Study Session: What to watch for at Cherry and White

Temple Football will end its spring season with the annual Cherry and White game, and there’s a lot on the line for the program’s future. Here’s what to expect for Saturday’s practice.

Temple Football players are preparing for the Cherry and White Spring game, as Temple looks to improve from their 3-9 record last season. | TRAE BYRD / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Philadelphia has been hit with all sorts of rain and changing temperatures this past week, which can only mean one thing: April is here. As the month begins, Temple Football’s spring season is drawing to a close, culminating in the team’s Cherry and White Spring Game on April 13.

The Owls have made several changes this offseason, and they have their first chance to put the 2024 team on full display after adding 42 players to the roster.

“It’s a pressing of the reset button,” said head coach Stan Drayton. “When you’ve got a bunch of guys getting acclimated to our team and our culture, you’re basically starting over. That’s not a bad thing — I think it’s a good thing, even for the guys on our roster to re-emphasize the things we want on our football team.”

Temple Football needed to press the reset button after its disappointing 2023 season. The Owls finished 3-9, struggling to compete with conference opponents despite showing flashes of talent on both sides of the ball. Now, the team is without star quarterback E.J. Warner, tight end David Martin-Robinson, linebacker Jordan Magee and several other key players that influenced the program for multiple years.

The Owls will need a new starting quarterback, a face-lift on defense and more production from its running game in 2024. Saturday’s Cherry and White game could indicate whether or not the Owls are one step closer to a spot in a bowl game.

However, the game itself has a bit of a caveat. Traditionally, the spring game is a showcase of the new roster, but it operates as an open practice. More often than not, the Cherry and White game is a spectacle, allowing fans the smallest opening into what happens behind the scenes in the spring.

That’s not to say it doesn’t matter. In fact, a lot of storylines from the season start at spring practice. Last year, walk-on wide receiver John Adams turned heads with a couple of impressive catches and he became a key part of the lineup when Amad Anderson Jr., Dante Wright and Ian Stewart moved in and out of the rotation due to injuries.

Safety Tywan Francis also impressed at last year’s event, showing his ability to cover multiple levels. He was the anchor of last year’s secondary, impressing in his debut on North Broad Street.

It is a two-way street though, and fans should be cautious when watching these early reps. Running back Kyle Williams and quarterback Tyler Douglas were impressive in their Cherry and White introductions but neither saw any playing time last year.

There are already several storylines heading into the final session of the spring. Defensive coordinator Everett Withers used his offseason to change his scheme from a 3-4 to a 4-3, meaning the Owls will have four defensive linemen and three linebackers in their base defense. This move frees up Temple’s edge rushers to get to the quarterback and takes the pressure off the linebackers against the run.

“Personnel wise, we did not have three-down package,” Withers said. “Then, we had injuries, and that made it even worse. It was obvious we couldn’t hold up in four ‘i’s’ [lineman lined up on the offensive linemen’s inside shoulders] up front. I’m a lot more comfortable in a four-down scheme — I have a lot of background in the ‘i front.’ I felt like we could find two big inside guys and let the linebackers scurry.”

Withers went back to the drawing board for his personnel as well, as Temple was eyeing up potential targets for its linebacker room as far back as week seven, Withers said. The Owls added seven linebackers, including Tyquan King from East Carolina and T.K. Wright from North Carolina State. 

The team added depth up front as well, which was a weakness when linemen Demerick Morris and Allan Haye went down at different points in the year.

On the other side of the ball, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf revamped the running back room while looking for Warner’s successor. Antwain Littleton transferred from Maryland this offseason and brings size and speed to the room, and Tyrei Washington has looked like a solid member of the rotation out of the Community College of San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Evan Simon and Forrest Brock are the frontrunners for the starting quarterback role after Montana transfer Clifton McDowell re-entered the transfer portal just two weeks into spring practices. Brock has taken many first-string snaps after playing in just one game last year.

The offensive line could also look a lot different this year, as the unit lost Victor Stoffell to the portal and Rich Rodriguez after his graduation. There are 17 linemen listed on the roster and 11 in the spring session, providing a level of depth the team hasn’t had since Drayton took the helm.

“There’s been really good growth across the board offensively,” said offensive line coach Chris Wiesehan. “We’ve had guys up front healthier. We’ve been able to play with 11 guys which is good. The quarterbacks being able to do what they do as far as pulling the ball in the running game has been really beneficial to our guys.”

Temple Football is at an important stage of Drayton’s tenure. He has a completely different roster for his third season and needs to show out in conference play. Saturday is just the start of an important season, and fans should be ready to watch signs of the future of the program.

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