Competition was a large part of the atmosphere for Temple during its first fully-padded practice of preseason camp. “Compete,” as it says on the backs of many of the Owls’ undershirts, is a word that the team is stressing this season.
“It was a good first day (of full pads), competitive,” defensive coordinator Phil Snow said. “The coaches, we try to get into it and get the players going. What we try to do in everything that we do is compete, and there’s a winner and a loser. So you’re going to see coaches also pay the penalty with their side of the ball doing up-downs and gassers with the players.”
Coach Snow is looking for continued improvement from his defense in 2014. The Owls’ red zone defense ranked eighth in the Football Bowl Subdivision last year allowing opponents to score a field goal or touchdown on 72.7 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line.
With opponents like Pennsylvania State University and the University of Notre Dame on its schedule, rising to the occasion in pivotal moments has been a point of emphasis for Temple’s defense.
“The key to me is, are we going to make the big play to win games,” Snow said. “Because we have a lot of tough opponents. I think that is going to be the big difference between last year’s team and this year’s team.”
Senior defensive back Tavon Young is convinced that his defense is poised to replicate last year’s success.
“I just know that our defense is full of playmakers,” Young said. “I know that we play harder than everybody in the country and we practice harder than everybody. I just trust in my teammates that we are going to make plays. The goal is always to get better. I feel like we are going to be way better. When you have a lot of veterans, the game comes so much slower on defense. We’ve been through every situation. We just know how to play the game and know what it takes to win.”
With all 11 starters returning from last year, Snow said the Owls’ defense is good enough to lead the team to the American Athletic Conference Championship
“I do know that last year a lot of our stats came in about seven or eight games,” Snow said. “We didn’t play good in three or four of the ball games. We can’t do that and win our conference. We have to be consistent in what we do and that has been the whole project over the last six or seven months.”
Defensive Position Battles
While there are established veterans at several defensive positions, some younger players are in the mix for playing time as well. Only a week into camp, Coach Snow said it’s hard to determine which of these players will have significant roles until the team begins contact drills.
“Really, we’re in pajamas still,” Snow said. “We’re not tackling yet. So, after our first scrimmage, then I’ll be able to answer some of those questions. Because you can really look good in practice, it’s not all pressure at times. But now we get into a pressure situation, and a game type situation and some guys perform better than others. It’s just the way it is.”
Chandler’s second year
Defensive back Sean Chandler was the lone freshman in the starting lineup for the Owls last season. After appearing in all 12 games in 2014, the Camden, New Jersey native is taking advantage of his first full offseason.
“[Last season] definitely helped me a lot, it gave me a lot of experience,” Chandler said. “Now I am just able to build on little things from what I did last year. I’ve watched a lot of film on things that I messed up last year, like some of the big plays I gave up. But film was definitely a big thing this offseason.”
Snow said Chandler, who had 69 total tackles last season, will continue to get better in his second season with the Owls.
“One of the things, you know, I hate that ‘second year blues’ or whatever you call it,” Snow said. “I don’t even talk about that. He should be way better than he was in his first year. So that’s how we’ve approached it. He’s got to be the guy in the boundary, nobody can catch the football on him. He’s gotten bigger, stronger and he’s much better at what he does today.”
Despite being a sophomore, Chandler is mentoring some of the freshmen in this year’s class.
“A lot of them already know that I played last year,” Chandler said. “So they try to come up to me and ask ‘How is it to play as a freshman?’. I just tell them that it’s a lot of hard work and it’s a lot of long nights.”
A position change
This summer, redshirt-senior Nate D. Smith has made the transition from linebacker to defensive end.
“It’s not too bad,” Smith said. “It’s kind of easy getting used to it because I played defensive end in high school and I also played a few snaps here a few seasons ago.”
Snow said Smith’s talent will help him make the move to the line
“You know, Nate D. has a real knack for rushing the passer,” Snow said. “He really gets off on the ball, which is hard to teach and some guys just have that knack. Nate is really strong for 240 pounds. If he grabs you, he’s heavy handed and just a powerful man. He’s really going to help us at defensive end and create a lot of problems for the offensive tackle.”
Smith, who is 6 feet tall and has maintained the same weight he was as a linebacker, says that his quickness separates him from other defensive linemen.
“Just staying low is key,” Smith said. “I’m not like everybody else, other defensive ends are [6-foot-1 inches or 6-foot-2 inches] and a little heavier. I just stay low and I’m able to get off of the ball really quick. One thing I did have to work on was hand violence and I definitely improved on that.”
A healthy Jarred Alwan
Junior linebacker Jarred Alwan had offseason shoulder surgery and has been a full participant in Temple’s offseason practices.
Alwan, who missed two games last season after injuring his shoulder at Houston, has 44 career total tackles.
“It feels good,” Alwan said. “It feels like a brand new shoulder. No pain really, it’s just a little sore. I was a little hesitant on the first hit, but once I hit it, I was like ‘I’m good to go’.”
Update on Praise Martin-Oguike
Owls’ redshirt-junior defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike is battling a hamstring injury to start camp this preseason.
“My mindset is to do what I can and to do my best and to try and be physical,” Martin-Oguike said. “I’m just working on what I can work on. You’re never going to be one hundred percent, so I just try to work through it. I’ve got to make sure I take care of my body. I have to get here early in the morning. It’s a long camp and obviously every guy is going to be banged up.”
Snow said the Owls have to monitor Martin-Oguike during practice.
“Well his health has been a concern since I have been here,” Snow said. “He’s had some back problems and some other things, but he fights through it. We make him practice when he can. A certain amount of reps and we may pull him out, so we’re smart with some of the vets. The biggest thing is to get him to the games. We need him on this football team.”
Bud Knapp can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BudKnapp