By Greg Auman
FOX Sports NFL Writer
The New Jersey Generals matched the best record in the USFL's return season last year at 9-1, only to see their season end abruptly with a playoff loss to the Philadelphia Stars in the league semifinals.
"The guys come in with a chip on their shoulder, kind of like unfinished business a little bit," said offensive coordinator Steven Smith, back as part of head coach Mike Riley's staff. "The guys came in ready to go and focused on getting it done and making things happen that we didn't finish last year."
Gone is electric kick returner KaVontae Turpin, the league MVP whose touchdown had rallied the Generals for a fourth-quarter lead after a 10-0 deficit to Philadelphia, only to see the Stars answer with an 87-yard return touchdown with 1:41 left. Turpin was perhaps the USFL's biggest success story, making the Pro Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys, but there's plenty of talent left with the Generals.
Both of the team's top two running backs return, with Darius Victor rushing for 577 yards and nine touchdowns to earn USFL Offensive Player of the Year honors. Trey Williams also rushed for 579 yards and two scores, and Smith is excited about Kingston Davis, who played at Michigan and UAB before finishing his NCAA career at Miles College.
There's a battle at quarterback, with last year's backup, former Florida State star De'Andre Johnson, going up against newcomer Kyle Lauletta, the former New York Giants draft pick who started two games for the Pittsburgh Maulers last season. Johnson threw for 772 yards and ran for another 310 last season, and receiver Alonzo Moore (three TDs) will try to step up in Turpin's absence.
Riley, 69, has won two Grey Cups as a CFL head coach, along with long stints in the NFL and college football, everywhere from the World League of American Football to the Alliance of American Football and XFL. Defensively, the Generals have a new coordinator in Ted Cottrell, 75, who was the defensive line coach for the original Generals in 1984-85 before 23 years as an NFL assistant. He's since coached in the United Football League, AAF, the XFL and the Spring League before returning to his USFL roots.
The Generals will seek not only a better finish than a year ago, but a return to the heyday of their 1980s counterparts, with some of the original USFL's biggest stars in Herschel Walker and Doug Flutie. This year's team will get two shots at revenge against Philadelphia for last year's playoff upset, facing the Stars in Week 5 in Detroit and Week 9 in Canton, Ohio.
New Jersey also gets to open the 2023 season in Birmingham against the league's defending champs, the Stallions — they lost to Birmingham in last year's opener, then rattled off nine straight wins before their early playoff exit. The Generals will play their home games in Canton this year, with the added motivation of wanting to return there as the site of the league's championship game on July 1.
"You know the fans coming to the game are there to see you," Smith said of having a new home hub after the entire league played in Birmingham last year. "We've got a lot of support here, and we had a great crowd (in Canton) last year so we're expecting to have great crowds. We're looking forward to getting done what we need to get done."
Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.
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