Heading into 2022, the Tampa Bay Bandits were poised to be one of the USFL’s most talented teams. Led by Todd Haley and Jordan Ta’amu, it looked like the squad was ready to make plenty of noise this season.
So, what happened to Tampa Bay? And, what needs to change heading into 2023? Let’s take a look.
Jordan Ta’amu: Not Enough Help
Jordan Ta’amu has seen his highs and lows in spring football. The XFL standout turned out to be the second overall pick for Todd Haley’s Bandits. In the USFL, Jordan performed quite well, all things considered.
Now, Ta’amu wasn’t perfect by any means. He threw twelve interceptions, while completing only 57% of his passes (a 15% drop from the XFL). It was difficult for Ta’amu to consistently get into a groove, considering the major changes Tampa’s offense faced during the season.
Jordan did lead the team to four wins, doing what he could on his end to keep them competitive. Unfortunately, the offense just never clicked, especially in the second half of the season.
Tampa Bay’s backfield struggled. Neither BJ Emmons nor Juwan Washington cracked 300 yards on the season. Washington averaged 3.2 yards per carry, while Emmons only posted 2.5 YPC. While Washington did show flashes of talent here and there, both running backs were contained for most of the season.
The cause for most of these issues stemmed from the offensive line. Tampa Bay’s line struggled all year long, due to the plethora of injuries they faced. Bruno Reagan, their starting center, went down early in the season and never returned.
Throughout 2022, pass and run protection was well below average for the Bandits, simply because they could not find a way to stay healthy.
Wide Receivers: Hit Or Miss
A major story for Tampa was their wide receiver core; one that was quite shaky. Outside of Rashard Davis and Derrick Dillon (who both have been signed by NFL teams), this group turned out to be quite inconsistent.
As we watched Tampa Bay play week after week, it became clear that dropped passes were a trend. Multiple times a game, Ta’amu would make a great throw, only to have that pass fall to the ground.
Now, this isn’t to say that they didn’t have talent. The Bandits did feature some of the USFL’s best offensive players in 2022. Vinny Papale and John Franklin both added depth to the roster, while Cheyenne O’Grady was a top three tight end in the league.
Unfortunately, they just could not deliver across the board, which led to limited success during the season. Another odd factor was Keith Mumphery – who played with Ta’amu in the XFL. For whatever reason, he was hardly used at all, being placed on the inactive roster for the final several weeks.
Locker Room Chaos?
The team did suffer from a lack of camaraderie in the locker room, at least, to an extent. For example, LB Christian Sam, who was one of the team’s leaders on defense, requested a trade during a key part of the season. Sam was eventually released and moved to the New Orleans Breakers, along with Reggie Howard.
This was quite strange, considering Sam and Howard were two of the Bandits’ fearsome defensive players. It seems like there were some clashing emotions between them, and Todd Haley. Down the stretch, the Bandits struggled to find a rhythm. You have to wonder if this played a part in that.
However, this defense wasn’t just built around those two. Travis Feeney, for instance, was spectacular all season. Despite all of the drama their unit faced, Feeney was a consistent force week in and week out.
During the second half of the year, Tampa Bay’s defense made some major improvements. They always kept their team within striking distance, especially in week nine against New Orleans. Disappointingly, the offense couldn’t get the job done, and they were eliminated from postseason contention.
Week six was a turning point for the Bandits – and it wasn’t in the right direction. The team lost a shootout against the Philadelphia Stars, coming up just short in the final seconds.
After that, it was all downhill. Aside from an ugly week eight victory against Houston, Tampa Bay was a sloppy mess every week. Instead of playing their best football, the team played some of its worst.
It’s a shame, because in week one, Tampa Bay looked to be an unstoppable force. Their first drive against Pittsburgh was flawless, and they appeared to be the team to beat in the South. However, this obviously wasn’t the case, as 2022 displayed just how many pieces this group was missing.
Wide receivers will be key. With Davis and Dillon headed to the NFL, Ta’amu will benefit from new targets, who are explosive. A big body would be appreciated, as well. Looking back to the XFL, Ta’amu had L’Damian Washington with the Battlehawks. Someone with his size, and hands, could elevate this offense to a whole new level in 2023.
Speaking of elevation – a running back can be a massive spark for this team. Specifically, someone who can fit right in with Juwan Washington, with different capabilities. An example would be De’Veon Smith – a bigger, physical back that could duel with Washington as a solid one-two combo.
TOUCHDOWN FOR THE LEAD 🤠@JWashFrFr hit the griddy after his TD run‼️
Now, what the team needs to find is someone who can lead their defense in multiple aspects. A solid example is Scooby Wright, who was a vocal anchor for Birmingham’s defense all season. If Tampa Bay can add a couple of reliable pieces in the secondary, while tightening up their front seven, they will be in excellent shape.
As for kickers, Ty Rausa was serviceable in 2022. While there is always room for improvement, Rausa has been a solid spring league kicker for years. He should see another season in Tampa if all goes according to plan.
Meanwhile, Brandon Wright was an exceptional punter for the team – earning All-USFL honors in 2022. Expect him to be back next year.
Overall, Tampa Bay’s season wasn’t terrible – but it could have been so much more. Had they executed in just a couple more instances, they likely would have made the playoffs.
That being said, the Bandits simply need to regroup, reassess, and move forward. Todd Haley, and the rest of Tampa Bay’s coaches/scouts, have to find a way to build a cohesive team that can compete for a Championship in 2023.