Before each practice, head strength and conditioning coach Chris Fenelon leads the players through spirited chants that can be heard from more than a block away. This time last season, the team stood in front of a group of coaches and stretched while following along in unified monotony. The Temple TUFF mentality has supposedly once again found its place in North Philadelphia.
Temple University football began spring practices on March 11 at Edberg-Olson Hall hoping to improve on last season’s 3-9 record.
With new head coach Stan Drayton at the helm, the first few of the 15 allotted practices have brought forth a new energy, chemistry and motivation for the Owls. Both sides of the ball have had standout performances early on, although it is too early to tell who will earn a single-digit jersey number.
Drayton mentioned the team is not yet where they need to be physically, but mentally, they are applying solid effort in their preparation.
Here’s a look at the first few days of spring practice.
The offense, featuring redshirt-sophomore quarterback D’Wan Mathis, could have a versatile attack using Mathis’ legs along with a strong run game to open up play action passes down the field.
Running backs redshirt-freshman Trey Blair and redshirt-sophomore Darvon Hubbard have reportedly looked impressive across the first five practices, with the pair each looking to earn that coveted starting running back role in the fall.
“Everybody needs to be on the same page,” Blair said on Feb. 19. “Everybody has to buy in.”
Blair took a 55-yard carry to the end zone in a scrimmage on March 12, while Hubbard broke off a 25-yard rush during the same practice.
Mathis showed chemistry with redshirt-junior wide receiver Jose Barbon during the first few practices, including an impressive 30-yard pass and catch down the sideline in a scrimmage on March 11.
Mathis returned this offseason to play under Drayton after previously announcing on social media he was entering the transfer portal.
“When you’re talking about an athlete like that, who can extend the play with his feet and make plays with his feet, there’s a lot of potential in that young man,” Drayton said.
Drayton mentioned the wide receiver room has yet to show any leaders.
“There’s no guy that’s standing out right now,” Drayton said. “I can’t sit there and say this one guy is showing great leadership, they are just all out there.”
Wide receivers redshirt-junior Amad Anderson Jr. and redshirt-freshman Malik Cooper have created some explosive plays, with Cooper burning the defense for a 55-yard score on a slant route. Cooper, who spent last season at running back, has been making plays at receiver and could earn first-team reps this coming season.
Drayton referred to the tight end room as a position group that has performed well in practice so far. Redshirt-juniors Jordan Smith, David Martin-Robinson and sophomore James Della Pesca have proved to be a bright spot and could see an increased role in the offense in 2022.
“They give us good flexibility,” Drayton said. “I feel pretty good about that unit.”
The defensive side of the ball relied on a blanketing secondary to keep them in games last season, but early in the offseason it seems the defensive line is stepping up the most.
Redshirt-senior defensive lineman Xach Gill, who missed all of last season with an injury, could be a starter for the Owls in the fall. He has had several play-wrecking moments and is a more experienced voice for the defense.
“We have more leadership on the defensive side of the ball,” said sophomore linebacker Kobe Wilson on Feb. 19.
The display of speed on the back end is also promising.
Safeties redshirt-junior DaeSean Winston, sophomore Alex Odom and senior Jalen Ware will each have a chance to earn a starting spot with the departure of graduate Amir Tyler and M.J. Griffin, who transferred to Louisville this offseason.
Temple’s pass defense ranked fifth in the nation in yards allowed last season, a big part of that was the play of redshirt-senior cornerbacks Cameron Ruiz and Keyshawn Paul, both of whom return this season.
Drayton wants his defense to play aggressive, and so far they have shown they can do so in spring practices.
“Go get the ball,” Drayton yelled during practice on March 17. “Go get the ball.”
The team has nine more practices and a Cherry & White scrimmage on April 9 at Edberg-Olson Hall to develop as much as possible before fall camp starts in August. Under Drayton, it seems like attention to detail and effort will be the biggest factors in players earning a starting spot.