Veteran backs rest during Temple’s intrasquad scrimmage

Senior Ryquell Armstead and redshirt junior Jager Gardner didn’t play on Saturday at Penn’s Franklin Field to ensure they’ll be ready for the Owls’ season opener on Sept. 1.

Redshirt-freshman cornerback Ty Mason (right) attempts to tackle redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Freddie Johnson during the Owls' practice on Saturday at Franklin Field on Penn's campus in University City. | LUKE SMITH / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple University traveled to Penn for an intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday at Franklin Field.

The Owls looked to simulate a game-like atmosphere. Temple stayed at a hotel on Friday night and split into teams before playing a scrimmage broken into two halves. Temple ran about 150 plays at Franklin Field on Saturday, coach Geoff Collins said.

The practice was closed to the public, but players’ families sat in the stands to watch. The second half of the scrimmage was open to reporters.

Standout plays

On the first play after halftime, graduate quarterback Frank Nutile dropped back and launched a deep pass that hit redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Freddie Johnson in stride.

Redshirt-freshman cornerback Ty Mason covered Johnson on the play and made the tackle after a 52-yard gain. Johnson and Mason lined up across from each other several times during the scrimmage.

The next time they were on the field, Johnson ran a fade route to the corner of the end zone. Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Anthony Russo threw what looked to be a touchdown pass to Johnson, but Mason put his right arm up to break up the pass.

“He has true top-end speed, he has flexible hips and now he’s getting confidence playing the ball in the air,” defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker said.

“He’s an above-the-line player,” Thacker added. “Whether, he’s a starter or not, he’s an above-the-line player that we expect to play at a high level against Villanova.”

Last Thursday, defensive line coach Jim Panagos said junior defensive tackle Karamo Dioubate has been playing at an “elite level.” On Saturday, Dioubate made a number of plays at Franklin Field.

On one play, redshirt-freshman quarterback Todd Centeio dropped back and tried to throw a pass to his left, only to have it batted down at the line of scrimmage by Dioubate.

Dioubate increased his strength and flexibility in the offseason, graduate defensive tackle Michael Dogbe said. Dioubate starting doing yoga after Dogbe, who has been doing it for two years, suggested it.

“[Dioubate]’s a guy who can pass rush,” Dogbe said. “He can be outside playing D-end, D-tackle, it doesn’t matter. He’s a guy who has really been dominating camp, and it shows.”

Both sidelines were vocal during the scrimmage at Penn. Defensive players stood on one side of the field, while offensive players stood on the other.

The offensive sideline was the loudest in the second half when freshman wide receiver Sean Ryan caught a 10-yard pass along the left sideline then pulled off a spin move to send the defender covering him to the ground. Ryan scampered for an extra 10 yards on the play.

On the final drive of the scrimmage, redshirt-freshman cornerback Josh Allen made the biggest hit of the day on redshirt-freshman wide receiver Thomas Mattioni in the middle of the field. Allen’s hit created a large “pop” noise that sent the defensive sideline into a frenzy.

Veteran running backs sit out scrimmage

Senior running back Ryquell Armstead didn’t wear shoulder pads and instead sported a yellow practice penny over his jersey. At one point, Armstead was on the sideline with a pack of ice over his right knee.

Collins said Armstead will be “fine” and was held out of practice for precautionary reasons. Junior linebacker Sam Franklin didn’t play for the same motive.

Running back Jager Gardner also did not participate on Saturday. The redshirt junior will return to practice next week, Collins said.

Last season, Collins said the running back position was scary at times due to the lack of depth because of injuries. Along with Gardner, redshirt sophomore Tyliek Raynor is banged up. Raynor is expected to miss the first couple of weeks of the season, Collins said.

This marks the third straight season Raynor has been injured. Collins said he is excited for when the Philadelphia native returns to the field healthy after dealing with injuries in his first two seasons in the program.

With the injuries to Gardner and Raynor, redshirt-senior fullback Rob Ritrovato has emerged as the second running back behind Armstead. Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude is pleased with Ritrovato’s performance in training camp and sees him as a power back who can fight for tough yards up the middle.

“He is a legitimate No. 2 running back,” Patenaude said. “He pounds the ball. He’s a totally different look from ‘Rock’ Armstead. He understands protections. …He’s 230 pounds, and we’re pounding that inside zone and he’s getting us two, three yards on contact.”

Other running backs who could contribute are redshirt sophomore Jonny Forrest, redshirt freshman Jeremy Jennings and freshman Kyle Dobbins.

Forrest and Dobbins received a lot of playing time in the second half of the scrimmage. Dobbins had about four carries and caught one pass out of the backfield.

Redshirt-sophomore running back Jonny Forrest (right) gets tackled during Temple’s intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday at Penn’s Franklin Field. | LUKE SMITH / THE TEMPLE NEWS

“The battle for the next spot at the running back position, the battle for the next spot at the Sam linebacker, Nickel linebacker position, is really intense and we want to make sure we guaranteed that those guys got reps today, and they did,” Collins said.

Punter competition continues

Collins said he is still unsure who will be the No. 1 punter for the season opener against Villanova on Sept 1. If Temple had to play a game tomorrow, Collins said redshirt freshman Connor Bowler would likely be the punter.

The other two punters competing for the starting spot are redshirt freshmen Drew Levin and Max Cavallucci.

“They’ve all done some good things, and they each have their own specialties, which makes it very very intriguing for [special teams coordinator and tight ends] coach [Ed Foley] and myself scheming up the things that we’re going to do on punt team, which is going to be a little bit unique and new,” Collins said.

Temple is looking to replace Alex Starzyk, who punted for the Owls from 2014-17. Starzyk averaged 40 yards per punt in his career and had a career-long 71-yard punt in 2015.

Preparation for Villanova ramps up

The Owls are now two weeks away from their season opener against Villanova. Temple will begin installing scout periods for Villanova during practices next week, Collins said. There will be one on Wednesday, two on Thursday and three on Friday.

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