Ventell Bryant

Temple shaping up for transition year with Geoff Collins at helm

Temple shaping up for transition year with Geoff Collins at helm

A season of change is upon North Broad Street.

The new era of Temple football starts its engines this Saturday as new head coach Geoff Collins and the Owls head to Notre Dame for a nationally televised showdown with the Fighting Irish (3:30 p.m./NBC10).

Before Saturday afternoon’s kick off, CSNPhilly.com reporter Greg Paone breaks down the defending AAC champion Owls from every angle.

Offense
To say the most important position on the field is unsettled would be quite the understatement. Redshirt junior Frank Nutile, redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi, redshirt freshman Anthony Russo and true freshman Todd Centeio are all gunning for the starter’s crown. Yes, you read that correctly. Just hours before the Owls’ season opener, Collins has yet to publicly announce his starting quarterback against Notre Dame (see story).

He said earlier this week he knows who will get the first snap, but won’t say another word about it. Don’t be surprised to see a multi-QB system, at least as things shake out to start the season, as Nutile and Russo bring a pro-style game while Marchi and Centeio are much more mobile and can wreak havoc with their legs. Collins could well choose to use different QBs in different situations on the field. Either way, no matter who has the ball in his hands to fill the cleats of four-year starter and school record-breaker Phillip Walker, the inexperience will be there as the four current Temple QBs have combined for five completions, 69 yards and a touchdown in their collegiate careers.

Things are much more settled at running back, where junior Ryquell Armstead is the clear cowbell back. The 5-foot-11, 205 pounder is a versatile back who can power his way through the line of scrimmage and tackles, but can also slash to make opponents miss and then display breakaway speed that made him a track star at South Jersey’s Millville High School. Armstead racked up 919 yards on the ground last season, including a career-high 210 yards in a win over USF, and led the Owls with 14 rushing TDs last season. Behind him is junior speedster Jager Gardner, who owns the program record for the longest touchdown run with a 94-yard scamper vs. SMU in 2015.  He had just 111 yards and two TDs last season on the ground, but his opportunity to see the field more has arrived now that star Jahad Thomas has graduated.

Temple should have no problems on the outside, where the three-headed monster of seniors Keith Kirkwood and Adonis Jennings and junior Ventell Bryant reigns supreme. The trio last season combined for 2,017 yards on 123 receptions, 12 of which were for touchdowns. Bryant led the way with 54 grabs and 895 yards. They each hauled in four scores apiece. There is talent, skill, speed, athleticism and everything in between when it comes to these three. There’s also no lack of confidence. “I believe, in my eyes, we're the best receiving corps in this country," Kirkwood said recently (see story). Having this experienced group will be an invaluable asset to the Owls’ green QBs as these three wideouts have the ability to correct mistakes when the ball is in the air.

Defense
The steep challenge here for Temple is replacing seven starters, including defensive end Haason Reddick — who was the 13th overall pick in this past April’s NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals — from a unit that ranked third in the nation in total defense (282.5 yards allowed per game), third in passing defense (151.2 yards per game), 11th in scoring defense (18.4 points allowed per game) and 25th in rushing defense (130.7 yards per game) last season.

Let’s start in the defensive backfield, where star senior safety Sean Chandler is now the unquestioned leader of the defense (see story). An uber-talented, versatile safety with the ability to both cover wideouts and patrol the field, Chandler is a four-year starter. Collins has already praised him among the best players he’s ever coached. Chandler has recorded 185 tackles, seven interceptions, three sacks and three forced fumbles in his Temple career. Keep an eye on his safety partner, hard-hitting junior Delvon Randall, whom Chandler has been mentoring. On the outside, redshirt sophomore Artrel Foster and senior transfer Mike Jones are expected to start at corner.

The landscape at linebacker is still fluid as the Owls have to replace all three starters from last year. Collins even admitted earlier this week that his thoughts on who could start at linebacker at Notre Dame could change in the days and hours leading up to kickoff. That said, expect redshirt sophomore Chappelle Russell and sophomore Shaun Bradley, both of whom are incredibly athletic, to see plenty of snaps as they look to cement themselves as the next great Temple linebacker. Here’s a change from last season: not one of the five LBs listed on Temple’s first “Above the Line” chart (Collins’ version of a depth chart) is shorter than 6-foot.

