Offense looks for big improvements in Collins’ second year

Temple has to replace its two 2017 leaders in receiving touchdowns, but it has more depth at running back than it did last season.

Redshirt-senior quarterback Frank Nutile throws into a net during Tuesday's practice at Chodoff Field. | EVAN EASTERLING / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Last year, under a new coach and offensive coordinator, the Owls’ offensive players Temple were attempting to learn “what,” offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said.

They had to learn what coach Geoff Collins wanted, what to do in drills and what to do on certain plays.

Now, starting with Tuesday’s practice to kick off the spring season, they are ready to get to the “why” and the “how” of the system, Patenaude said. With players having a deeper understanding of offensive concepts, Patenaude expects large improvements in the second year of Collins’ tenure.

Temple’s coaching staff will focus on boosting the Owls’ football IQ in team meetings and look for intensity in practices. This year’s mission is to “do what we do better” and ultimately play on New Year’s Day, Patenaude said. The coaches believe they have the personnel they need to make it happen.

Bryant hopes to regain single-digit number

The football program has a tradition of bestowing single-digit jersey numbers to the players who demonstrate toughness and leadership.

Redshirt-senior wideout Ventell Bryant had the honor of wearing No. 1 during the 2016 season after he earned it during spring camp. He wore No. 19 in every game he appeared in last season. Collins said Bryant gave up his No. 1 through a “selfless act” so it could be awarded to an outstanding performer each week.

After Tuesday’s practice, Bryant said last season was full of off-field distractions. He wants to win a single-digit number back.

“I just want to compete every day and become the best player I can possibly be,” Bryant said.

Collins showed the team a 2017 highlight video before practice. In one of the plays, junior wide receiver Isaiah Wright’s 45-yard touchdown catch on a throw from redshirt-senior quarterback Frank Nutile in Temple’s Gasparilla Bowl win in December, Bryant made a block to give Wright room to run. Collins thinks that team-oriented play has carried over into the 2018 season.

Collins said Bryant was the first person to arrive at a study hall session on Sunday.

“It’s a little thing, but for him wanting to be the first guy into this building I think is huge,” Collins said.

Replacing Temple’s receiving touchdown leaders

After practice, Bryant went to visit former wideouts Adonis Jennings and Keith Kirkwood.

Last season, Jennings and Kirkwood led the Owls with seven receiving touchdowns each in their senior seasons. They each played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl on Jan. 20 to showcase their skills in front of professional scouts. Jennings and Kirkwood will also work out at Temple’s Pro Day on Monday.

Jennings finished his career with 1,238 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. Kirkwood totaled 1,292 yards receiving and 12 career receiving touchdowns. His receiving yards per game average last season was a career-high.

As they prepare for potentially larger roles than they had last season, Wright and Bryant have requested more one-on-one work in practices. Redshirt-sophomore wideout Freddie Johnson and junior wide receiver Randle Jones, who impressed coaches with their special teams play last season, are also vying for more offensive snaps.

“[Bryant is] getting better every day,” wide receivers coach Stan Hixon said. “It’s really a blessing in disguise because you imagine if Ventell was gone and Keith was gone and Adonis was gone, that’d be a big hole. So now we’ve got him to bridge up with the young guys.”

Owls enter spring season with increased running back depth

Running backs coach Tony Lucas guides players through a drill during the first spring practice of the season on Tuesday at Chodoff Field. | EVAN EASTERLING / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple will have nine running backs working under running backs coach Tony Lucas this season once incoming freshmen Kyle Dobbins and Onasis Neely join the team after they graduate high school.

Senior Ryquell Armstead and redshirt senior David Hood return from last season, and redshirt junior Jager Gardner is expected to be healthy after missing most of last season with a knee injury and receiving a medical redshirt.

Last season, once Gardner suffered his injury on Sept. 21 against South Florida, Temple only had two running backs on scholarship available.

To give Hood and Armstead breaks and provide a change of pace out of the backfield, redshirt-senior fullback Rob Ritrovato had 37 carries for 178 yards and a touchdown.

Redshirt-junior wide receiver Travon Williams played some snaps at tailback last season, but he’ll be predominantly a receiver this year, Patenaude said.

“We got Jager back, so we’re excited about the depth that we have at that position,” Collins said.

Redshirt freshman Jeremy Jennings has moved to a running back after playing cornerback and wide receiver at Downingtown East High School in Chester County.

Redshirt sophomores Tyliek Raynor and Jonny Forrest and redshirt freshman Clayborne Chavers are also competing for snaps.

Patenaude said that he isn’t opposed to playing with two running backs at a time in a split-back set like the Owls did last season.

During Temple’s 29-21 victory against UMass on Sept. 15, Patenaude dialed a play that featured Gardner and Hood split alongside redshirt-freshman quarterback Todd Centeio in the backfield.

“You just run your core plays, but just run them 100 different ways,” Patenaude said. “That’s what great offenses do.”

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