Experienced offensive line still has room to grow

The Owls’ offensive line brings back five key members from last year’s team and hopes to build off success playing together last season.

There are no days off for Temple’s offensive line. The guys on the other side of the ball make sure of that.

In practice, the Owls’ offensive line goes up against a defensive front featuring a pair of second team All-American Athletic Conference honorees in redshirt-junior Praise Martin-Oguike and senior Matt Ioannidis.

Ioannidis, Martin-Oguike and the rest of the group go all out all the time, forcing their teammates to do the same.

“It makes things a hell of a lot harder, I’ll tell you that,” redshirt-senior offensive linemen Eric Lofton said. “It’s fun though coming out there because every day I can’t come out there and be like ‘I don’t feel like practicing today’ and not practice as hard because somebody across the ball he’s going hard every play. You have Praise, Hershey [Walton], Matt, Jacob Martin, Sharif [Finch], all those guys. Practice gets fun.”

The Owls allowed 22 sacks in 12 games last season— the 39th fewest sacks per game among Football Bowl Subdivision teams in 2014.

Primary contributors returning to the offensive line along with Lofton are seniors Kyle Friend, a second team All-American Athletic Conference selection, and Shahbaz Ahmed, redshirt-junior Brendan McGowan and junior Dion Dawkins.

Having some continuity and existing chemistry heading into this offseason aided the development of the group this summer.

“Last year, at times, we didn’t all play together,” Lofton said. “During the offseason we got a stronger bond together. Everybody’s bigger and stronger now. We know a lot of the team’s success rides on us, so we knew we had to get a lot better this offseason. We had no choice.”

Coach Matt Rhule, a former New York Giants assistant offensive line coach, said he has an offensive line that might see some of its members in NFL training camps next summer.

“I think Kyle’s going to have a chance,” Rhule said. “It should be interesting to see some of the other guys on offense like Eric, Shahbaz, how they develop. Eric’s only played for a year and Shahbaz has only played for a year. So if they continue to develop, they’ve got the measurables and the tools to play.”

A number of less experienced players will be looked upon to contribute to Temple’s offensive line. Senior Julio Derosier, redshirt-sophomores Semaj Reed and Leon Johnson, and sophomore Brian Carter all saw limited action last season.

Rhule said Carter and Johnson are two players he thinks have big upsides.

“Leon Johnson is as talented as anybody we’ve had,” Rhule said. “He hasn’t really stepped up yet. We’re expecting him to step up…I’m expecting Brian Carter to be one of the better players in the league.”

Others in the mix on the line include redshirt-freshmen Aaron Ruff , James McHale and Jaelin Robinson and true freshmen Benson Israel and Jovahn Fair. Ruff was Temple’s top-ranked recruit last season when he was rated as a four-star prospect by Rivals.com.

Lofton said the upperclassmen have made sure the younger players buy into a team-first approach as they work this summer.

“We have guys who make sure everything is going as planned, who make sure no one is straying away from our common goal” Lofton said. “That’s what we’re trying to protect as leaders, make sure everybody has that same mindset as us.”

Junior quarterback P.J. Walker has received some national attention heading into this season. Walker was placed on the pre-season watch list for the Manning Award, presented to the best quarterback in college football.

Helping the quarterback reach his potential is something the line embraces.

“It’s exciting,” Lofton said. “P.J.’s one of the best quarterback’s in the nation, so if we can protect him there’s no telling what he can do…It just gives us motivation. We have to protect him to make sure he can accomplish all those things.”

Owen McCue can be reached at owen.mccue@temple.edu or on Twitter @Owen_McCue

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