Somewhere lost in the shuffle between the men’s and women’s basketball teams both making the NCAA Tournament, the football team returned to the practice field last week.
As the basketball teams competed the weekend in Florida and Connecticut, respectively, coach Al Golden and 91 Owls kicked off spring practice at Edberg-Olson Hall.
“I’m excited about the team and the progress we’re making,” Golden said. “We’re closer as a team and as a unit than we’ve ever been.”
The Owls practiced last Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, the first of 15 practices this spring culminating with the annual Cherry and White Game April 18. Temple opens the regular season at Lincoln Financial Field Sept. 3 against crosstown rival Villanova.
Golden said this offseason has brought the best conditioning program “without question.”
“We’re stronger, faster, and we have better stamina,” he said. “We had a three-hour practice the first day. That’s something we couldn’t do a year ago.”
A year ago, Golden had more answers. Now, with the loss of a handful of starters on the offensive side of the ball, the fourth-year coach looks to fill those holes.
“There are more questions,” Golden said. “We have more talent, but we still need to find some answers.”
It starts at the man behind center. Adam DiMichele’s graduation leaves the Owls with a gaping hole at the quarterback position. In his senior season, DiMichele threw 18 passing touchdowns and 45 overall touchdowns in his career.
That leaves three men fighting for the job: redshirt junior Vaughn Charlton, redshirt sophomore Chester Stewart and incoming freshman Chris Coyer.
Charlton, who replaced the oft-injured DiMichele in 2006 and 2007, has thrown five touchdowns and three interceptions in five games.
Stewart filled in when DiMichele went down last season and had his peaks and valleys. In his first collegiate action, he threw three interceptions at Penn State. Two weeks later, he responded with three touchdowns in a win over Miami (Ohio).
Coyer, the Vienna, Va., recruit, runs very well, makes good decisions and can create in the pocket, Golden said.
Charlton said he’s not getting caught up in the competition but instead trying to improve his game.
“I saw the field a little bit, and to have two years under my belt has been very fortunate,” he said. “I’m trying to go out here and learn, perform and get everyone to respect me and my skills.”
“We have two very good ones right now and one coming in,” Golden added. “It’s real simple: who protects the football, who makes the best decisions, who exudes leadership, and who’s the toughest.”
In addition to the loss of DiMichele, Temple lost leading receiver Bruce Francis. Francis shattered the Temple record books, as he holds the school record in touchdown receptions with 23. The previous record stood at 18.
Atop the depth chart this spring are seniors Jason Harper and Dy’Onne Crudup and sophomore James Nixon.
Harper, who converted to receiver from tailback last season, is confident this unit can step in and provide viable options to whoever wins the quarterback job.
“We have guys that can step up and make plays,” said Harper, who caught 33 passes last year. “We’re practicing each day as hard as we can, but I don’t see any added pressure.”
There is pressure at the running back position. Redshirt senior Lamar McPherson sits at the top of the depth chart with sophomore Ahkeem Smith as the current backup. However, sophomore Kee-ayre Griffin and redshirt sophomore Joe Jones are also in the mix, along with incoming freshman Bernard Pierce.
“I’m very excited about the group,” Golden said. “We have five guys, and we need to find someone who wants to carry the ball 25 times.”
While questions remain on the offensive side of the ball, there is optimism for a program that is coming off a 5-7 campaign after winning five games the previous two seasons.
“I don’t focus on bowl games,” Golden said. “We had a chance to win 11 games last season, and that’s the most in school history. If we come out and perform and execute, we’ll get our share.”
Pete Dorchak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.