Entering last year’s spring camp, Temple’s linebacker corps had little college experience.
This year, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Andrew Thacker believes the group has the potential to be “one of the dominant linebacker groups in the country.”
“We had growing pains,” Thacker said. “The linebacker core that played versus [the University of] Notre Dame versus the linebacking corps that played versus [Florida International University], I would say is was different.”
The Owls are returning every starting linebacker from last season, including junior Shaun Bradley, who led the team with 81 tackles. Bradley made his presence felt in the first spring practice on Tuesday at Chodoff Field.
During drills between the first-team offense and defense, Bradley broke up a few passes and intercepted redshirt-senior quarterback Frank Nutile.
Thacker likes the versatility junior linebacker Sam Franklin offers. Franklin can play on the line of scrimmage and cover inside receivers, Thacker said.
Franklin made eight starts, recorded six pass break ups and tallied 59 tackles as a sophomore last season.
Coach Geoff Collins said Temple has six linebackers who he can rotate at the position, which is an option he didn’t have at the beginning of last season.
“They’re young, they’re athletic, they can run, they have length,” Collins said. “I’m just excited how they lead, how they interact with the team and they are playmakers too. I got to imagine that if not this year, the next year it will be one of the top five linebacker groups in college football.”
Temple added six mid-year enrollees, including senior cornerback Rock Ya-Sin, a transfer from Presbyterian College.
With former starting defensive backs Sean Chandler, Mike Jones and Artrel Foster graduating, the Owls needed to fill the void in the secondary.
Ya-Sin lined up with the first-team defense on Tuesday and made an immediate impact. The 5-foot-11-inch transfer picked off Nutile on a Hail Mary pass down the sideline.
During his time at Presbyterian, a Football Championship Subdivision school, Ya-Sin recorded a school-record five interceptions and a first-team all-Big South selection as his junior year. He played in all of Presbyterian’s games during his career there and recorded 95 total tackles.
Ya-Sin, a Georgia native, was a two-time state champion wrestler at Southwest DeKalb High School.
“He had an unbelievable offseason,” Collins said. “I’ve been really excited about how he’s worked in this offseason conditioning program. I’m excited to see him as a player.”
Junior defensive back Linwood Crump also lined up with the first-team defense on Tuesday.
Crump contributed on the special teams unit last season and played as a slot cornerback. He tallied 23 total tackles along and one forced fumble in his first two seasons at Temple.
Redshirt-junior defensive back Kareem Ali is fully healthy and ready to contribute this year, Collins said. Ali saw limited action as a redshirt-freshman before injuring his arm in Week 2, and he didn’t play last season.
“I think he’s getting better,” Collins said. “He’s had a really good offseason, the way he’s worked, the way he’s carried himself. And the biggest thing with Kareem is that he’s actually gained some weight, because he’s got some muscles so we can prevent some of the injuries.”
Replacing key defensive line production
Defensive ends Jacob Martin and Sharif Finch, who combined for 89 tackles and 16.5 sacks last season, graduated.
Redshirt junior Dana Levine and redshirt sophomore Quincy Roche lined up with the first-team defense in Martin and Finch’s spots on Tuesday.
Roche recorded 27 tackles and six sacks last season. He also earned co-American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week with three sacks, eight tackles and one forced and recovered fumble after Temple’s 29-21 win against UMass on Sept. 15.
Levine participated in every game last season at defensive end and on special teams. He had 23 tackles, one tackle for loss, one forced fumble and one blocked extra-point attempt last season.
2017 starters redshirt-senior defensive lineman Michael Dogbe and redshirt-sophomore defensive lineman Dan Archibong each returned.
Dogbe had 21 tackles and one tackle for loss last season, while Archibong recorded 17 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
As he enters his first year as defensive coordinator, Thacker said he’ll have the ability to use several tactics because of the Owls’ personnel.
“We don’t define ourselves as one thing,” Thacker said. “A lot of people will go on Madden and they’ll say ‘Are you a 4-3 or 3-4?’ So that was the point I was making, as opposed to trying to pin us down as to what we are. We’re more worried about being the effort-based defense.”