Former offensive lineman Gordon Thomas plugged his iPhone into a speaker as the Owls’ offensive unit filed in for their meeting Thursday morning at Edberg-Olson Hall.
Thomas blasted “Juicy” by The Notorious B.I.G. as the players and offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude rapped along to parts of the song.
It is Thomas’ job to “set the mood” before meetings and practice, coach Geoff Collins said.
Before Temple’s final pre-practice meeting, Thomas played “I’ll Whip Ya Head Boy” by 50 Cent. Tight ends and special teams coach Ed Foley then stepped up in front of the entire team and started dancing.
The Owls carried that energy from the meeting room onto the practice field at 9:30 a.m. as they continue to prepare for their season-opener on Sept. 1 against Villanova.
The program welcomed reporters to an all-access day on Thursday. Here’s a look at what happened in the meeting rooms and on the field.
Offense continues to makes strides in second year of Collins era
At the beginning of Thursday’s offensive meeting, Patenaude told his players that roughly 90 percent of the offensive playbook has been installed so far.
At this time last year, the offense was not on the same page, Patenaude said. Wide receivers ran the wrong routes, the offensive line struggled with communication and Patenaude had to answer questions from players after each play, he said during the meeting.
“We aren’t making the big mistakes, receivers are running the right routes and we are making amazing progress,” Patenaude said. “The only thing we need to work on is perfecting each play call now.”
Junior wide receiver Isaiah Wright and redshirt-sophomore center Matt Hennessy agree with Patenaude’s assessment of the offense. Wright feels he can play more freely, which enables him to play his best.
“I’ll admit last year, I had to think first then play freely second,” Wright said. “I’m excited because I can just play this year and not have to overthink about my assignment too much.”
“I am just more comfortable with the basics this year,” Hennessy said. “Then when it comes to the second year, we start to open up the playbook and other little nuances that let us get more advanced in playcalling.”
O-linemen hone their communication skills
Offensive line coach Chris Wiesehan preached the value of communication when addressing his unit during Thursday morning’s positional meeting.
After a brief film study, Wiesehan instructed his players to arrange the chairs in the main meeting room in Edberg-Olson Hall into three different defenses. His players then cycled through the three stations, manned by Wiesehan, Thomas and graduate assistant Cody Booth.
The players walked to each station, and the coaches moved around to give them different looks a defensive front might show in a game. The players had to communicate to get on the same page to make the correct blocks.
Wiesehan said the goal of the drill is to get his players to talk as much as possible, so all uncertainty can be fixed before taking the practice field.
“It’s a fast game when you play inside,” Wiesehan said. “There are a lot of moving parts. You have to be able to move in unison. When you are unsure, it is hard to be confident. When you are unsure, it is hard to be physical.”
Wiesehan wants his players to be comfortable playing every position along the offensive line and said communication drills will help their versatility.
Each offensive lineman played almost every position on the line Thursday, including Hennessy, who started 12 games at center last season.
“It is all about finding the best starting lineup,” Hennessy said. “If one guy gets injured, everything can be shuffled around. So all of us get prepared for that.”
The first unit during the drill featured freshman Isaac Moore and redshirt junior Jovahn Fair to Hennessy’s left with graduate James McHale and redshirt senior Jaelin Robinson to his right. The five offensive linemen lined up with graduate quarterback Frank Nutile.
Redshirt sophomores Vincent Picozzi and Darian Bryant weren’t dressed for yesterday’s practice, but Wiesehan said they are “fine” and sat out for “precautionary reasons.” Bryant didn’t play last season, while Picozzi played in 10 games and started four of the final five games of 2017.
Young players making a strong impression
Redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Branden Mack made his presence felt throughout practice.
On numerous occasions, the 6-foot-5-inch receiver used his long frame to position himself to catch 50-50 balls. During one drill, Mack took transfer senior cornerback Rock Ya-Sin down the right sideline and boxed out the smaller Ya-Sin to make a jumping catch.
Mack mostly played special teams snaps last season. He had two catches for 23 yards after not playing as a true freshman in 2016.
“Branden really had a great winter workout,” Nutile said. “He put on a lot of weight and got faster. Spring ball, he played really well. And during the summer he really attacked the weight room, and it is showing now. He is making a lot of plays for us, and he can be a guy that helps us out a ton.”
Redshirt-freshman wideout Jadan Blue used his speed across the middle to make an impact with the first unit. Nutile showed his trust in the young receiver during a red-zone drill. He threw a high pass that Blue nearly hauled in for a highlight-reel, one-handed catch.
Along the offensive line, Moore and freshman Adam Klein earned reps at left tackle with the first unit.
Moore joined the program in Spring 2018 and has shown the desire to improve since the first day he arrived from Sweden, Hennessy said.
“Isaac would call me at weird times asking to meet up and go over film,” Hennessy said. “He has been all about winning since he got here. To get better, he always worries about extra film work and extra technique work. He makes my job easy in coaching him up and getting him ready to contribute.”
“Klein and Moore have picked things up quickly and are really tough guys,” Nutile said. “They are really hard workers and smart players. They can help us now and definitely help us in the near future.”
As it continues preparing for the 2018 season, Temple will practice at Lower Cape May High Regional School in South Jersey on Saturday. The team will also hold a one-hour autograph session at Morey’s Piers on the boardwalk in Wildwood, New Jersey, at 1 p.m.