So far, we have considered the Birmingham Stallions defensive line and linebackers. As the final part of our defensive overview, we are going to look at the secondary. Since the Stallions typically run a 4-2-5 defense with five defensive backs on the field, it’s critical they have a strong, deep secondary.
The good news for Birmingham is most of their defensive backs return from 2022. However, two former starters are gone: cornerbacks Tae Hayes and Josh Shaw. Hayes was a solid lockdown corner for the Stallions last year in the USFL, contributing 41 tackles, two interceptions, 11 pass deflections, and a forced fumble. Hayes was particularly dominant in the Stallions’ playoff game against the Breakers—five tackles, an interception, three deflections, and a forced fumble.
Finding a corner to replace Hayes will be critical for the Stallions’ success in 2023. Shaw was a key contributor in his own right. The starting nickelback, Shaw added 42 tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception, and three pass deflections. Fortunately, the Stallions added some impressive players this offseason to replace those who left. Let’s take a look at the defensive backs who made the Stallions’ final roster.
Two cornerbacks return for the Stallions in 2023: Brian Allen and Lorenzo Burns. Allen started along with Hayes last year and was a defensive leader for the team. He had 46 tackles, three tackles for loss, one pick six, and nine pass deflections last year. He projects to be a starter again this season.
Burns did not start last year, but he still was a contributor. He actually led the team in interceptions during the regular season with two. He also had nine tackles, a fumble recovery, and three pass deflections. Burns has a nose for the ball, and I’d expect him to compete to replace Hayes.
The Stallions added three cornerbacks this offseason: Nate Brooks, Donnie Lewis, and Mark Fields II. Nate Brooks played college football at the University of North Texas, where he finished with a decorated career. He finished at UNT with 193 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, one sack, 29 passes deflected, 10 interceptions, three forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. His senior year he was a Jim Thorpe Award semifinalist as well as a Second Team All-Conference USA selection. He finished third in FBS in interceptions that year with six.
After college, he signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent. In the past four years, he has spent time with seven different NFL teams. The Stallions will provide him with some stability as well as the opportunity to prove he should be a permanent member of an NFL roster. Expect to see a lot of Brooks this year.
Lewis played college football at Tulane. He finished there with 161 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, 48 passes deflected, eight interceptions, one fumble recovered, and one touchdown. After college, the Browns drafted him in the seventh round. He also spent time with the Bengals and Broncos before being picked up by the Stallions. He enters week one of the season injured, but hopefully we will get to see him play in a future contest.
Fields played college football at Clemson. He saw playing time in 48 games over four seasons but only made six starts. During that time, he had 45 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack, 13 passes deflected, one interception, and one touchdown. He was a part of two national championship-winning teams. After college, he signed with the Chiefs. He also spent time with the Vikings, Texans, and 49ers. While still rostered, Fields was moved to the Stallions’ inactive list early on in training camp. It remains to be seen if he will be a part of the team in 2023.
Fortunately for the Stallions, four safeties return in 2023: Tyree Robinson, Christian McFarland, JoJo Tillery, and Malik Gant. Robinson and McFarland were the starters last year and did an excellent job holding down the back end of the field. Robinson finished with 49 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception, and seven pass deflections.
McFarland was a tackling machine for the Stallions. He finished tied for second in tackles (63), adding a tackle for loss, interception, and four passes deflected. He had a huge game in the USFL Championship, finishing with nine tackles (tied for most), a tackle for loss, a pass deflection, and, most importantly, the game-sealing interception. The Stallions are fortunate to have Robinson and him back in 2023, and they project to start again.
Tillery wasn’t a starter, but he saw a lot of action in 2022. He played in every game and finished third on the team with 61 tackles. He also had one tackle for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, and four pass deflections. I imagine he could start at some point in 2023, but he enters week one injured and inactive. Hopefully we will see him back on the field soon, doing his legendary backflips.
Gant signed with the team late last season but never saw playing time. He has also been inactive since the beginning of camp this season. So it remains to be seen whether or not we will actually see him play for the Stallions.
The Stallions added two safeties this offseason: T. J. Green and T. J. Carter. Green is an Alabama native, but he played college football at Clemson. He started as a wide receiver at Clemson but later moved to safety. He had 162 tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack, three passes deflected, one interception, and two forced fumbles for the Tigers. He also had 505 return yards. He played in one national championship with the Tigers before going pro. The Colts drafted him in the 2nd round in 2016. Over his NFL career, he has had 103 tackles, five tackles for loss, and four passes deflected. Most recently, he was in the CFL. Green was a huge signing for the Stallions, and his talent and NFL experience will be beneficial for the team. I’d expect him to compete for a starting job in 2023.
Carter was a late off-season signing for the Stallions but a big one. Carter started out at Memphis before transferring to TCU for his final year. Over the course of his college career, Carter had 249 tackles, six tackles for loss, one sack, 34 passes deflected, seven interceptions, three forced fumbles, four fumbles recovered, and one touchdown. He made multiple Freshmen All-American teams and was the AAC Rookie of the Year. He was also Second Team All-AAC twice and Honorable Mention once. He went undrafted last year, but he signed with the Rams and spent 2022 with them, being released after the season. He quickly signed with the Stallions afterward. A versatile player, Carter can play cornerback or safety. Like Green, he will compete with last year’s starters for a starting job on this year’s team.
A name that should be in the 2020 top CB conversation — Memphis CB TJ Carter. Really impressed by my limited viewings, he’s fluid and clearly has ball skills. pic.twitter.com/L8qYzLTEFa
Like the defensive line, this group is quite loaded. Three of five starters return along with some other key players from last year’s team. On top of that, the offseason additions were rather impressive, and those players should challenge the former starters for playing time throughout the season. I would expect a strong year from this group given their skill, experience, and depth.
The starters for Saturday night’s game against the Generals will be Brian Allen, Lorenzo Burns, Nate Brooks, Tyree Robinson, and Christian McFarland. The returning guys were key pieces of the Stallions’ championship run last year, and they earned the right to start again this year. Brooks will be a welcome addition to replace Tae Hayes. Overall, Stallions fans should feel good about their secondary heading into 2023.
What are your thoughts on the Birmingham Stallions secondary heading into the USFL season? Let us know down in the comments below, or join the conversation on Discord!