Even though Temple University football head coach Rod Carey is back on the field, he doesn’t feel any sense of normality, he said.
The Owls are slowly starting to ramp up practice after extended time off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They don’t have a game scheduled until Sept. 26 against Navy in Annapolis, Maryland, as all four of Temple’s non-conference games were canceled.
“I wouldn’t say we are practicing yet,” Carey said on Aug. 18. “We are doing football-related activities. We have successfully navigated how to get back to being active with the team. I do feel good about where we are at right now.”
The team has done well “rolling with the punches,” and hasn’t been forced to stop practicing yet, Carey added.
During a normal fall practice, the entire team is on the field at the same time. They start by breaking into groups based on positions and then come together for team drills toward the end of practice.
The team drills would include seven-vs-seven and 11-vs-11 scrimmages where the defense is tasked with stopping the offense before gaining a first down or scoring a touchdown.
But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Temple has changed their practice routine.
The new practice structure includes players being broken into “first team” and “second team” groups. Each team is then divided into offense and defensive groups of no larger than 50, per regulations from the City of Philadelphia, Carey said.
“We haven’t had a crossover yet with offensive and defense staying on two separate sides of the field,” said graduate student linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley. “The different precautions have made it a little difficult to have contact within practices. We are doing everything we can to get back to regular stuff.”
Temple started allowing offense and defense to go against one another in drills on Saturday.
Despite changes to limit contact during practice and other COVID-19 precautions, five players have opted out of playing this season, Carey said. Carey would not reveal which players opted out, but supports their decision, he added.
The coaches remain confident the protocols in place will keep players safe.
“Coach Carey has done a great job,” said defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jeff Knowles. “We are trying to social distance as best we can. In terms of practice, we are being really cautious. I don’t worry about them getting [COVID-19] from anything we are doing in practice.”
Other teams in The American Athletic Conference have already paused football practice due to student-athletes testing positive for COVID-19. The University of Tulsa paused football practice on Aug. 17 after eight student-athletes tested positive.
Athletes are tested once a week and are required to be tested 72 hours before a game, Carey said.
The American is still planning on holding a fall season. AAC commissioner Mike Aresco stated in an interview it was too early to decide the state of the football season, The Temple News reported.
There is still uncertainty with Temple’s schedule. They are allowed to schedule up to four non-conference opponents and have had talks with some schools about playing before Sept. 26, said acting athletic director Fran Dunphy.
Temple was supposed to start the season on Sept. 5 against the University of Miami.
“I can’t say we are going to be playing before the Navy game at this point,” Dunphy said. “It could change. There are a number of things that could change with that if someone else presents themselves as a possible opponent.”
Carey isn’t worried about filling the potential extra time before the team’s first game, he said.
“The things we were doing when [the players] first came back in July were super limited,” Carey added. “The build is what kinda keeps it fresh and keeps it going. As you add activity to their schedule, that’s what keeps them going.”