Jim Cooper Jr. looked more like a linebacker than a kicker on Monday morning, at least for one play.
During kickoff drills, redshirt senior Marc Tyson, a 230-pound full back, was on a collision course towards the 195-pound sophomore. But Cooper was the last one standing, sending offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield and company into a frenzy on the sideline.
“Tyson kind of looked like he was squaring me up to block me,” Cooper said. “The returner was behind him, so I just tried to square him up and get past him. I wasn’t expecting that to happen. I don’t think anybody was.”
“I think I lucked out on that,” Cooper added. “Tyson, if he really wanted to, he really could’ve laid me out. So I’m going to probably just avoid him for a couple days if I can.”
Besides, Cooper, as well as the other kickers, have something else to focus on. Kicking was a big weakness for the Owls last season, with the team going 3-for-9 in field goal attempts. Cooper, who contributed more of a share through placekicking, went 0-for3 in his attempts.
During the offseason, the kickers have been taking more time in meetings breaking down film and analyzing their techniques
“We came into this offseason with our mindsets of last year wasn’t acceptable for a DI-A program,” Cooper said. “Especially one as good as Temple’s, so we needed to step our game up and I think we did that.”
“[Special teams is] a whole third of the game,” redshirt junior kicker Tyler Mayes said. “And definitely one we need to improve on in order to get better.”
After Monday morning’s practice, head coach Matt Rhule listed Mayes and freshman Austin Jones from Orlando, FL as the top contenders for first spot on the depth chart, with Cooper not very far behind. This is going off the first scrimmage from Saturday though.
Rhule added that the next scrimmage this Saturday will continue to help clear up the picture.
“The big thing is who makes the kicks in the pressure situations,” Rhule said. “I think right now that would be Tyler and Austin in the kicking game.”
But there’s still a competition for the top spot, and all three of them know that.
“As a unit we just really all improved,” Cooper said. “All three of us are just hitting really good balls and it’s just green for great competition day in and day out.”
“We know at any given time every kick that we do is being charted and is being taken into consideration,” Cooper added. “We’re taking every practice very serious. It’s a totally different feel than how it was when last season ended as far as the kicking game, because we’re just…our confidence is up right now, and the sky is really the limit for us.”
Rhule impressed with O-Line
Now that the pads are on, the offensive line has been able to do more during practice. So far, Rhule likes what he sees.
“I’m pleased with our first offensive line,” Rhule said. “I think they played well. [redshirt junior Eric Lofton] played really well at right tackle, [redshirt sophomore Robert McGowan] did a great job at right guard, [junior Shabazz Ahmed] is coming on at left guard with his quickness, [junior Kyle Friend] is really really steady all the time, and [sophomore Dion Dawkins] is playing tremendous football.”
Freshmen Aaron Ruff and James McHale have also performed well working with the second team, and could be making their way on to the field this season, even though it wouldn’t be the ideal scenario for Rhule.
“I would prefer to redshirt freshman on the offensive line so I can really build the program,” Rhule said. “But those guys might have to play so we have to wait and see.”
Other notable linemen from Monday included redshirt junior Jacob Quinn, who saw time with the first team, and redshirt freshman Leon Johnson, who Rhule said could have the potential to start if he can maintain consistency. Johnson practiced with the second team on Monday.
– Nick Tricome can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @itssnick215.