The defensive line features a solid mix of veteran experience and youth. Redshirt senior Sharif Finch and true senior Jacob Martin will lead the way on the outside at defensive end.  On the inside at defensive tackle is where youth will be served, as redshirt juniors Michael Dogbe and Freddie Booth-Lloyd and sophomore Karamo Dioubate will all have their time to shine.

Special teams
There’s an interesting kicking battle going on and, much like the QB situation, there may not be a clear-cut answer for a little while.

Senior Austin Jones is back from a torn ACL suffered while covering a kickoff in the loss at Memphis last October. Jones was kicking well, too, prior to the injury, as he was 10 for 12 on the year before going on the shelf. Collins recently said Temple’s strength coaches and trainers told him Jones’ leg is now even stronger than it was before the injury. But in his career, Jones is only 8 for 13 from the 40 to 49-yard range.

A former walk-on, sophomore Aaron Boumerhi stepped in and was a revelation as freshman last season, going 15 for 17, including 5 for 5 from the 40 to 49-yard range.

Again, much like with the QBs, Collins’ kicker of choice could well come down to the situation on the field.

Coaching
Shortly after the Matt Rhule era reached its apex with last season’s AAC crown and then abruptly ended with his departure for Baylor, the Collins era began. The 46-year-old takes the reigns of the Owls after two seasons as defensive coordinator at Florida and four seasons as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State prior to that. Dubbed the “Minister of Mayhem,” Collins is a defensive guru known for his aggressive schemes and an energetic personality to match. He coached Eagles superstar Fletcher Cox while at MSU. He also coached NFL first-round picks safety Keanu Neal (Atlanta Falcons, 2016), corner Vernon Hargreaves (Tampa Bay Bucs, 2016) and linebacker Jarrad Davis (Detroit Lions, 2017) while with the Gators.

Offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude comes to Temple after five seasons in the same role at FCS Coastal Carolina. In his time with the Chanticleers, Patenaude’s spread offenses were known to kick the tempo up and score in bunches. In five years at Coastal Carolina, Patenaude’s offenses averaged 34.5 points per game. And he likes to establish the run, as his teams averaged 189.7 yards on the ground per game in those five seasons. It will be intriguing all season long to see what he comes up with to utilize the weapons on offense the Owls possess.

Taver Johnson is a first-time defensive coordinator charged with revamping the historically stout Temple defense that lost so much after last season. While this is Johnson’s first coordinator gig, he has plenty of big-time college football experience as he has coached defensive backs at Ohio State, Arkansas and most recently Purdue, where he spent the last three seasons. While at Ohio State, he coached and mentored current Eagles star safety Malcolm Jenkins. Johnson has talent to work with at Temple, but it is youthful talent that still needs some seasoning.

Players to watch
Offense: Sophomore WR Isaiah Wright
Don’t let the wide receiver moniker fool you. Sophomore Isaiah Wright is a true playmaker with the ability to break off huge gains in a variety of ways. As a true freshman last season, he forced his way onto the field as a receiver, running back and punt and kickoff return specialist. But where he did most of his damage was out of the backfield in the wildcat formation, as he rushed 42 times for 232 yards and his first collegiate touchdown. He also snatched eight passes for 81 yards. It doesn’t matter how stacked Temple could be at wideout this season, Wright is too talented to keep off the field. Look for Patenaude and crew to continue to use Wright in a variety of ways.

Defense: Redshirt junior DT Freddie Booth-Lloyd
Even if you don’t know just who exactly Booth-Lloyd is, odds are you’ve seen him before. Booth-Lloyd was the star of this viral video from a few years back that showed him, an incredibly agile man of large size, blowing past track and field competition. Now, the 6-foot-1, 325-pound defensive tackle has the chance to use that incredible athleticism and agility to clog the line of scrimmage and get to the quarterback as he will see plenty of playing time this season. If he can channel all that athleticism, agility and raw power he possesses, he could be a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line.

Game to watch
Sept. 21 at South Florida
The easy, cop-out answer here would be Saturday at Notre Dame. But even with the hype and attention that comes with playing the Fighting Irish, the fact of the matter is it’s still the first game of a new season for a new coaching staff. It’s still a game where the Owls will have to get their footing under them and get a feel for things. But by the time Temple hits South Florida on Sept. 21, it'll have three games — two of which are against very beatable opponents in Villanova and UMass — under its belt to smooth any bumps in the road. And they’ll need to smooth out any bumps to hang with new head coach Charlie Strong’s Bulls, who are ranked No. 19 in the AP Preseason Top 25. They return dynamic QB Quinton Flowers to head a formidable attack. They’re the sexy pick among many to represent the Group of 5 in the New Year’s Six bowls this season. Want to know where this Temple team stands? The measuring stick comes early.

