As the Temple Owls football team starts their NCAA mandated spring drills, this is a time for evaluations. Coach Bobby Wallace is now heading into his fifth season and all the players he is evaluating are those he has recruited and brought into the Owls system himself.
This is a team that ended the season on a two-game winning streak, including impressive victories over West Virginia and Connecticut. The team finished with a second consecutive 4-7 season and finished 2-5 in the Big East Conference.
Spring drills give the coaching staff an early look on who will step up and lead the team next year as the Owls return 52 letter winners form last season, including 17 starters. Most of those starters are from the offensive side of the ball. These players have a huge task ahead of them, as the Owls welcome new offensive coordinator David Brock and his spread offense.
“I feel comfortable with the offense we are putting in, but it is still going to take time to learn,” Wallace said. “It’s a spread no-huddle system that takes what the defense gives.”
With this new offense a lot of the touches will go to what Wallace calls his “skill” people. At the head of that list is senior tailback Tarnardo Sharps, along with junior tailback Makonnen Fenton. Sharps, a candidate for the Doak Walker Award which is given to the nation’s best running back, is the fifth ranked rusher in school history and will look to continue that climb up the list this year.
Fenton was used as a return specialist and lead the Big East in return yards average. The receiver position is another area that “skill” people will have to come from, and the team has some candidates to fill that need. Junior Sean Dillard really came into his own last year, leading the league in receptions per game, and second in receiving yards, earning a spot on the All-Big East second team.
“Dillard took a big step last year and became an outstanding player,” Wallace said. “We also have some very talented players at receiver yet to reach their potential because of injuries.”
He was referring to senior Zamir Cobb, juniors Ikey Chuku, and Terrence Stubbs, all cut down with injuries last year. Coaches will keep an eye on the status of these players.
Spring drills are also a place for competition and early edge for players on the depth chart. And one place is for the signal caller of this offense, the competition is between last years freshman starter Mike McGann, sophomore Collin Hannigan, and senior Mike Frost. Frost was a redshirt last season after starting three games in 2000. McGann starts the spring atop the depth chart starting seven games last season as a freshman.
“We have three big, strong quarterbacks that can throw the football. This offense depends on the quarterback’s ability to make good decisions.” Wallace said.
On the defensive side of the football there are big holes to fill. Losing big playmakers Raheem Brock, Chonn Lacey, and Akeiff Staples, defensive coordinator Raymond Monica had incorporated the black jersey this spring for the players he is leaning on.
“The players in black are proven defensive starters. These are the guys that we know we can win with,” Monica said.
Early in the spring the players wearing these special jerseys are senior defensive tackles Dan Klecko and Rob Sack, senior Owlback Jairo Almonte, senior strong safety Lafton Thompson, senior cornerback Terrance Leftwich, and senior free safety Jamal Wallace. The defense was a driving force of the team last year, and will be looked upon to do the same this season.
Matt Sitkoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org