team’s practice squad for a few weeks early in the season. He signed with the Stars on February 17, 2023 and will hope to add a vertical threat to Philadelphia’s already productive offense.

Returning from a productive campaign with the Stars on the other side of the ball is cornerback Channing Stribling, who led the USFL with seven interceptions last season. Stribling, along with Cookus, was responsible for Philadelphia’s league-leading turnover margin of +8.

Despite Stribling’s efforts, however, the Stars’ defense allowed 243 points, which tied for the league most with the Pittsburgh Maulers, who finished 1-9. That was a need that was prioritized this offseason, according to head coach Bart Andrus.

“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 have to be self-critical of what we do and how we’ve done it .”

Philadelphia is positioned to have another competitive season and will be looking to not only win the North this year, but win it all. They will be based in Detroit along with the Michigan Panthers, playing their home games at Ford Field.

They will have to wait to acclimate to their new home as they open the season in Memphis against the Showboats on Saturday. The following Sunday is when the Stars will make their home debut for the first USFL game at Ford Field.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, adding the title of Super Bowl champion (and boat parade participant) to her resume. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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