Temple Tea Leaves

owlfans

Love this photo because it shows the level of fan support in background.

When practices are closed to the media, as they are for all but the last 10 minutes this spring, reading from the snippets is probably the best way to glean information.

What we did learn from the first practice was at least two fascinating things: One, the first play from scrimmage was a handoff to Nick Sharga, and, two, that the guy new head coach Geoff Collins was playing catch with at the end of practice was Anthony Russo.

It probably takes a huge leap of faith forward to interpret those two facts into an increased role for Sharga in the offense to a favorite at the quarterback position, but that’s all we have right now.

It makes sense, though, for at least two reasons.

One, Collins got close to Sharga in the legal activities part of the offseason as his position coach. Collins named himself the fullbacks coach, much like Al Golden named himself the special teams coach in his first year.

Collins probably knows what he has in Sharga is exactly what former coach Matt Rhule said he had: An NFL fullback. An increased role for Sharga only makes more sense in that light. In addition to being a terrific blocker, Sharga also carried the ball effectively a year ago, gaining 97 yards on 18 carries, a 6.9 average.  Giving the ball to Sharga a few times a game, even two or three, keeps the defense from keying in on guys like Ryquell Armstead and Jager Gardner.

The Russo thing is particularly interesting because Collins could have had a catch with any of his five starting quarterback candidates but chose that one.

Reading too much into it?

Maybe, but until the Cherry and White game, that looks like all that we will have.

Wednesday: Rookie of The Year?

Case For the Defense

The best two-minute description of the 5-2 defense on the internet.

If Geoff Collins follows up on some of the terrific things he says, he will hit the ground running as a great head coach at Temple University.

That’s a concern only because Matt Rhule’s first couple of years were an attempt to hit the ground running, but the footing was somewhat muddy. In many cases, Rhule made the job harder by soiling those waters.

usc

What a USC 5-2 would look like at Temple, with Sharif Finch at left end, Karamo Diuobate at left tackle, Freddy Booth-Lloyd at nose guard, Michael Dogbe (or Greg Webb) at right tackle and single-digit Jacob Martin at right end.

The one comment that stood out positively during Collins’ first press conference—and one he has repeated several times since—was that Collins’ system would be tailored around the specific talents of the players he had in the room and not try to force feed a system on an ill-fitting set of players.

Two years into Rhule’s tenure, he had an Epiphany that led him to a program-changing decision—ditching the multiple wide-receiver sets and going to a fullback and play-action offense—and that became as much of the unique Temple identity as the triple option is to Navy.  The reason he gave was that he had a “NFL fullback” and wanted to utilize that asset.

Now Collins has reached the crossroads between words and action.

Collins has an overabundance of high-end talent on the defensive line and a dearth of similar-type talent across a line-backing corps. If Collins is serious about building a system around the talent at hand, the Owls will go to a 5-2-4 defensive alignment—two ends, two tackles and a nose guard, two linebackers and four defensive backs.

The 5-2 is not used much in college football anymore, but where it has it has been successful. Last year, USC ran the 5-2 and had the most sacks in the PAC-12 conference.

If you believe, as I do, the key to stopping these good pass offenses today is to put the quarterback on his backside, the 5-2 defense is probably the best way to do that without exposing the back line of your defense with a steady diet of blitzes.

Anything that creates Mayhem is a good thing and with the talent of the Temple pass rushers and interior defensive linemen in the system now, that’s probably the best way for this team to go.

If Collins works to put that kind of defense in place this spring, he will hit the ground running. Unlike Rhule, he will not have to run in a quagmire.

Monday: Tea Leaves

Wednesday: Rookie Of The Year

With Hixon, Old Is New

hixon

Stan Hixon will have to ditch the blue and grab the Cherry.

Old habits can be hard to break and, for Stan Hixon, coaching is an old habit and he seems to be a perfect fit for Temple football.

Hixon, 59, who has coached at a variety of places, seems the perfect candidate to replace a guy who came to Temple, stayed a couple of months, and was off to his next job as wide receivers’ coach at East Carolina.

First of all, the guy who Hixon replaced, Keith Gaither, was the coach of the wide receivers at Army, which never throws the ball.

That cannot be said of the past Hixon stops, more importantly, the current one. The Owls plan to throw the ball around the lot early and often and, with their wide receiving corps, that sounds like a plan. Hixon’s last stop was the Houston Texas where he was united with former Penn State buddy Bill O’Brien.

Some buddy.

O’Brien ended up firing Hixon in January of 2016, but the Hixon resume withstands the test of time and his experience—although with the depth of new offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude’s experience—should be beneficial to the Owls’ offense.

