Since taking the head-coaching job at Temple, Matt Rhule has installed strategies and unique elements that the university has never seen before, but this week, Rhule is bringing a past custom back.
While serving various duties under former coach and current coach of the University of Miami, Al Golden, including stints as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, Golden assigned jersey numbers one through nine to the toughest players on the roster.
It was a tradition that the upperclassmen loved, so this week, Rhule turned back the clock and decided it was something worth returning.
“It’s just sort of a rite of passage for those guys,” Rhule said. “Its something they’ve earned and they wear it. Right now we have three guys in it. [The coaches] will probably put another guy in it tonight.”
Senior defensive lineman Levi Brown became the first player to switch his jersey number, changing from No. 99 to No. 9.
On Friday, two more players followed Brown. Senior wide receiver Ryan Alderman was handed No. 4 after sporting 87 for the majority of his career. After wearing No. 15 on his practice jersey throughout training camp, junior wideout Jalen Fitzpatrick will slip on No. 5, the number he wore last year.
“It was just an honor,” Alderman said. “I was extremely humbled by it.”
“It means a lot knowing that I’m one of the toughest nine they call it on the team,” Fitzpatrick said. “I wasn’t here when they did it before but I can see it’s taken pretty seriously, so it’s a great honor to wear it.”
Many athletes can be very superstitious about which number appears next to their respective names above their lockers, but that’s not the case with Alderman.
“It won’t be that weird,” Alderman said when asked about the number switch. “I’m not too superstitious on it. I’ve actually had a few different numbers since I’ve been here. I was 27 my freshman year then I had to switch mid year to 87. I’m just glad to be a single digit. It’s really what it means more than the number itself for me.”
Something that has been featured in the past around the NFL, primarily by Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, has been a player or players switching positions to better suit the team and their individual skill set.
Since taking the helm, Rhule has done this with a handful of players. Chris Coyer made the move from quarterback to H-Back/tight end, Cody Booth from tight end to offensive line and wide receiver Romond Deloatch saw time this week at defensive end.
Rhule has been implementing some of these changes to benefit the status of the team and assist the student athletes in better suiting themselves for a chance to play at the next level.
“I think the first thing you want to do is get the best 11 guys on the field and the best possible place they can be,” Rhule said. “If a guy is naturally just a better fit at another position or if we have a need at another position, you move him for that and I think the one thing coach [Joe] Paterno used to always say is: ‘The first time I’ll move you for the team, the second time is for your future.’
“We’ve had probably 25 scouts been through here in the last week and a half,” Rhule added. “Today we had a high-ranking executive come through from a team. As much feedback were giving, we’re always getting feedback from them on where guys can play at the next level. So our first job is to take care of Temple, but also what we want our players to be bought into, is that we always have their best interest at heart.”
Rhule doesn’t force people to change positions, but it is encouraged.
“We’ve told some guys, ‘Hey the NFL sees you at this position’ and they don’t want to move and that’s their prerogative,” Rhule said. “They have to live with those things, but we tell them ‘Hey this is your best position for Temple and for yourself and usually 99 percent of the time those are the exact same two things. If we have a pro player we’re gonna use them. We just try to get guys on the field and if we got to have to a guy play both ways, if he’s better than the other guys, then he’s going to play both ways. If a guy is going to play 80 plays, he’s going to play 80 plays. We want the best people on the field as we see it.”
The Owls have an open competition at the quarterback position and each of the candidates (junior Connor Reilly, senior Juice Granger and freshman P.J. Walker) have shown some good things, according to Rhule.
“Juice hit a fourth down touchdown in the green zone,” Rhule said. “Connor looked like he was on and P.J. threw a couple of [interceptions] but other than that he’s still young. He’s still learning when to get out of a play and when not to but they’re all doing nice things.”
After years of stability at running back, there currently isn’t a clear-cut favorite to man the majority of carries at this juncture. True freshman Zaire Williams and junior Kenny Harper are battling for the starting role.
“We have Zaire right now he’s in the [first team] green jersey,” Rhule said. “He’s running the ball strong, with some power. His weaknesses right now are he’s not picking up the blitz the way he needs to. I told him he can’t play if he cant protect. The number one job of our offense is to protect the quarterback. He can run it, he’s not doing those things right now, so he’s got to come along.
“Kenny has done a great job in protection,” Rhule added. “Him and Kenny are getting a lot of the reps and then Jamie Gilmore is getting some good second team reps. He’s showing some quickness at times so those are the main guys, with [redshirt freshman] Avery Williams being sort of a special teams player for us right now.”
Cody Booth is still not 100 percent, but is coming along, as he has been dealing with a nagging toe injury.
“We’re just trying to limit his reps and make sure he doesn’t severely aggravate it,” Rhule said. “We’re rolling him in when he’s healthy. It’s like anything with lineman when it comes to their feet. That’s where they make their living, so he’s playing through some pain right now. He’s playing through some discomfort, but we’re trying to limit his reps and just make sure we get him safely through this week and into next week.”