By RJ Young
FOX Sports Writer
As the inaugural United States Football League gets under way, I am breaking down things I look forward to seeing from each of the four Week 1 matchups.
(For the rest of the Week 1 matchups, go here.)
Pittsburgh Maulers: Does Wilson’s ground-and-pound work?
Kirby Wilson’s first game as a head coach is in prime time on Easter Sunday night on FOX. He told me his wife and children will be in the stands at Protective Stadium to watch him toe the sideline against a familiar-face-turned-foe in Tampa Bay Bandits coach Todd Haley.
Wilson — who slid into the role as a true head coach, being a motivator, mediator and mentor — has committed to letting his staff do their jobs. He isn't micromanaging, calling individual plays or managing substitutions. For a career NFL running back coach, this is not just new territory but also a new proving ground.
Wilson told me that he’ll lean heavily on what he has learned from his 22 years as an NFL assistant, and he has made no secret that his team’s philosophy and attitude will resemble the city it represents. They’re going to run the ball and emphasize physicality at the line of scrimmage with former Big Ten tailbacks Garrett Groshek (Wisconsin) and Madre London (Michigan State).
"Talking is good, but playing is a hell of a lot better," he said. "We want to play well. We want to play hard for four quarters until our playmakers make their plays — because they always do.
Defensively, the Maulers will likely come out in a 3-4 scheme, asking former Michigan defensive end Carlo Kemp to help set an edge and former Vanderbilt safety Arnold Tarpley to help keep a lid on the back end.
"Defensively, when people watch us, I want them to say, 'They don't beat themselves,'" Wilson said. "'They run to the ball like mad. And they keep the ball in front of them.' You can't let the ball get thrown over your head."
Crucially, the Maulers drafted perhaps the two best specialists in the USFL in former All-American punter Max Duffy and Nevada kicker Ramiz Ahmed. In two years as the Wolfpack’s kicker, Ahmed made 15 of 20 field goals and missed just once on kicks inside the 40-yard line.
Tampa Bay Bandits: Ta’amu's talent emerges?
When Jordan Ta’amu was selected No. 2 overall in the USFL Draft, he was overwhelmed with emotion. I spoke to him just moments after he walked off the stage in the stadium club at Protective, and he reflected on his journey through professional football.
Six weeks later, he looked crisp in a light scrimmage on Thursday. If his offensive line, which features former USC offensive lineman Damien Mama, can give him time to throw, he’ll have speed down the field in the form of John Franklin III and Vinny Papale.
"Not the most vocal, but he has the arm, has the ability," coach Todd Haley said. "He's one of those guys that you'd say, ‘Why is he not in an NFL team at least competing for a spot on the roster?' So [we're] really excited to have him. How it all played out is awesome. When you get the guy that most every other team wants, that's a good thing, right?"
I expect Ta'amu to threaten defenses with his ability to run. I’ll be interested to see if the Maulers choose to spy him in the season opener and how Haley and offensive coordinator Bob Saunders adjust to the kind of defense Haley became familiar with as offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the podcast "The No. 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young." Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young, and subscribe to "The RJ Young Show" on YouTube. He is not on a StepMill.