5 Things Learned From Spring Practice

Connecticut v Temple

Sharif Finch #56, Tavon Young #1, Jahad Thomas #5, and Dion Dawkins #66 of the Temple Owls celebrate with the American Conference East Division trophy. Most of the guys in this photo return.  (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The outside perception of Temple football is that the Owls lost so much senior leadership that they cannot possibly repeat as AAC East champions, let alone contend for the title.

Temple fans know differently, though, because the tradition of single-digit numbers dictates the Owls have plenty of battle-tested leadership returning. Teammates vote single digits to the nine toughest players on the team and five of those single-digit players from last year are returning this season. That’s a solid enough foundation of both leadership and toughness returning for the Owls to make a significant run at the overall title.

Other than the bombshell of three-year starting receiver Romond Deloatch being switched to defense, the Owls had a number of surprising developments coming out of the annual Cherry and White game on Saturday. These five stood out most for head coach Matt Rhule’s team.

Connecticut v Temple

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

5. Jahad Thomas Could Be Switched To Slot

Thomas was named first-team All-AAC tailback with 17 rushing touchdowns and 1,287 rushing yards, but all six of his 100-yard games were in the first half of the season. To maximize his game-breaking talent and preserve his body, Rhule said Thomas could be split out and used as a slot receiver.

Temple v SMU

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

4. Ryquell Armstead Leads Tailback War

The war for starting tailback appears to be won by sophomore Ryquell Armstead, whose experience as a high school track star—he ran a New Jersey state-best 10.8 in the 100 meters as a senior—makes him a home run threat. Do not sell another sophomore, Jager Gardner, short. Against SMU, Gardner had the longest run from scrimmage, a 96-yard touchdown, in Temple history.

AAC Championship - Temple v Houston

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

3. Sean Chandler Moves To Safety

Only two players in the nation had multiple interception returns for touchdowns and one was Temple cornerback Sean Chandler. With the emergence of four-star recruit Kareem Ali Jr. at one corner, Chandler could take those break-on-the-ball instincts to the middle of the field and play safety.

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2. Linebackers Strength Of Defense

While Temple opponents can be comforted by the fact that All-American linebacker Tyler Matakevich has graduated, Temple fans know the real deal is that three starting linebackers—Avery Williams (2), Jarred Alwan (41) and Stephaun Marshall (6)—return with a total of 40 starts under their belts. “Our chemistry was ridiculous (in spring practice),” Alwan said. That meant ridiculously good, not ridiculously bad.

AAC Championship - Temple v Houston

  (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

  1. QB P.J. Walker Is Difference-Maker

While the focus is on Houston quarterback Greg Ward and USF quarterback Quenton Flowers, P.J. Walker could be the conference’s best quarterback this season. If he makes the same jump from junior to senior year as he did from sophomore to junior season, the Owls could take home the AAC title. Walker jumped from 13 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions as a sophomore to a 19 and eight as a junior. A similar jump should mean a title.

Thursday: Real Key To Season

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15 thoughts on “5 Things Learned From Spring Practice

  1. Mike, any learnings regarding special teams?

    • Kicking and punting is solid. As far as punt returns, I didn’t see any on Saturday. If they have to use a starter (Champ), use him; otherwise, give Ali/Nate Smith (we don’t have to use L anymore)/Simpson a shot.

      • the OL is an issue, depth at WR is outstanding, depth at DB is outstanding, stopping the run could be an issue, and don’t count on Ali being the starter…., think MR is leaning towards big Seattle like CBs…., we need a leader on the OL..,

  2. The left offensive tackle is a future pro, The leaders will be him and the center. Other kids can step up and get bigger in the 19 or so weeks until the Army game.

  3. One more thing. If your skilled guys are above average, you can implement schemes using quick passes, counters, traps, sweeps, roll outs, and quick hitting runs to hide the deficiency. Teams can’t hide average skill guys.

    • counters, traps, roll outs disappeared from the Temple playbook years ago.., maybe the new OC will re-discover…, some on the OL are big enough but seem to lack the passion, will, dedication, and grit…., i thought the new run game coordinator would make a difference.., hopefully he will be able to start coaching on his feet by the summer

  4. I was at the scrimmage the week before Cherry and White and they were doing some of that stuff. Teams keep it simple during Spring games because you never know who’s watching.

  5. Comments from Rutgers Chris Ash (nj.com) about Temple Football from their ND game when he was watching film on them

    “I was really impressed with the way their players played,” Ash said. “They played hard, they were tough, they looked well-coached. Then I looked at their roster and I see where the majority of all their players are from. They’re from this area between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I think there are 80-something players on their roster from that area. It was kind of inspiring for me to think about the way I watched them play on film if we could build a team like that here, I’d be pretty happy and pretty excited about it.”

    Thoughts??

    • The Owls have definitely built their team locally with a strong garden state contingent. I would say one team can recruit 80 players to build a team of this caliber but I doubt there’s enough talent for two teams to draft in the area and field top-25 programs. An important thing to keep in mind is all the big boys are also recruiting this area hard and Temples had to fight them off or find diamonds in the rough. If Ash is successful with a similar approach it will come at a cost to the owls.

      • maybe it will come at the expense of the other P5 schools in the Big 10 and ACC?.., look at how many kids we took from the P5 this year..,

        if Rutgers is successful then it may mean the other P5 schools will not enjoy the same level of success as in previous years…, (I don’t like Rutgers and still wish them success, our area kids need to stay close to home)

        promising area three and four star athletes now have a legitimate choice, stay home or go to the mid-West, etc…,

        the Top G-5 school will play in a NY6 Bowl Game and compete with anyone in the country.., Houston beat FSU with kids they took from Texas and Texas AM..,

    • My primary thought is Temple has an inherent recruiting advantage over RU because kids in South Jersey and SE Pa. see themselves as Philadelphia kids. I don’t think they have the same affinity for Piscataway. Temple should be able to out-recruit Rutgers regardless of the P5 and G5 designations.

      • I agree with your point about these kids identifying as philly kids. I moved to California twenty years ago and everyone I’ve met from south jersey or southeast PA identifies as a Philadelphian.

        However, the lure playing in a P5 conference is a legitimate recruiting tool that definitely has a strong allure for a stud high school player. We’re fortunate RU is a bottom dweller ‘somewhere in the swamps of jersey’ but many of these kids sign up for P5 programs in more remote locations. If we’re able to consistently beat the P5 schools we’re in a good place. If we continue to play MAC teams in bowl games we really don’t have a story.

  6. One of the worst decisions in Temple sports administration history was to take Boca over Birmingham. Temple had its pick of 3 bowls and picked the worst one. (This is not hindsight; I warned against this pick when it was on the table.)

  7. Temple’s recruiting is getting more far-flung, eg: the QB from California (we had him but he left for good reason). Keep getting the Walkers, Thomases, Matakeviches, Ionidises, Jager-Gardners,etc. and the Owls will be ok. I for one am not looking for a national championship, just decency (winning records, bowl games, top 25 rankings would be nice, and those top grades nationally in the classroom) on a consistent basis. As Temple builds up it’s program those better players will still come here, especially if they can get a shot at the NFL. This coming season will be important to keep things going upward.

    • for all the criticism of Fran Dunphy, I will be thrilled .. thrilled … if in the next 10 years we win three overall league titles, 2 regular-season ones and a couple of bowl games because that’s exactly what Dunphy has done in the last 10 years (although it can be argued winning those 2 March Madness games is way more tougher than winning two bowl games). So far, we’ve come up well short of Dunphy’s high standards in the last 8 years of football.

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