In their home opener last season against Navy, the Owls saw first-hand what a prolific rushing attack can do for a team.
The Football Bowl Subdivision’s second ranked rushing team from a year ago outrushed Temple by 339 yards in a 31-24 victory against the Owls.
Temple finished last season 113 spots behind Navy in yards rushing per game. The Owl’s 107.8 yards per game ranked 115th out of 125 FBS teams. The ground game is an area of focus for the team heading into this season.
“We’ve got to improve that part of our game,” coach Matt Rhule said. “Not necessarily the running backs but running the football. So we feel like we have the guys here and coming in that are able to do that.”
Junior Jahad Thomas and senior Jamie Gilmore are the team’s top two returning rushers from last year, aside from junior quarterback P.J. Walker.
Thomas totaled 384 yards on the ground last season and added 364 receiving yards. Gilmore had 69 offensive touches, 409 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in 2014.
Heading into camp, Thomas is the incumbent starter at the running back position, but he must take advantage of his opportunities if he would like to keep that role.
“With the reps you get,” Rhule said. “You better do something with them.”
T.J. Simmons and Ryquell Armstead are a duo of freshman that will be looking to contribute immediately for the Owls. Simmons was rated a four-start recruit by Rivals.com, while Armstead was rated a three-star recruit.
Armstead has already made an impression on quarterback P.J. Walker.
“He’s very fast,” Walker said. “He’s a guy that goes out there and gives it his all, whether he can do it or not. Personally I work out with the running backs when we do our conditioning and everything. He’s a guy that helped me get through a lot of the runs. Him being a freshman and going out there he’s running as hard as he can. It’s helping me push myself to go as hard as I can.”
Redshirt-sophomore Zaire Williams and redshirt-freshman David Hood both played sparing early on last year, but had their seasons prematurely.
Williams had seven rushes in the team’s first game but an injury prevented him from seeing the field again. Hood tallied 11 carries and 62 yards before he was redshirted.
The pair will help add to a now crowded backfield with the addition of the freshman. Thomas embraces the potential battle at the running back position.
“We invite everyone in with open arms but there are guys who want the starting job and who want to play,” Thomas said. “So me being a competitor, I want to win at everything I do…We build friendships and then it becomes a lot of friendly competition, where we better each other each and every day.”
Rhule does not plan on using a running-back-by-committee approach in the backfield this year. He said he would prefer to use a feature back and use the other players to compliment him.
Whoever claims the leading role at the end of training camp will have to earn it.
“We would like to have it down to two [running backs],” Rhule said. “A feature back and a complimentary back. But they have to go out and prove that ‘hey I’m the guy, give me the ball.’”
Owen McCue can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Owen_McCue