Rhein Fire: Championship or Bust?
After just missing out on the playoffs with a 7-5 record in 2022, Rhein Fire is having an off-season for the ages. Besides re-signing leaders, the franchise also added difference makers in free agency to build the arguably most impressive roster the European League of Football has seen so far. So, let’s dive right into it.
Dominant offensive line-up
Foremost, there is the quarterback position. With Jadrian Clark, the team secured the quarterback that stepped in for the injured Matt Adam and elevated the franchise to new heights. The former Hamburg Sea Devils' threw for more than 2.100 yards, 23 touchdowns and only five interceptions in six games. He also had two games with more than 500 yards and six touchdowns, including a record setting 514 yards and seven touchdown performance against the Istanbul Rams. Having a full off-season with the team should go a long way for Clark, who is an early contender for the MVP watch list.
The team also strengthened the receiving corps for the upcoming season. Despite losing Timothy Knüttel, this group is looking like one of the best in the league. Retaining Nathaniel Robitaille and Harland Kwofie, whilst adding former Philadelphia Eagle Anthony Mahoungou and plenty of local talents, should further help Jadrian Clark to put up dominant performances in the passing game.
While Rhein Fire had their fair share of problems in the running game, only putting up 1400 yards and eight touchdowns, this is set to change in 2023. Besides retaining Daniel Rennich and TJ Alexander - signing Sergej Kundus, Jim Tomsula added MVP finalist and rushing yards leader Glen Toonga. Although the British running back, who put up 1.468 yards and 21 touchdowns last season, might miss some games of the upcoming campaign, he will elevate the team's running game to a new level, especially with the help of his offensive line.
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That leads us to the best unit in this whole team: The offensive line. With a starting line-up consisting of First-Team All-Star Sven Breidenbach and GFL All-Star Yasir Raji at offensive tackle, two extremely talented homegrown guards in Nick Wiens and Leander Wiegand and two time First-Team All-Star Joachim Christensen at center, this unit is set to dominate the league. With Holierhoek, Peppler, Mohr for depth, the team is in a great situation, even if injuries should occur.
Defense with only one issue
Coming from the best to the arguably worst position group, the defensive line could still need some upgrades. Although last season's DPOY runner-up Alejandro Fernández and GFL All-Star Samuel Kargel are valuable additions, the unit is not looking nearly as dominant as the rest of the team. My guess is that Rhein Fire will improve the unit by adding a US-import in the next few weeks.
The linebacker position is looking outstanding though, with Lukas Ruoss, Marius Kensy most likely starting on the inside and a rotation of Flamur Simon, Martin Pinter and GFL All-Star Lino Schröter at the outside linebacker position. Having enough proven playmakers and depth, this unit ranks among the league's best and is comparable to the Frankfurt Galaxy and Stuttgart Surge groups.
Last, but certainly not least, there is the defensive backfield. With Daniel Duah, Omari Williams, Till Janssen and Richard Grooten, Rhein Fire kept their starters and added a talented player in Benjamin Barnes. With plenty of third-year veterans suiting up for the team in 2023, there is just the right mix of talent and experience that usually goes a long way for teams.
With a roster like that, the mission is clear: Rhein Fire has to win the European League of Football Championship Game on September 24th, that will take place at their home field. That’s the expectation from themselves and their fans. But in a conference with powerhouses like the Hamburg Sea Devils, Frankfurt Galaxy and newcomers Paris Saints, reaching the finals will not be an easy task. Rhein Fire went from underdogs to top dogs in one off-season, putting pressure on the organization and its players.
Will we see a dominant performance by an outstanding roster, or will things take a turn rather quickly if the team has a bad start to the season? Only time will tell.