Avery Williams preached constantly to reporters last season that they should watch out for the young group of linebackers behind him on the depth chart.
Williams and fellow senior linebackers Jarred Alwan and Stephaun Marshall had three starting spots locked down, but there was an even better group coming next year.
“You probably don’t even know who those guys are,” Williams said after a practice last fall when he reeled off a list of young players to watch out for.
Now that Williams, Alwan and Marshall have left the team, the young group is ready to emerge.
“The spotlight’s on you now,” sophomore linebacker Sam Franklin said. “You’re just not one of those guys in the background.”
Last season, Williams led the Owls with 66 tackles. Marshall and Alwan each totaled 50 or more tackles.
Williams, Alwan and Marshall combined for 148 games and 500 tackles during their Temple careers.
“There’s no way to replace that experience,” first-year linebackers coach Andrew Thacker said. “We’re learning. The other part of it is, we’ve got young guys that are hungry. They’ve never been in real-life situations outside of special teams. … They’re learning being put through the fire.”
Redshirt-sophomore linebacker Chapelle Russell and redshirt-junior linebacker Jared Folks are the only returning Owls to see significant action at linebacker last season. Folks made 32 tackles in 13 games, and Russell made 25 stops in 10 contests.
Neither has seen action this spring, but Thacker said they are expected to return in the fall.
“You add those guys that have a little bit of experience to a younger group that’s had all of the reps in the spring,” Thacker said. “Now we’re really excited about the mix of players we have to put out the best possible three of every rep out there.”
He added that redshirt sophomore Shaun Bradley, who has just six career tackles, has led the group on the field in Folks and Russell’s absences.
“He’s actually one of the older guys in the group as a redshirt sophomore,” Thacker said. “He’s really done a good job of taking control of the group and being a great communicator out there.”
The defining quality of the linebacker corps is the unit’s speed. Bradley was a running back in high school. Franklin was a wide receiver and defensive back. Redshirt sophomore Jeremiah Atoki also played wideout and defensive back in high school.
Bradley said he and his teammates often argue about who is the fastest of the bunch.
“We all can really move really well,” he said. “There are certain areas that we really excel at. Some people might be quicker laterally. Some might be quicker sprinting-wise. Together, it just all gels.”
Thacker hopes the group can combine its athleticism with physicality next year.
“I wouldn’t say gone are the days of the old-school linebacker,” Thacker said. “We still want those guys to have some weight to them, to have some strength to them, get downhill, press gaps and finish. But [speed] is critical. It is one of the dominant traits of the linebackers, their ability to run.”
The season starts at the University of Notre Dame in September. Franklin said Williams, Alwan and Marshall helped prepare the group for the moment during practices last year.
“They always tested us,” Franklin said. “They always wanted us to improve every day because they knew once they left, we’d be the next ones up.”
Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Owen_McCue.