The Houston Gamblers have rounded out to an even 14 signings this offseason so far with no sign of slowing down. There had been mostly signings at the skill positions, some linebackers, and a defensive lineman. The one place that hadn't seen any new faces was the offensive line, which could arguably be called the most important position group on the field. This all changed with the last three signings that included two bookend tackles and a young center.
To pivot to the articles title for a bit, think of a casino. Pit bosses are the leaders down on the floor that makes sure everything goes smoothly. They do the dirty work you don't see so that the CEOs, owners, and gamblers (pun intended) are happy. If the pit bosses have a successful night, you don't even notice they were there. This role is similar to the offensive line in the fact that it is a down and dirty job that can be thankless and unnoticed, especially when done well. The problem with the Gamblers offensive line last season was that it did get noticed later in the season, and not for doing well.
Late in the USFL season the teams had all settled in and schemes began gaining complexity and depth. Early in the season the Gamblers offensive line were allowing less pressures and next to zero sacks, but once defenses opened up the playbook, things changed. Clayton Thorson was sacked only 4 times, but suffered a season ending injury to his elbow due to a hit. Kenji Bahar filled the role for the last three games of the season and proceeded to be sacked 14 times. Something had to change in the trenches for the Gamblers on offense, and the three newest players could be the answer.
Braylon Jones / C,G / Ht: 6'4 / Wt: 315 / Age: 24
Braylon Jones is a versatile interior lineman in his second season out of the University of Houston. Jones spent the offseason in the Dallas Cowboys training camp and preseason. At 6'4 and 315 lbs he fits the mold of a perfect interior lineman. Jones has spent play time at both guard positions as well as center making him a great competitor as well as a fire to motivate Prescod and Higby if they return.
Jones is only 24 years old and is a Texas native, so exactly the kind of player Gamblers DPP Robert Morris is targeting this offseason. At the University of Houston he started 43 games, and helped the 2020 UH team rank 4th in passing offense. At the Dallas Cowboys training camp he was playing second team reps which turned many scouts heads. DPP Morris said he was surprised that Jones decided to play in a spring league, and was surprised and excited to get Jones.
On top of being able to play all three interior OL positions, Jones plays with good pad level and mobility in the run game, which was a staple of the Gamblers offense. Where he could improve the Gamblers OL the most is in his pass protection. He has good balance, and can anchor himself during pass protection. His arm length is on the higher end for OL, which can only help his play. Braylon Jones brings a lot of upside with him that can only help the Gamblers.
Na'Ty Rodgers / T / Ht: 6'5 / Wt: 295 / Age: 27
Na'Ty Rodgers is the second Houston Cougar Alumni that the Gamblers added this offseason. A bit older than college teammate Braylon Jones, Rodgers brings a young veteran mentality to the offensive line. The Gamblers tackles last season were Brandon Hitner and Avery Gennesy, and while they were solid on the outsides, they could improve. Gamblers DPP Robert Morris stated that the signing of Na'Ty was to add the best talent available. It is safe to assume that the tackle position was not a main point of emphasis, but Rodgers was too good to pass up on. Starting right tackle Gennesy played for Sumlin at A&M, but possibly the nostalgia has worn off and they want the best possible player in the position.
Rodgers spent his time after UH in the CFL starting for the Montreal Alouettes, Saskatchewan Roughriders, and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He was selected for the third team all ACC in 2017. Rodgers is physical, mobile, and tough in the trenches. When thinking of the football equivalent of a pit boss, Na'Ty is the guy.
Bamidele (Bam) Olaseni / T / Ht: 6'8 / Wt: 330 / Age: 26
The third and most recently signed offensive lineman for the Gamblers is the former University of Utah left tackle, Bamidele Olaseni. DPP Morris has mentioned wanting mostly players that are from Texas or played college football in Texas as to create some immediate pride in the team. Morris absolutely broke that idea set when signing Bam as he comes from the furthest place from Texas possible, London England. The English player moved to the US to play football, and became a fan favorite on the Utah Utes with his enormous height and enormous heart giving back to the community off of the field. As far as character fit and leadership, Bam should have it covered.
Standing at 6'8 or 6'9 depending on where you look, Bam is the tallest player on the Gamblers. The starting left tackle for the Gamblers in 2022 was Brandon Hitner who stands at 6'6, which is already tall, but Morris thought to go big or go home. Coming out of the Las Vegas Raiders training camp, many thought and hoped that Bam had earned a spot on the practice squad. Narrowly missing the cut, Bam looks to raise his stock in the USFL.
Bam moves terrifyingly quick for a man his size. He keeps up with speed rushing linebackers and defensive ends, while also stalemating and most times moving bull rushers. A stud in college, but professionally still a raw talent, Bam could be an all USFL tackle next season if coached right.
These three easily bring the rough and tough pit boss mentality to Kevin Sumlin's offense. With them it is a smooth night at the casino, no whammies. It would be surprising to not see at least two of these players be 10 game starters in USFL 2023. If watching their highlights and reading about them didn't get you excited to see them in the USFL, then you just don't appreciate the offensive line enough!
What are your thoughts on these three? Do the Gamblers need even more talent on the offensive line, or do you think they are fine where they are? Let me know in the official USFL Discord!