Matt Rhule remembers watching Adonis Jennings while he was in high school.
Rhule stood on the sideline as the Timber Creek High School receiver fielded a kick-off and ran past him down the field.
With the departure of Jalen Fitzpatrick, the team’s leading receiver, the Owls will look to Jennings — who was ruled eligible by the NCAA after transferring from the University of Pittsburgh — and the rest of the returning wide receivers to help improve the Owls’ passing game, which ranked 86th out of 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
“At the end of the day last year, people did a good job against us,” Rhule said. “They lined up and played man-to-man. It’s not a slight to our other receivers. We just never came together.”
Temple, who ranked 92nd in the FBS with 11.25 passing yards per completion, returns redshirt-senior John Christopher, seniors Brandon Shippen and Romond Deloatch — three of its top four receivers last season — and redshirt-freshman Ventell Bryant.
The Owls also added Cortrelle Simpson, a two-star wide receiver according to Rivals.com.
“The young guys are working out real well and they are coming out here and growing, getting better,” junior quarterback PJ Walker said. “You get a lot of young guys that have a young mentality but this class that just came in, they are a lot more mature than I expected and we got a few guys who are ready to play.”
The Owls also welcomed back Robby Anderson, who re-enrolled at the university after he was dismissed in 2013 for academic reasons. As a redshirt-sophomore wide receiver in 2013, Anderson caught 44 passes for 791 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Fort Lauderdale, Florida native is currently with the team but his eligibility is currently unknown. Rhule said if Anderson becomes eligible, he will likely have one year of eligibility remaining.
“So he is in classes,” Rhule said. “We are hopeful that he can do everything he needs to do to play this fall.”
For a team that saw its passing offense drop from 249.7 yards per game to 200.7 yards per game, Walker is optimistic the Owl’s returning receivers will play a role this season.
“Hopefully they will come in and help in someway on the field,” Walker said. “Whether it’s special teams or they have a role on third down. Anything that will help us, we need it.”
With the addition of Jennings and the incoming freshmen, Rhule said the team’s receivers are better than they were in 2014.
“We’ve upgraded [the wide receiver] position in other ways that I am excited about,” Rhule said. “The competition now between guys who’ve played – Adonis Jennings, [redshirt-junior] Sam Benjamin, Ventell Bryant – you have all these other guys too. We have some really talented kids.”
The Owls also return redshirt-junior Colin Thompson, redshirt-senior Saledeem Major and redshirt-sophomore Cole Boozer — three of their top four tight ends. Thompson led the position last season with 11 catches for 98 yards.
“I think Colin is poised to have a big year,” Rhule said. “He is not just a pass catching specialist. I think he is a hybrid guy that can do both, which is a good thing.”
As a group last year, the tight ends combined for 21 catches for 175 yards. Rhule said that opposing defenses played a certain scheme against the Owls last season, which meant the tight ends were now the preferred option.
“You like your tight ends to be someone who you can feel confident in,” Rhule said. “When teams play man-to-man against you, [tight ends] are not naturally the first matchup you go to. But I think most of those guys are blockers first and pass catchers second.”
Michael Guise can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Michael_Guise