Positions on both sides up for grabs

Coach Al Golden can choose from three quarterbacks for the starting job. He said there is no frontrunner.

Coach Al Golden can choose from three quarterbacks for the starting job. He said there is no frontrunner.

PAUL KLEIN TTN Redshirt junior Mike Gerardi hands the ball off last Saturday.

Last year’s quarterback competition pitted Vaughn Charlton against Chester Stewart.

This year, Temple football will choose among redshirt juniors Stewart and Mike Gerardi and redshirt freshman Chris Coyer at the starting spot.

“All three of us all get along really well, and we like to compete,” Gerardi said. “One day [Chris] Coyer’s doing well, one day [Chester Stewart’s] doing well, one day I’m doing well, which makes the competition really good.”

The trio had an opportunity to separate themselves from the pack during the annual Cherry and White intrasquad scrimmage at Edberg-Olson Hall’s Chodoff Field last Saturday afternoon. Coach Al Golden said that none of them really ran away from the competition, though, so the quarterback competition will continue into summer camp.

“Some of them are trying to make some plays, and a lot of them came on scrambles or second-effort type things,” the fifth-year coach said of the combined six turnovers committed by the unit. “We got a lot of work done today. That was the most we’ve worked this spring. We have one more scrimmage on Thursday, so I’m trying to get them to understand how long they have to maintain their focus on game day.”

Stewart was 8-for-15 for 119 yards with two interceptions. Gerardi finished 8-for-18 for 80 yards and three picks. Coyer went 6-for-15 for 70 yards and an interception.

The quarterback competition became wide open last week after former quarterback and redshirt senior Charlton moved to tight end. In nine starts last season, Charlton completed 107 of 213 pass attempts for 1,390 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“He’s a very unselfish player,” Golden said. “He’s always been one of our toughest players. He’s one of our leaders. I’m excited for his future at tight end.”

Stewart seems to be the current favorite to run an offense that returns nine starters but ranked second to last in the Mid-American Conference last season in passing offense at 147 yards per game. Stewart has the most experience of the three, as he started four games last season. He threw for 514 yards and three touchdowns.

Stewart said he has been working all offseason in preparation for the starting role.

“It’s just putting in the time and putting in some extra work outside trying to get some chemistry with the receivers, putting in the extra film work and just trying to learn the offense as best I can so I can get out there and lead my team,” he said.

Charlton’s move to tight end adds another option for Golden at that position. Redshirt junior Matt Balasavage started five games last season, and redshirt junior Evan Rodriguez started seven games. Rodriguez tied for the team lead with three touchdown receptions.

They will face competition from two redshirt freshmen: Alex Jackson and Cody Booth. Jackson, who played just one year of football in high school, moved from defensive end to tight end. He caught three passes for 32 yards last Saturday.

“Right now, I’m just trying to focus on getting better at blocking so I can be an all-around tight end,” Jackson said. “I like playing offense better because I like to catch the ball and run.”

Booth made a game-high four catches for 38 yards last Saturday. Golden said that Booth is going to be a “really good football player. I’m real excited about him.”

The receiving corps is expected to look the same as last year with seniors Michael Campbell and Delano Green and redshirt junior Joe Jones the likely starters. Campbell led the Owls with 419 receiving yards last season and tied for the lead with three touchdowns on 27 catches.

“He’s a guy that’s had a good spring. It’s not just one day for him,” Golden said.

The offensive line should provide some stability for the quarterback, as the unit returns three All-MAC honorees.

Juniors Pat Boyle and Steve Caputo will compete for the left tackle spot that is open due to the departure of All-MAC selection Devin Tyler. Both have experience – Boyle played 10 games and Caputo started nine games at left guard last season.

Junior Wayne Tribue and first-team All-MAC selection Darius Morris are expected to return as starters at left guard and right tackle, respectively.

Sophomore Jeff Whittingham and first-time All-MAC selection Colin Madison will battle at right guard with redshirt juniors Jeremy Schonbrunner and John Palumbo fighting at the center position.

The most secure spot on the offensive side of the ball is at running back. Sophomore All-American and Heisman Trophy candidate Bernard Pierce returns after a record-setting freshman season. Pierce ran for 1,361 yards and 16 touchdowns and set school records for points in a season, touchdowns in a season and 100-yard games by a freshman.

Pierce started only nine games last season due to a shoulder injury, but he said the shoulder is “not a problem anymore. Shoulder’s 100 percent.”

Redshirt sophomore Ahkeem Smith and sophomore Matt Brown, who ran for 529 yards last season, will provide support for the second-best rushing offense in the MAC last season.

Though the running back position is secure, not many spots have clear-cut favorites as Spring Practice nears its completion. Golden said he is looking for players who stand out and prove they can take on bigger roles to build off last season’s 9-4 record and EagleBank Bowl appearance.

“There’s very few positions that are locked up right now,” he said. “For the next two practices, it’s going to be a last shot for guys to leave an impression on the coaches before we start game planning for the summer.”

Temple opens its 2010 season against Villanova on Sept. 3 at Lincoln Financial Field in the second annual Mayor’s Cup.

Pete Dorchak can be reached at pdorchak@temple.edu.

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