Temple Owls

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.”