Looking for leaders this spring season

Coach Al Golden will focus on intangibles during Spring Practice with the departure of the football team’s seniors.

Football season starts bright and early for coach Al Golden and his team. The morning after the men’s basketball team lost to Cornell, 78-65, in the NCAA Tournament, Golden went for a run down Broad Street at 6:30 a.m. When he finished, he arrived at the Edberg-Olson practice facility to find freshman wide receiver Deon Miller and junior wide receiver Rod Streater throwing to each other before the sun had risen.

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PAUL KLEIN TTN Redshirt sophomore quarterback candidate Chester Stewart prepares for drills at Spring Practice. He will battle it out for the starting job with Charlton.

Needless to say, Golden was impressed with their work ethic.

“What some people think of as intangibles, we think are very tangible,” Golden said.

The Owls will focus on intangibles as they go through Spring Practice and try to find the next group of leaders now that seniors Steve Maneri, Andre Neblett, Dominique Harris and Alex Joseph will depart.

“The biggest issue facing our team right now is the leadership vacuum from the guys that just left,” Golden said. “They were such a strong group that had been through so much, so now we need that next generation of leaders to step up.”

After Temple’s first bowl appearance since 1979, Golden has found that success comes with some side effects.

“It’s almost a negative effect, if I could say it that way, in that our overall demeanor and focus in the offseason program hasn’t been as good as it has been in other years,” Golden said. “I’ve addressed that with the team multiple times, and that’s something that we’re fighting.

“We have to get back to being the hunter, staying hungry and learning how to handle praise and success, and we have a long way to go,” he added.

Each season, Golden names a few players as his “tough guys” and awards them single-digit numbers on their jerseys. The numbers are an outward display of their leadership at the end of Spring Practice. For now, only a few have shown signs of stepping into that role.

“Two guys that have jumped out to the team are [senior wide receiver] Mike Campbell and [redshirt junior wide receiver] Joe Jones,” Golden said. “They are two guys who have responded with maturity and have worked harder than they ever have in the offseason. Jaiquawn [Jarrett, a senior free safety] also does a good job. He backs it up and walks the walk and talks the talk.”

Temple also has two new faces in the coaching staff. Rob Spence, the former offensive coordinator at Syracuse, joins the team as the wide receivers coach. Jethro Franklin goes from being the defensive line coach at Southern California to taking the same job with the Cherry and White. Spence replaces Kevin Gilbride Jr., who is now the offensive quality control coach for the National Football League’s New York Giants, where his father serves as offensive coordinator. Franklin replaces Randy Melvin, who left for Rutgers, where he will assume the same job he had at Temple.

“For both of them to reach out to us speaks volumes to our staff and what’s going on at Temple University, in addition to what these players are doing,” Golden said.
Another priority for the team is improving the passing game, which has some uncertainty with who is throwing the ball and who is catching it.

Just like last season, there is an open competition at quarterback. Redshirt junior quarterback Vaughn Charlton and redshirt sophomore quarterback Chester Stewart are the likely candidates for the starting gig.

“I’ve had that since I’ve been here as far as competition goes,” Charlton said. “I just have to enjoy it and not let it pressure me.”

Currently, Charlton is No. 1 on the team’s depth chart as a result of his performance in the offseason thus far, but there is still time before Golden has to officially name the starter.

“There’s a really good chance [for a quarterback to be picked by the end of spring],” Golden said. “To be honest, we kind of know what we’re getting with the older guys. This process takes five weeks, so I won’t definitively say we’ll have someone named by then.”

There is also the question of which of the team’s 14 wide receivers will catch the passes. On signing day, the team brought in six new receivers.

“We have to get better play out of the wide receiver group,” Golden said. “There’s going to be a lot of competition at that spot. Coach Spence said to me, ‘You can’t work with 14 receivers,’ so there’s going to be some guys moving to defense or moved to running back.”

“We’re improving our togetherness as a receiving corps and a quarterback corps,” Charlton added. “A better connection is what we need.”

The focus on improving the passing game has been higher than in recent years. Golden wanted to establish a strong ground game before moving to the air.

“The directive came from me to have a power offense, and with that came down-the-field and play-action passes,” Golden said. “Those aren’t high-percentage throws. Those are home run throws, and that’s why the percentage’s down.”

“We have to take some of the burden off the running game with the quarterbacks and wide receivers,” he added.

As the competitions on both sides of the ball play out, the leadership void remains the main issue.

“We need to find some guys that want to step up,” Golden said. “We have capable guys that have leadership potential, but to get them to do it is the trick right now.”

Brian Dzenis can be reached at brian.dzenis@temple.edu.

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