I like this hiring for at least two reasons. One, Collins is a relatively young guy and Temple has had success in the past when a young head coach (Al Golden with George DeLeone and Matt Rhule with Phil Snow) has an “old head” to lean on for guidance. Two, at a variety of big-time stops Hixon must have proven himself as a recruiter and Temple having the 127th-ranked recruiting class was a huge red flag. If Collins is thinking about moving on in one or two years, that kind of class is no big deal to the coaching staff (but it will affect the fans). If he’s thinking about staying and building confidence with the fan base, he’s going to have to get Temple closer to the top half than the bottom half of the recruiting wars in a year.

Temple certainly needs a recruiter with the chops of a Fran Brown or a Terry Smith and Hixon could be that guy.

Not only was Hixon wide receivers’ coach with the Texans, but he had that job with the Redskins and the Buffalo Bills in addition to numerous college coaching stops. So he knows what it takes to develop a NFL-level talent at the position, which is good news for the Owls’ returning receivers—Ventell Byrant, Adonis Jennings, Marshall Ellick and Keith Kirkwood—who all have an NFL skill set.

Hixon can take that knowledge into homes of recruits and hopefully bring up the Owls’ recruiting ranking from 127 in the nation to respectability for Geoff Collins’ first full recruiting class.

Recruiting has to be a habit, too,  and, in Hixon, the Owls have their oldest hand.

Friday: Case For the Defense

 

Hope Springs Eternal

Cherry and White is a month and two days away.

While today is the first day of spring, and hopefully the end of all of this brutally cold last two weeks, it also marks the first day of spring football practice at Temple University.

On each one of these days every year, I print out the official team roster on Owlsports.com and look for names that I either don’t recognize or intrigue me.

Consider me intrigued by one Julian Conover, No. 27 in your game program.

newfinch

                               If Mayhem means this, I’m for it.

The first thing that sticks out about him is that Conover is a linebacker and the Owls will need linebackers to replace the three departed starters of a year ago.

The next—and perhaps most important –thing is that the redshirt freshman was a first-team New Jersey All-State linebacker at Don Bosco.  That’s significant in and of itself in that there aren’t too many first-team all-state players who walk on in college football.

Usually, first-team all-state players get scholarships and, while there was significant interest in Conover as a Bosco senior, there were no scholarship offers from FBS teams.  Part of that reason might have been that he is a little on the light side (205 pounds on a 6-3 frame), but Tyler Matakevich was 6-1, 205 coming out of prep school so the obstacle is not insurmountable.

What Conover and Matakevich had in common was good film of what they did on the field and that’s all that matters.

Given the Owls need linebackers (Jared Folks and fullback Nick Sharga really are the only players on the team with significant playing time at the position), monitoring Conover’s progress as the spring goes on should be one of the bullet points of this one-month season.

Wednesday: Old Is New

Shamrock Shakeup Month

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Sharif Finch is back to make Mayhem plays like this in 2017.

In a couple of days, a Month of Mayhem will start at the Edberg-Olson Football Complex with the beginning of Spring Practice culminating on Cherry and White Day, April 22.

If successful, fans crammed into that tiny space on that day—when there is a much bigger one available four blocks south—will not notice the difference.

That’s because Mayhem was already pretty much a part of the Temple Defense DNA over the last few years.

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Simply put, the “Mayhem” stat new head coach Geoff Collins admires and bases his defensive concept on counts the percentage of plays on defense that end in a sack, fumble, tackle for loss or interception and those are the kind of stats Collins gears his defensive scheme to achieve. His players then started calling him the “Minister of Mayhem” and the nickname stuck.

If Collins is the “Minister of Mayhem” then he probably already met the “Kings of Mayhem” and they are our own Temple Owls. Going into the Wake Forest debacle, Temple’s DL was No. 1 in the nation in “Havoc Rate” which is a team’s total tackles for loss, passes defensed, and forced fumbles.

In this month of drinking Shamrock Shakes, Collins’ own shakeup should look more like a tweak.

havoc

So while Temple was nation’s No. 1 disrupting defense, at least in the 2016 regular season, can it be better? Sure, if Collins and new coordinator Taver Johnson tweak things a little to accentuate the strengths of the Owls—a defensive line that includes proven players like Sharif Finch, Jacob Martin, Michael Dogbe, Greg Ward, Freddy Booth-Lloyd , Karamo Dioubate,  among others—and masks areas that could be weaker, like the linebackers. Essentially, Temple has a solid group of linemen and defensive backs and will have to replace three starters at linebacker, Jared Alwan, Avery Williams and Stephaun Marshall.