Prediction
There are no doubts that this is a transition year for the Temple program. With the new coaching staff, new quarterback(s) and all the new starters on defense, how could it not be? It’s a tough team to put a finger on the pulse of right now before seeing something out on the field. The QB situation does give significant pause, though. That’s an issue that needs an answer. The prediction here is 7-5 and no three-peat as AAC East champs. The Owls will still go bowling, though.

Temple leaning on upperclassmen wide receiver trio to guide new offense

Temple leaning on upperclassmen wide receiver trio to guide new offense

Quarterback this, quarterback that.

Here, there, everywhere throughout Temple’s preseason camp, the questions about the quarterbacks have been flung fast and furiously in the direction of first-year head coach Geoff Collins about who will start this Saturday's opener at Notre Dame.

And rightfully so as the four-horse race for the starter’s crown at the most important position on the field is still unsettled.

But there are no questions on 10th and Diamonds Streets about who the QB is going to throw the ball to on the outside.

Headed by redshirt senior Keith Kirkwood, senior Adonis Jennings and junior Ventell Bryant, the Owls feature one of, if not the most loaded wide receiver corps in the entire American Athletic Conference.

There is experience, athleticism, size, strength, speed and everything else in between.

There’s also a hell of a lot of confidence.

"I believe, in my eyes, we're the best receiving corps in this country," Kirkwood said last week. "No disrespect to any other team, but that's how much I believe in my group.

"We're tremendously deep. We have so much depth that I think any receiver in this group right now can play.

“Our receiver group is very knowledgeable. We all came back together. We all build off one another. There are a lot of new freshmen who came in and are doing great and making tremendous strides. They can play on this field as well.”

Kirkwood, who was awarded jersey No. 5 for this season, a distinction of great weight as Temple coaches and teammates traditionally award single-digit jersey numbers to those Owls voted the toughest on the team, is the senior leader and mouthpiece of the Owls' talented receivers. He's so respected among his peers that he was the first player during camp this year to be awarded a single-digit jersey.

A Neptune, New Jersey native, Kirkwood burst onto the scene last season after transferring from Hawaii with a hardship waiver in 2014 and redshirting in 2015 after suffering a season-ending injury in the opening victory over Penn State at Lincoln Financial Field.

With ample opportunity ahead of him in 2016, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Kirkwood reached out and caught almost every ounce of opportunity thrown his way.
 
He snatched 42 balls for 648 yards and four TDs, including a tip-toed grab in the back of the endzone with just a second left that gave the Owls an improbable victory at UCF last October, a victory last year’s squad used as a launching pad toward the AAC title.  Temple, a wandering 3-3 team at the time, reeled off seven straight wins after Kirkwood’s season-saving catch.

And now there’s even more opportunity for Kirkwood to tackle, literally.

Collins is a huge believer in the Bill Belichick theory of “position flexibility.” He trains and coaches his players to play multiple spots on the field on both sides of the ball.

This summer, Kirkwood has lined up plenty at defensive end.

“I most definitely think I’ll get there [vs. Notre Dame,]” Kirkwood said. “I’m getting some reps in there with the 1s. We’ll see what happens in the first game.

“It’s helped me out a lot, seeing that being versatile is kind of what they want at the next level, to see if you can play both sides of the ball.”

At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Jennings is an athletic specimen who can blow by a defender or make the difficult catch in traffic.

A Sicklerville, New Jersey native and Timber Creek High School product, Jennings transferred to Temple in 2015 after spending his freshman season at Pitt and receiving a hardship waiver, just as Kirkwood did.

And also much like Kirkwood did, Jennings took full advantage of increased opportunity in the Owls’ offense last season.  He nabbed 27 balls for 474 yards and four TDs. He had himself a career day in the Owls’ disheartening Military Bowl loss to Wake Forest late last December when he recorded career-highs with seven receptions, 154 yards and two touchdowns.

“I’m just trying to take this leadership role on with the receivers as well as with Keith and Ventell,” Jennings said of his role with the Owls this season.

“I’m just being the older mentor to the younger guys to bring them along and help bring the whole team along. … Me and all the older guys, we just have to continue to bring the younger guys on this team along so that when we leave, they’ll be able to fill in and do great things.

“Time flies. I embrace being a leader for those guys. They look up to me and they ask me questions, so I’m glad to be able to help them. I just look really forward to guiding them throughout the season.”

