During a third-down play in Temple’s intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday at Penn’s Franklin Field, four safeties — senior Delvon Randall, graduate student Rodney Williams, junior Benny Walls, and redshirt sophomore Keyvone Bruton — were all on the field.
Randall returns as a third-year starter after earning first-team American Athletic Conference honors, recording 80 tackles and grabbing four interceptions in 2017. He played alongside Sean Chandler, who made 48 career starts and intercepted 10 passes from 2014-17. Without Chandler, who is fighting to stay on the New York Giants’ roster after signing as an undrafted free agent in May, Temple has a spot to fill at safety.
Instead of using a traditional depth chart with first-teamers, second-teams and so on, the Owls use an “Above the Line” list that names people the coaching staff considers ready to contribute in games. Defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said Randall, Williams, Walls and Bruton are above the line and graduate safety Jyquis Thomas is in consideration for playing time as he returns from an injury he sustained last season.
“I think we probably have six safeties that would start at a lot of places, and we’re just trying to get the packages…and all the things that we do so we can get these guys roles,” coach Geoff Collins said.
Bruton made his first appearance of 2017 in the final regular season game against Tulsa on special teams. He also played in the Owls’ next game, their victory against Florida International University in the Gasparilla Bowl.
This preseason, he is working on understanding the playbook more and learning how to play in Dime and Nickel packages. Bruton said spring training camp was an important period for him to get better.
“The main thing was just I finally started believing in myself, just having confidence in myself and confidence in my ability on top of just relentlessly studying the playbook and watching film so I can put myself in a good position when it was time to make those big plays,” Bruton said.
“The development, improvement of Keyvone Bruton has been amazing,” Thacker said. “He is as improved as anyone on the team from last year to this year.”
Thomas missed the last four games of 2017 with an injury. After playing in every game on special teams in 2015, he played seven in each of the next two seasons.
Senior cornerback Rock Ya-Sin said Thomas is a “baller” who’ll contribute as long as he stays healthy.
“[Thomas]’s able to come on the field and play safety, but he also hits like a linebacker so he gives us ability to fit the run while also play the pass,” junior linebacker Shaun Bradley said. “So it’s going to really benefit us.
Walls has played 24 career games and served as a backup safety in all 13 games in 2017, but he has never started. Last season, he made 21 tackles and forced two fumbles. This preseason, he is working on his tackling technique, focusing on fundamentals like keeping his head up.
Williams joined the Owls in May after four seasons at Syracuse University, where he made 125 tackles and two interceptions in 33 games. Former Owls defensive backs coach Francis Brown recruited Williams while he played for Cherry Hill West High School in South Jersey. Williams chose Syracuse over offers from the University at Buffalo and Temple, according to Rivals.com.
In high school, Williams played against Temple players from South Jersey like Chandler and former wide receiver Adonis Jennings.
“They’ve been extremely successful during their college careers, so that’s exciting to see and now that I can come back and be able to play with those guys, it’s really cool,” Williams said.
Across the entire defense, communication has been the largest improvement, Thacker said. The Owls’ defensive schemes are largely unchanged from 2017, Randall said, but they’re playing faster because they’re more comfortable with concepts than they were last year.
As Temple begins scout periods for its season opener on Sept. 1 against Villanova this week, Williams believes the Owls have a “deep” group at safety.
“We’re still trying to find our roles, but all we’re really focused on is getting 1 percent better and then coming out here and doing everything we can individually,” Williams said. “And that will help us as a whole get to our team goal that we want, and everything individual will take care of itself.”