Temple has more personnel available in the backfield

Seven players carried the ball during Saturday’s Cherry and White Game.

Redshirt-sophomore running back Tyliek Raynor carries the ball at the Cherry and White Game on Saturday at the Temple Sports Complex. | HOJUN YU / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple’s annual Cherry and White Game on Saturday featured seven different tailbacks who carried the ball.

Senior running back Ryquell Armstead, who spent most of last season dealing with toe and hamstring injuries, looked healthy despite only having three carries. Redshirt-senior fullback Rob Ritrovato had several of his signature bruiser runs up the gut. Even junior linebacker Shaun Bradley broke loose to the outside a couple of times.

But Temple’s leading rusher from last season, redshirt-senior running back David Hood, didn’t participate in the spring game, when the Cherry team beat the White squad, 28-24, at the Temple Sports Complex.

OwlScoop.com reported on Saturday that Hood might not return for the 2018 season because of several concussions he has suffered during his football career.

Hood is still on the Owls’ online roster, and coach Geoff Collins said Hood’s injury is “nothing really bad.”

Even if Hood doesn’t return, the Owls think they’ll have more depth at the running back position this season than in 2017.

“I thought they ran well,” Armstead said. “[Redshirt-freshman running back Jeremy Jennings], [Ritrovato], [redshirt-junior running back Jager Gardner] and [redshirt-sophomore running back Tyliek Raynor], they stepped up, they ran the ball well. They hit their tracks, and that’s all it’s about, just taking your coaching and doing what you gotta do.”

Even though he only had three carries, Armstead led the Owls in rushing with 33 yards for two touchdowns on Saturday. Bradley, who played running back at Rancocas Valley Regional High School in New Jersey, followed with two carries for 24 yards, while Raynor rushed for 15 yards on four carries. Gardner also chipped in seven yards on five rushes.

Raynor has yet to see game action since he enrolled at Temple because he redshirted in 2016 and tore his meniscus in 2017. He said he suffered the meniscus injury during the first day of training camp in a tug-of-war drill last season.

Raynor ended his career at Imhotep Institute Charter High School in East Germantown as a three-star recruit, according to 247sports.com. He had offers from schools like the University of Miami, West Virginia University and Purdue University, but chose Temple because it’s close to home, he said.

Raynor, who is from Philadelphia’s East Oak Lane neighborhood, said having his family nearby kept him confident after his injury.

“I always knew if I stayed healthy, what I was capable of, so I never really got down,” he said. “I just knew when my time would come.”

Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude said on March 13 that each running back adds his own style to the backfield.

Raynor has an up-tempo style that Patenaude called a “totally different thing.” Gardner, who only played in four games last season before he suffered a season-ending knee injury, is “physically gifted” at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, redshirt-freshman quarterback Todd Centeio said.

Jennings, who rushed for negative two yards on two carries and hauled in two receptions for five yards during the Cherry and White Game, is as “fast as anyone” in the American Athletic Conference, Patenaude said.

Jennings was a four-time letterwinner in track and field at Downingtown East High School in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. He also won a Pennsylvania track and field championship in the 4×100 during his sophomore year and took second place as a junior.

“Jeremy is one of the fastest backs on our team,” Armstead said earlier this month. “The good thing about him is that he listens. If I tell him something, he listens and he corrects it. That’s why he’s progressing and becoming a great running back.”

Ritrovato carried the ball five times for 12 yards on Saturday in the Cherry and White Game. Patenaude said Ritrovato offers a “changeup” style because he is a physical runner.

Temple has two more running backs in its recruiting class who will join the roster this summer. Onasis Neely and Kyle Dobbins — a two-star tailback and three-star running back according to Rivals.com — will have a chance to contribute when training camp starts in August.

Patenaude said he isn’t opposed to using more than one running back on the field at a time.

Last season, the Owls showed glimpses of split back sets. During their 29-21 victory against UMass on Sept. 15, Hood and Gardner lined up split next to Centeio in his lone series.

“We got healthy [Armstead],” Centeio said. “We got Jager, who’s coming back. … We got [redshirt-sophomore running back Jonny] Forrest, who’s Mr. Reliable. We got [Ritrovato], who’s Mr. Reliable and Tyliek, who’s a game changer, Jeremy Jennings, game-changer, all speed. So I feel like we have a lot of change of pace in our backfield.”

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