Bryant, a Tampa, Florida native, actually led the Owls in receiving last year and got better and better as the season went on. He posted 854 yards on 54 receptions, four of which were for touchdowns.

The 6-foot-3, 200 pounder, who earned the No. 1 jersey as a sophomore last year, put up three games of over 100 yards receiving last season – 115 yards on five grabs in a win vs. USF in October, a career-high 168 yards on nine catches in a win at Tulane in November and 151 yards on a career-high 11 receptions in the Military Bowl loss.

The fact of the matter is, that while Collins and the Temple coaching staff break in one, two, three or even four new quarterbacks to play this season, the Owls will lean on this trio of skilled upperclassmen wideouts to help ease the transition and smooth out any bumps in the road.

These three wideouts have the ability to limit the quarterbacks’ mistakes, an invaluable asset for QBs with limited experience who’ve combined for just five completions and 69 yards in their college careers.

This trio can go and get the ball, and Collins knows that’s just what he’ll need them to do before, while and even after the QB situation bubbles.

“They’re an unbelievable group of guys,” Collins said of his upperclassmen wideouts. “They work hard and they compete.

“It’s up to us to find ways to get them the ball. [Offensive coordinator Dave] Patenaude is one of the most creative playcallers in college football and you will see a bunch of new stuff out here.

“But having those guys, it’s huge.”

Temple football 2016 scouting report

Temple football 2016 scouting report

How will Temple replace all of the departed talent on defense? Will the offense be able to consistently carry the load for the team? Can the Owls get back to the AAC East title game?

CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Matt Haughton and Greg Paone break down what to expect from the 2016 Temple Owls.

Offense 
The Owls' core leadership group has shifted from defense to offense, with seniors Phillip Walker and Jahad Thomas expected to be more vocal and take on more responsibility. Walker looks to become the first Temple quarterback to lead the Owls to two bowl games, and he will, in all likelihood, continue to put his name in the program's record books.

Thomas will remain the featured back for Temple, but he will have company in the backfield, as Ryquell Armstead, David Hood and Jager Gardner will be part of a rotation. As for Walker's targets, his go-to receiver, Robby Anderson, has graduated to the NFL — enjoying a productive preseason with the Jets — so Ventell Bryant and Adonis Jennings will be relied on more in the passing game, while Colin Thompson starts at tight end.

With Kyle Friend graduating, Temple's offensive line has some questions and inexperience. Dion Dawkins and Leon Johnson return as starters, while senior Brendan McGowan replaces Friend at center. Redshirt freshman Jovahn Fair will start at left guard, while redshirt junior Adrian Sullivan cracks the starting lineup for the first time in his career at RG.

- Dougherty

Defense
The defensive side of the ball figures to be the biggest key to Temple's season. Most importantly, how the Owls respond to the departures of award-winning linebacker Tyler Matakevich, defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis and cornerback Tavon Young for the NFL.

Filling those shoes will start with redshirt senior Stephaun Marshall, who will move over to WILL linebacker to replace Matakevich. He will be able to lean on fellow senior LBs Avery Williams and Jarred Alwan. Still, how Marshall handles the pressure of being the primary playmaker and leadership voice will go a long way in determining Temple's success on D.

Finding a replacement at CB could prove to be even more difficult. With Young in the NFL and Sean Chandler now playing safety, the Owls will look brand new outside on defense. There are a handful of talented players that will likely see time at cornerback, but they lack experience, which could come back to bite TU once the club gets into the teeth of the schedule.

Down on the interior, Temple will go with depth to replace anchor Ioannidis, Hershey Walton and Nate D. Smith. Defensive end is where the Owls will cause some havoc, with Haason Reddick and Praise Martin-Oguike back on the edge for a squad that racked up 32 sacks a season ago.

- Haughton

Coaching
Matt Rhule is back for his fourth season at the helm of Temple’s program. After last season’s 10-4 campaign, his overall record at Temple now sits at 18-20. Considering Rhule’s Owls went 2-10 in his first season as head coach, it’s an overall mark that shows incredible improvement during his tenure. This is a big year for Rhule in this sense — many of the players who will play important roles this season are his recruits from the past couple of years. This is a season in which the Owls will really start to evolve into the type of team Rhule has envisioned.

