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

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

Apr 11

The Philadelphia Stars were just a few minutes short of a USFL championship last season.

It was unsurprisingly an injury to quarterback Case Cookus that ultimately derailed the Stars’ title hopes after Cookus suffered a broken leg in the fourth quarter of the championship game. While discouraging in the immediate, it means Philadelphia doesn’t have far to go to get over the hump.

The Stars had the highest-scoring offense in the league 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, and completed 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 again at the helm, this time as the unquestioned starter. After the championship game, he worked his way back to health in time to land on the practice squad for the Los Angeles Rams in the back part of their 2022 season.

Cookus will again have receiver Jordan Suell to lean on after Suell signed back on for another season this past 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 2016-2019 before reappearing in football with the Stars last season.

Cookus will also have a new target with promise, as he is joined this year by wide receiver Corey Coleman, who will make his USFL debut. Coleman was a first-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and went on to appear with four other teams in a tumultuous NFL career that included trades, suspensions, and ultimately, releases. 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 Feb. 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, though, the Stars defense allowed 243 points, which was tied for most in the league with the Pittsburgh Maulers, who finished 1-9. That was a need that was prioritized this offseason, according to head coach Bart Andrus.

"Going into this year, we addressed the areas where we feel we needed to make strides personnel-wise," Andrus said. "We’ve looked at the scheme, to make sure we’re doing the right things schematically. So, that’s what the offseason is about — reflection and study. We’ve got to be self-critical of what we do, and how we did it."

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

They’ll have to wait to get acclimated 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 Ford Field’s first USFL game.

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, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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