To end last Tuesday’s practice, the Owls’ offense squared up with the defense in a third-down competition. On the last play of the drill, wide receiver Ventell Bryant ran his route and settled in an open spot just beyond the first-down marker.
Junior quarterback P.J. Walker fired the ball to the redshirt freshman and he secured the catch in between a couple of defenders for a first down. Coach Matt Rhule said this may be a sign of things to come when Temple takes the field next season.
“If you say, ‘Hey, who do you want to get in there and run a play on 3rd-and-7?’ He’s kind of becoming that guy,” Rhule said of his young receiver. “He’s having a great spring so far. He has to keep it up. As a freshman it’s always hard to keep it up, but if he can keep it up he’ll have a great fall.”
Last season, Bryant sat out as a redshirt. While at first disappointed by not playing, Bryant used his time to train and adjust to life as a college wide receiver.
“The redshirt year was more of a learning year,” Bryant said. “Getting stronger, learning the system and learning the plays, just trying to attack every day for this upcoming season.”
Adding onto his 6-foot 3-inch frame was one of the primary concerns for the Tampa, Florida native as he sat out last season. On his rivals.com recruiting page, Bryant was marked at 160 pounds in his senior year of high school.
Currently, he is listed at 180 pounds on the team roster and said he may even be closer to 185 pounds at this point.
“He was skinny,” Rhule said of Bryant when he entered the program. “He wasn’t real physically developed and … the staff in the weight room have done a great job. Now you see a kid that’s walking around like a different guy physically.”
His teammates have seen the added strength materialize into results so far on the practice field. Catches like Bryant’s grab between defenders to end practice last Tuesday are examples of the added strength paying off.
“He’s catching the ball, bringing it in, snagging it,” senior wide receiver Brandon Shippen said. “That’s all just from working out and strength when you can catch the ball and bring it in through traffic.”
With the graduation of last season’s top wideout, Jalen Fitzpatrick, there is little certainty about the Owls’ receiving corps.
Fitzpatrick totaled 53 catches for 730 yards last year and hauled in six of the team’s 13 receiving touchdowns last season. No other receiver totaled more than 200 yards.
After a year of sitting, Bryant sees an opportunity to compete for playing time at his position in 2015.
“It’s definitely open competition,” Bryant said. “Everyone works hard to try and get on the field. Only a certain amount of guys can travel, so when your chance is called, you have to make the best of your abilities.”
While he has shown promise early in camp, Bryant is still learning the position. Shippen, who entered the program on the defensive side of the ball, can relate to the learning process that his redshirt-freshman teammate is going through.
Originally a cornerback, Shippen switched to wide receiver last season and went through the challenges of learning how to play the position at the college level. Learning plays, running routes and adjusting to coverages are all difficult things to pick up, Shippen said.
“[Freshmen need] thousands and thousands of reps, watching tape, talking to the coaches, spending time in the facilities,” Shippen said. “You have to. Because if you don’t, you’re going to go out there and not know what you’re doing and mess the whole play up.”
Early in his career, Bryant has embraced this work ethic. He said he comes every Saturday and catches passes from Walker. He also watches tape of NFL players like Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons to pick up ways to get better.
Bryant said veteran players like Shippen are setting an example for him to follow in order to become a starter for this team.
“Basically just coming in studying,” Bryant said of how his older teammates are helping him. “Trying to study, go over the plays, teaching me habits to be a starter.”
Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.