Owls prep for Cherry and White

Matt Rhule said the team held its best practice last week.

Offensive lineman Kyle Friend (center) looks to make a block during a recent practice session.| HUA ZONG TTN
Offensive lineman Kyle Friend (center) looks to make a block during a recent practice session.| HUA ZONG TTN

With Chodoff Field in shambles as it continues being resurfaced ahead of summer training camp, the Owls have had an earlier-than-usual start time to their spring practices: 5 a.m. Since each of the practices have been held off campus, the team has had to take transportation into account when forming its schedules.

But, at least for one day last week, coach Matt Rhule bumped the start-time up to 6 a.m.

“They were fired up about that,” Rhule said.

The football team is nearing the end of its 15 NCAA-allotted spring practices, which will culminate this weekend with the annual Cherry & White game at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, Pa. The team held two practices last week, the first of which Rhule called “by far the best” one of the year.

“We’re still battling some things,” Rhule said. “Guys understanding exactly how to compete and play at this level day in and day out.”

“I said to them [Wednesday]: How does this team get itself to practice like this all the time?” Rhule added.

Redshirt-senior defensive back Anthony Robey, who has been sidelined with a “core” injury this spring, said the team is more competitive this year than it was during 2013 – when players were still dealing with the transition to a new coaching staff. In particular, Robey and the defense were adjusting to defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s style of play.

“Coach Snow said it would take a year to fully understand the defense,” Robey said. “It’s showing out there on the field.”

Junior defensive back Tavon Young has also noticed a difference this spring – one he attributes to extra work during the offseason and a more trusting attitude toward the coaching staff.

“We’ve made way more plays than we had last spring,” Young said. “We’re in a better position now than we were. We’re more strong and we have more chemistry as a secondary.”

Returning quarterbacks P.J. Walker and Connor Reilly are expected to see less action during this year’s Cherry & White game, Rhule said. Walker, however, has impressed his teammates this spring.

“P.J. is more confident and smarter with the ball,” Young said. “He’s a leader. He knows what he’s doing.”

Rhule said some players further down in the depth chart have also been catching his attention during recent practices, including redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Romond Deloatch and redshirt-freshman defensive lineman Jullian Taylor.

Although the team’s practice tour around the Philadelphia area will end this weekend, Rhule isn’t ruling out the possibility of venturing outside Main Campus for next year’s spring training camp. Rhule said the experience has been a team-building venture and enabled the Owls to take the Temple brand out into the local community.

As for the perceived increased quality of play this spring, Rhule partially attributes it to the hardships the team went through last season. The roster remains young, Rhule said, but  an extra year of experience has left its mark.

“We’re light years ahead of where we were at this time last year,” Rhule said.

Avery Maehrer and Evan Cross can be reached at sports@temple-news.com

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