To do this, if Collins plays a 5-2 he will have to replace only two linebacker starters and have a proven player up front to create this havoc we all seek.

Just a little tweak, but an important one to keep a good thing going because the Owls have been all about Mayhem for at least the last couple of years.

Monday: Opening Day

 

Crunching Leadership Numbers

More leaders coming back in these 32 seconds than have left.

A few weeks ago, someone broached a question about who the leaders will be on the 2017 Temple football team.

It was a fair question because a couple of leaders left on offense and a couple of more left on defense in Jahad Thomas and P.J. Walker and Haason Reddick and Nate Hairston.

The answer lies in the numbers.

 

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This (left) more than made up for that (right).

 

 

Or, in this case, the number because the returning single-digit guys—particularly Nick Sharga and Ventell Byrant on offense and Jacob Martin and Champ Chandler on defense—are natural-born leaders and provide enough quantity to go along with the quality.

It’s no coincidence that Thomas, Walker and Reddick were single-digit guys and there is no law against any of the other guys assuming leadership roles, as No. 15 Hairston did by locking down one corner.

Anyone who thinks there is a dearth of leadership on the 2017 team should be disabused of that notion.

All you had to do was look at the widely viewed tape of “The Drive” when Bryant not only caught three clutch passes in 32 seconds against UCF, but staggered to his position just before the final play from scrimmage. Any other player would have been so hurt he remained down but, even though he was groggy he had enough sense to realize that if he had stayed down, there would have been a 10-second runoff and Temple would have lost the game.

That’s leadership.

That presence of mind led to the latest single-digit guy, Keith Kirkwood, who saw a ball in the air and knew he had to catch or the game was over. Kirkwood made a great catch in the back of the end zone and the Owls were on their way to a seven-game winning streak.

Kirkwood, Bryant and Adonis Jennings, among others, give the Owls what I feel is their best receiving corps since Van Johnson and Troy Kersey were on the same team.

On defense, with Chandler in the middle of the field for a full season and Martin and Sharif Finch creating Mayhem in the pocket on defense, the Owls are in good shape.

At this point, it should be fun watching this team develop their own identity between now and opening day.

 

Friday:  Month of Mayhem

Fizzy Finally Gets To Meet The Big Guy

donuts

Dollars to Donuts Geoff Collins has passed the first Fizzy eye test.

Another in the occasional series of stories posted here by former Temple player Dave Weinraub, who was once involved in a benches-clearing brawl at the end of a game at Temple Stadium. Hopefully, he will write about that soon.

By: Dave (Fizzy) Weinraub

 

Well gang, it’s not often I have something to comment on before the football season begins.   If I do, it’s usually to bring up something that left a bad taste in my mouth from the prior season.  But I’m not going to even mention anything from last year, as a new era has begun.

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Geoff Collins: Diamond Club Gem

This past Wednesday, we had a nice crowd at an “Old-Timers” lunch in the Diamond Club, and had the opportunity to break bread with our new head coach, Geoff Collins.   I’m pleased to tell you I came away with a fine first impression.  Of course, you should trust my instincts.  Everyone knows I’ve been a 92% successful play-caller from the stands.

 

Yeah, I know it’s almost impossible to make a prediction about a coach before he even has his first spring practice.  However, let me tell you why I walked away feeling good about Geoff Collins.

 

  1. He told us about the breadth of his experience, and the coaches he worked with and learned from.  He gave us specific examples of what he learned from some very successful guys.

 

  1. He admitted he thought he was ready to be a head coach a long time ago, but really wasn’t.  (I, on the other hand, I thought I was ready when I came out of the womb.)

 

  1. Even though he hasn’t even had spring practice yet, the legal activities he’s already had with the team seem to indicate he’s already captured their enthusiasm.

 

  1. He’s anchored in reality, and gave an honest appraisal of the fact that we’re only getting, right now, two star recruits at best, and often no star recruits.  He also let it slip in he’s won a national recruiting award.

 

  1. He’s already assimilated to our city.  For example; Although the house he bought is in Chestnut Hill, he tells everyone it’s in North-West Philly because it sounds tougher.

 

If you’ve previously read a few of my critiques regarding our games, you know I’m certainly no “homer.”  With Collins’ background, I’m confident he’ll eventually develop a very strong defense.  That leaves me worried about the offense, with a slew of coaches new to this level.  Of course, there’s always a slew  of “old-timers” ready to give advice.

 

PS:  Good News – The $1.5 million study for the new stadium has been “tabled.”  Has common sense prevailed?

Wednesday: Crunching The Numbers

Friday: Month of Mayhem