With Marcus Satterfield leaving for the head job at Tennessee Tech, Temple has a new offensive coordinator this year in Glenn Thomas, who was the quarterbacks coach last season. Prior to last year, Thomas spent three seasons as the quarterbacks coach of the Atlanta Falcons and helped Matt Ryan reach two Pro Bowls. Thomas played a hand in one of Temple’s most successful offenses last year, so don’t expect much to change this season. Under Thomas’ tutelage, Walker broke a school record last season with 2,972 passing yards. Walker also set a career high with 19 touchdown passes in 2015. 

Defensive coordinator Phil Snow brings his aggressive scheme back for another season. With the losses of three 2015 senior leaders to the NFL, Snow’s defense will need to replace plenty of production this season, but the talent to do it is there.

- Paone

Player to watch
Dougherty: Stephaun Marshall
Marshall moves from MIKE to WILL, replacing Matakevich in Snow's defense. That position, no matter the player, generally has produced under Snow throughout his career. The senior 'backer had a productive junior season, and he'll have an elevated role his final year at TU. Keep an eye out for No. 6 and see if he'll pick up Matakevich's tackles.

Haughton: Sean Chandler
"Champ," as he is known to just about everyone, Chandler will need to play like one for Temple's secondary this season. The junior has shifted from cornerback to safety, which should benefit his ball-hawking style (team-high four interceptions in 2015) and pro prospects. In addition to his on-field performance, the Owls will need Chandler to help usher in the team's young and inexperienced wave of CBs. Throw in his duties as a punt returner and Chandler will be among the most important players on TU's roster.

Paone: Adonis Jennings
Temple has to replace Walker’s go-to target in Anderson, who went undrafted but is currently enjoying a strong preseason with the New York Jets. While Bryant had a very nice 2015 freshman season with 579 yards and three touchdowns, Jennings could be the Owls’ next breakout star. At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds and with blazing speed, Jennings has all the physical tools to be a dominant receiver. The junior will have ample opportunity to make his presence felt this season as his role should expand greatly. In limited action last season, the Pitt transfer had 14 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Expect major boosts in each of those categories this year.

Game to watch
Dougherty: Sept. 17 at Penn State
Yes, Temple beat Penn State for the first time since 1941 last season. Yes, Temple should beat Penn State again this season. But the reason to watch this game is because it's the Owls' first real test of the year. Temple opens against Army and Stony Brook. One team runs the triple option, the other team is Stony Brook. How will Rhule's team fare against a Nittany Lions team that doesn't want to lose back-to-back years to Temple, and this time at Beaver Stadium? There are plenty of reasons to circle this one.

Haughton: Oct. 1 vs. SMU
It may not have the cache of playing Penn State or the importance of facing South Florida, but this matchup at Lincoln Financial Field may very well be the most entertaining. Temple and SMU nearly broke the scoreboard last season in Dallas, as the Owls walked away with a 60-40 win. With the Owls' offense expected to take another step forward and dual-threat quarterback Matt Davis back under center for the Mustangs, expect another track meet at the Linc.

Paone: Oct. 21 vs. South Florida
For as great as his team was last season, Rhule’s said that it lacked true athleticism. That could be seen at times on defense, where the Owls struggled with fast-moving offenses. Take for example last November’s 44-23 loss at South Florida when Bulls quarterback Quinton Flowers and running back Marlon Mack torched the Owls. Flowers and Mack are both back this year and South Florida is expected to be Temple’s top contender in the AAC East. In fact, the Bulls were picked first for the division in the preseason poll, with the Owls coming in second. The two teams meet Friday, Oct. 21, at the Linc in a matchup that could very well decide who represents the East in the AAC title game.

Prediction
Dougherty: It should be another successful season on North Broad Street, but it won't reach the level it did last year. College GameDay won't be coming back to Philly. Temple goes 9-3, finishes second behind USF in the East Division and goes bowling again.

Haughton: This could be a strange season in which Temple turns in another extremely successful season for the program but still ends up feeling a bit disappointed in the end. The Owls won't experience the historic highs of a year ago, but they will still be in the mix for the AAC East crown. However, I see some youth at key spots leading to a few hiccups along the way. Put them down for an 8-4 season and a second straight trip to a bowl game.

Paone: The Owls should be a very good team again this season. Very good can turn into great if some of the youth that will be infused into the lineup can make considerable impacts. I’ve got them at 9-3 with losses at Penn State, at Memphis on a short week and a wild-card, unexpected loss somewhere in there, too. I do see Temple beating South Florida at home, though. Whether that will be good enough to take the AAC East again remains to be seen.