Philadelphia Stars focus on next step to USFL title

The Philadelphia Stars had a fourth quarter lead but couldn’t hold their own against the Birmingham Stallions in the USFL title game.

The disheartening loss was a motivator for head coach Bart Andrus this offseason. The Stars lost starting quarterback Case Cookus to a broken ankle in the fourth quarter, which impacted the team’s ability to consistently move football late in the game.

[Everything to know about Stars 2023 schedule]

“Part of that is keeping the quarterback healthy throughout the championship game,” Andrus said. “It really had an effect on the game, preventing it from finishing. But again, we have to consolidate things a bit on our defensive side. We’ve had games on both sides that have been ups and downs .”

Cookus is now fully healed and Andrus hopes to get 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 believe we need to make progress in terms of personnel,” Andrus said. “We looked at the schematic, to make sure we’re doing the right things schematically. So that’s what the offseason is about – thinking and studying. We have to be self-critical of what we’re doing and how we did it.”

The Stars will join the Michigan Panthers in the Detroit hub, 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 public, it’s better for that. So, I think it’s going to be positive. From a training point of view, now you’re dealing with games on the road. There’s a reason in the NFL, even if they feel like the two teams are tied, they will be between one and three points ahead of the home team. The trip is going to give us another thing to discuss and work on, but c “This is football. I think it will be refreshing for players to see other stadiums, to see other places.”

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

“Just the fact that we’ve been through a season,” Andrus said. “Everyone got paid, every week. That’s a big thing in these alternative football leagues, because it hasn’t happened for a long time where a league actually starts and ends. And it started and ended. We delivered on all the promises that were made, and it’s a testament to the ownership and the people above my pay grade who run it. And they also learned along the way.

“So going into the second year, we’re able to drop the throttle a bit. I’m very encouraged by everything about this league. And I think the level of play was very good. I was in many of these types of leagues. My first experience in these types of alternative leagues was NFL Europe, after coaching in the NFL. So that set the standard of play. We’re on the same level. That’s somewhere between Power 5 college and the NFL in terms of game level and game speed. The game speed is a bit faster than 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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