We have one offensive group remaining to consider before the Birmingham Stallions 2023 USFL season kicks off: offensive line. These are the unsung heroes of the offense. Their importance to a team’s success cannot be overstated. Who will the Stallions have leading the way in the trenches this year?
Lineman Who Left
The bad news for the Stallions: they must replace three starting offensive linemen from 2022. Center Jordan McCray, guard Cameron Hunt, and tackle Ryan Pope all bolted for XFL opportunities this past offseason. These three will be hard to replace as they anchored the o-line last year and were reliable all season long. Hunt in particular is a huge loss—he was an All-USFL lineman in 2022.
Lineman Who Stayed
The good news for the Stallions: several linemen return from 2022, including a few starters. Notable among that group are left tackle Darius Harper, left guard O’Shea Dugas, and right tackle Tyree St. Louis. Harper was the Stallions’ first offensive lineman picked in the 2022 draft. He started at left tackle for the Stallions but battled injuries late in the season. This caused him to miss the championship game. In that game, Pope took his place at left tackle, which allowed St. Louis to start at right tackle. Dugas played for Holtz at Louisiana Tech and was a solid starter for the Stallions throughout last year. He did not start the first game but earned the starting left guard job in week two and never looked back.
Two other linemen return from 2022: guard Marquez Tucker and tackle Michael Rodriguez. Tucker started at left guard in the Stallions’ opening game last year but lost the job to Dugas. He continued to play and be a contributor for the Stallions, though, throughout the season. The Philadelphia Stars originally drafted Rodriguez, but the Stallions picked him up midseason after the Stars released him. Rodriguez, like Dugas, played for Holtz at Louisiana Tech. He did not see significant playing time last season but returns to the team this year.
Lineman Who Joined
This offseason, the Stallions added five offensive linemen to replace those who left. They added two centers: Cohl Cabral and Sam Cooper. Cabral (6’5, 305) played college football at Arizona State where he was a reliable three-year starter, starting 38 consecutive games. His sophomore season he started at left tackle, but he moved to center for his junior and senior campaigns. He was a team captain both years and was second team All-Pac-12 after his junior season. Cabral anchored an o-line that enabled ASU to be successful running and passing the ball. ASU had a 1,000-yard rusher every season Cabral started, and Cabral was graded as one of the top run-blocking centers in the Pac-12 and nation. Cabral also allowed only one sack over his final two seasons, helping to lead a top pass-blocking unit at ASU. After college, Cabral bounced around NFL practice squads before signing with the Stallions this offseason.
191 yards on the ground ➡️ #Pac12FB Offensive Lineman of the Week@ASUFootball's @cohl_cohlcabral paved the way for Eno’s 3 TDs and Jayden’s career-high 84 rushing yards 🏈 pic.twitter.com/dsvPIfYhvv
— Arizona State Sun Devils (@TheSunDevils) October 1, 2019
Cooper (6’2, 305) played at Maine before transferring to Merrimack for his final two seasons. He earned a starting job as an interior lineman and became a team captain his senior year. Merrimack was successful while he was there, ranking third in the conference in total offense his senior season (368 yards per game). Cooper was selected to play in both the East-West Shrine Bowl and Hula Bowl in 2021. After college, he went undrafted, but the Ravens picked him up. He had played left guard at Merrimack, but the Ravens moved him to center. They later cut him, but he spent some time with the Texans this past season before the Stallions picked him up.
Well I guess I’m watching Merrimack film this morning – thanks @dpbrugler for the sleeper!
LG Sam Cooper (6’2 305) 👀 this happens often with him, he just blocks until someone tells him to stop lol
Nice numbers at his Pro Day (https://t.co/fCKwcgg0Pn) pic.twitter.com/lmFluby2F3
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) April 1, 2021
The Stallions signed one guard this offseason: Matt Kaskey. Kaskey (6’7, 325) graduated from Dartmouth in 2019 where he was a three-year starter at left tackle. His senior year he was an All-American and part of the Division I All-New England Team. He was also All-Ivy League First Team twice and All-Ivy Honorable Mention once. Dartmouth’s offense was highly successful while he was there, often ranking toward the top of the FCS in rushing and passing. Kaskey spent time with both the Rams and Panthers. Kaskey has played tackle throughout his career, but he is listed at guard on the Stallions roster, so it will be interesting to see where they decide to use him.
While it is against a smaller player, I like the way Dartmouth LT Matt Kaskey (#78) finishes this play. pic.twitter.com/hT4DFawaiA
— Chad Reuter (@chad_reuter) June 24, 2018
The Stallions also signed two tackles: Derwin Gray and Lukayus McNeil. Gray (6’5, 320) was a two-year starter at left tackle for Maryland. He was All-Big Ten Honorable Mention both seasons. As a junior, he was named the team’s best lineman. The Steelers drafted Gray in the seventh round of the 2019 draft. He also spent some time with the Jaguars and Titans.
Derwin Gray played LT for the Terps. Here’s some nice clips of his work. #HereWeGo #SteelersDraft pic.twitter.com/9nqNzPOmqx
— Steel Legends (@Steel_Legends) April 27, 2019
McNeil (6’6, 330) was a four-year starter at Louisville, playing both guard and tackle. He blocked for Lamar Jackson for three seasons, helping power one of the most potent offenses in college football. He also played with Stallions’ 2023 third-round draft pick, quarterback Malik Cunningham. McNeil signed with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent in 2019. He has also spent time with the Cowboys, Falcons, and Seahawks.
Watch Louisville RT Lukayus McNeil obliterate a blitzing Ben Humphreys to spring Traveon Samuels here. pic.twitter.com/x7EHVkGmT8
— Dave Lackford, Esq. (@DaveLackfordESQ) October 16, 2016
Offensive Line Outlook
My prediction is that the Stallions’ offensive success in 2023 is contingent upon the performance of this unit. The Stallions’ starting quarterback, running back, fullback, and tight end return from last season. They also return a few of their top wideouts and added even more firepower to their receiver room. There is no doubt the Stallions’ offensive skill players can be electric again this year. However, that will only be possible if they have strong blocking up front.
This year’s squad will be coached by former University of Alabama at Birmingham head coach Neil Callaway. Callaway was head coach at UAB from 2007 to 2011 and most recently was offensive line coach for the USFL’s Michigan Panthers. He was brought in to replace Jonathan Himebauch who did a great job coaching the Stallions line last year but left for a job with the XFL’s Arlington Renegades. Hopefully Callaway can maximize the potential of this year’s group of linemen.
Although the Stallions need to replace some key linemen from last year, the fact that three starters return from 2022 bodes well for their chances at success. With their offseason additions, they certainly have the potential to be solid up front. If I had to guess, I imagine the starting o-line for week one from left to right will be Darius Harper, O’Shea Dugas, Cohl Cabral, Marquez Tucker, and Tyree St. Louis. I feel less confident about the right side of the line, and I am especially unsure about the right guard spot. I am giving the nod to Tucker because of his experience with the team, but I would watch for Cooper, Kaskey, or McNeil to be in the running for that spot. I would not be surprised to see Gray in the mix at tackle at some point too. The Stallions have options up front, but they will need to find their best five quickly if they want to replicate the success they had last year.
What are your thoughts on the Birmingham Stallions offensive line? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!