The Memphis Showboats will be playing their first UFL game against the Houston Roughnecks at Rice Stadium and the matchup presents a unique Tennessee twist.

The Roughnecks (previously the USFL Houston Gamblers) will start former University of Tennessee star quarterback, Jarrett Guarantano. A Washington State University graduate, Guarantano spent his first three years of eligibility at the University of Tennessee. He passed for 3,028 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushed for another 523 yards and 12 touchdowns. A Golden Arm candidate during the Vols 2020 season, Guarantano racked up several honorable mentions and awards during his college career. Despite going undrafted in the 2022 draft, Guarantano spent time in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals and the Denver Broncos before signing with the Roughnecks in December of 2023.

Comparing Quarterbacks

Unlike Houston’s Jarrett Guarantano who is new to spring football, Case Cookus played quarterback for the USFL Philadelphia Stars and led them to the 2022 Championship. Acquiring Cookus in the dispersal draft was a huge boost to the Showboats and should provide an edge for the team in the quarterback position. He brings superior arm strength, experience, and leadership to the Showboats.

On The Ground

Another area where the Showboats could have an advantage is in the running game. The Roughnecks will most likely be playing on Sunday without their star RB, Mark Thompson. His injury is listed as a sprained knee and he is doubtful for the game.  In his absence, T.J. Pledger will probably get the starting assignment from Head Coach C.J. Johnson. A former running back for the XSFL Houston Gamblers, T.J. Pledger proved last year that he can carry the additional workload.

Tiyon Evans is also on hand to step in for the injured Thompson. After playing college football at both Louisville and Tennessee, Evans posted over 1,000 yards rushing during his collegiate career. A veteran of the NFL Rams and Carolina Panthers before signing with the Gamblers in December of 2023, Evans could provide a capable replacement for Thompson as he recovers.

Leading the ground game for the Showboats is the 2022 USFL Offensive Player Of The Year, Darius Victor. During Victor’s time with the New Jersey Generals, he proved to be a fast and elusive RB and more than capable of lighting up the scoreboard when he gets open.

The Receiving Corps

One area where the Roughnecks may have an advantage is their wide receiving group stacked with several returning Houston players. KeKe Chism, Anthony Ratliff-Williams, and Justin Hall have experience playing as a unit and are the core of this group. In addition, two former New Orleans Saints WRs, Emmanuel Butler and Kirk Merritt along with Denver Bronco’s WR, Steve Dunbar are newcomers to the team. Veteran NFL WR, Cyril Grayson should expect to see action as well. A former collegiate track star at LSU, Grayson joined Case Cookus during the 2022 Philadelphia Stars Championship season.

Unlike the familiar returning Roughnecks WR crew, Vinny Papale is the only Showboats wide receiver from last season. Head Coach John DeFilippo has put together a cohesive WR crew featuring key players from his former Breakers team including Papale, Dee Anderson, and Jonathan Adams. Based on reports coming out of training camp, Adams in particular, looks poised to make a big contribution this season.

The Defense

The Showboats will face a strong group of defensive players on Sunday. Former Houston Gambler, DE Chris Odom was named the 2022 USFL Defensive Player of the Year and teammate Adam Rodriguez made the All-USFL team in 2023 with the Philadelphia Stars. A new addition to the team, former Pittsburgh Maulers DL Carlos Kemp promises to be a big contributor along with formidable defensive tackle, Keonte Schad.

The Memphis Showboats defense will be championed by ALL-USFL defensive tackle John Atkins, Sr. Atkins made an impact in the league with 55 tackles over two years. He will be joined by returning players Jeff McCulloch, and Greg Reaves and Memphis newcomer, Tyshon Render. McCulloch and Reaves will try to contain Darius Victor while former New Jersey Generals LB, Tyshon Render, recovered from his season-ending injury, should make make a strong impact with his new team.

The matchup against Houston’s defense promises to be a strong test for Case Cookus and the Showboats. If Cookus and the offense capitalize on coverage gaps to find the end zone, this game could go a long way in establishing the Showboats as the team to beat this season.

author avatar
Sue Levine
Sue Levine spent the past five years creating and producing a successful weekly health and wellness podcast starring a wonderful iconic woman as the program host. As part of Sue's responsibilities, she scripted every episode and discovered a genuine love of writing. When the podcast ended late last year, she shifted the focus of her writing to covering pro sports. A passionate fan of NFL and UFL football as well as fantasy, she is delighted to be able to share her articles with other football fans.

Leave a comment

Sign Up Now

Become a member of our online community and get tickets to upcoming matches or sports events faster!
UFL News Hub