Jager Gardner made highlight-reel plays during his first two seasons at Temple.
He ran for a 94-yard touchdown against Southern Methodist in 2015 and scored two touchdowns in 2016.
Gardner spent most of his junior season out of the lineup after suffering a season-ending knee injury in September against South Florida. He is working his way back into the Owls’ rotation in spring camp ahead of his redshirt-junior year.
“It was very tough watching my brothers, but I knew they were going to take care of business,” Gardner said. “I knew I was going to get right back into it as soon as I got back. So it’s been nice watching them doing what they have to do.”
Gardner said it is “night and day” comparing how he felt earlier in the spring to now. During the first spring practice, running backs coach Tony Lucas told him to go slower while completing a drill.
Gardner said he dealt with groin pain earlier in camp, but he has been taking care of himself to ensure he can participate in every practice.
Gardner adds a power running style to the Owls’ offense, Lucas said. After Gardner suffered his injury last season, Temple only had two scholarship running backs left.
“Having a guy like Jager who is a good threat out of the backfield as well as he is in the backfield gives you the opportunity to keep the defense on its toes and keep them guessing,” Lucas said. “So having him be able to do some things in the pass game as well as run the ball definitely is an advantage.”
Running backs ‘coach each other’
Gardner is one of the Owls’ six running backs. Plus Temple has junior wideout Isaiah Wright, who has carried the ball out of the backfield as the quarterback in the Wildcat formation and as a tailback.
Senior running back Ryquell Armstead finished second behind redshirt senior David Hood in rushing yards last season and tied him for the team lead with five rushing touchdowns.
Like Armstead, redshirt-freshman running back Jeremy Jennings ran track during his high school career. Jennings, who came to Temple as a wideout, placed third in the 100-meter at a Pennsylvania high school state championship meet as a junior.
He said he feels comfortable in the backfield. Jennings has both “football speed” and “track speed,” he added.
Track speed involves straight-line running, while football speed involves making cuts. He is working to improve his style during camp.
“I like to observe things so I can get better,” Jennings said. “Because I know watching older guys, they know more than I do. So I just watch them, and I try and just have their craft and put it into my technique and what I’m doing just to make me better overall.”
“Each and every one of us just work off each other,” Gardner said. “We know if we mess up on something we can coach each other and get better each and every day.”
With Armstead playing through injuries last season and Gardner sidelined, redshirt-senior fullback Rob Ritrovato took carries at running back. Lucas said that is still an option this season with more running backs available.
Roles won’t be defined until closer to the first game of the season — a Sept. 1 matchup against Villanova at Lincoln Financial Field — Lucas said.
“They all look pretty good so far this spring, so they’re actually making my job difficult,” Lucas said. “It’s hard with the number of playmakers we have on offense to determine how many touches each guy gets. So as they kind of continue to weed themselves out, they’ll put the pressure on us.”