Temple Owls

Temple Spring Game: Process to replace 7 defensive starters begins

Temple enters the 2017 season without seven of its starters from last year's defense.

A couple will be chosen in the 2017 NFL draft like projected first-round pick DE/LB Haason Reddick and mid-round pick CB Nate Hairston.

The departures of last year's starting linebackers Avery Williams, Stephaun Marshall and Jared Alwan also leave a void in the middle of the defense.

But the Owls aren't short on resources to replace those aforementioned players this upcoming season, and those resources were on display in the Cherry and White Game on Saturday at Edberg-Olson Hall. The Cherry team prevailed 17-14 over the White squad (see offensive recap).

"We have to replace three," head coach Geoff Collins said of the linebackers Saturday. "The development of those young linebackers, they showed up today in a big way. I'm proud of them, I'm excited about it."

Each of the starting linebackers last season had 50-plus tackles. They also combined for 20 percent of Temple's total tackles.

Collins has stressed since the start of Spring practices that he's looking for "above-the-line" players, meaning that a player is talented enough to see significant playing time.

Two front-runners for starting linebacker jobs, Jared Folks and Chapelle Russell, didn't play in the Cherry and White game because of injury and haven't been active during Spring practice. 

Folks racked up 32 tackles, including two tackles for a loss, one interception and one forced fumble last year. Russell had 25 tackles, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble.

With Folks and Russell out, fellow linebackers Shaun Bradley and William Kwenkeu were able to showcase their talents Saturday.

"I've seen some leadership emerge out of the young linebackers, as it should," running back Jager Gardner said. "They're really fast, they're really athletic, I see a lot of good things out of them. It's going to be a really scary year for some teams."

"Shaun Bradley sticks out to me," Gardner added. "He's everywhere on the field."

It's no wonder as Bradley led the linebacker group in tackles with five Saturday.

Collins said he wants to have eight linebackers playing at an "above-the-line" level before they kick off the season on the road against Notre Dame on Sept. 2. 

One area of the defense Collins and defensive coordinator Taver Johnson won't have much turnover is the defensive backfield. Starting safeties Sean Chandler and Delvon Randall are both returning, while Artrel Foster and Derrek Thomas will be back on the outside at cornerback.

Foster and fellow cornerback Kareem Ali were each ruled inactive for the spring game Saturday, which gave Mike Jones, a transfer from North Carolina Central, some time on the outside. Jones had 114 tackles, 36 pass break-ups and 11 interceptions in four years at North Carolina Central.

Jones picked off quarterback Logan Marchi and ran it back for 10 yards in the spring game Saturday.

Randall said he has seen improvement since the start of spring practices amongst the defensive backs.

"I see progress every day, day by day," Randall said. "I see a lot of progress. We're just trying to get everyone on the same level. Just pick up from where we left off last year and make it better."

Temple finished third in the NCAA last season in total defense and passing defense.

Randall said it means a lot for him to see guys like Tavon Young and Hairston go into the NFL as he hopes to eventually follow in their footsteps.

But first, he plans on passing along the tips they taught him to the young group of defensive backs on the Owls' roster.

"The main part is work ethic, take no days off," Randall said. "And when you take no days off, it will show eventually."

Two-way flexibility
Collins has repeatedly emphasized positional flexibility since his arrival as the head coach. Wide receiver Keith Kirkwood was lined up at defensive end and picked up a sack in the spring game Saturday.

Bradley, who rushed for over 1,400-yards at Rancocas Valley High School his senior year, got reps at running back on Saturday and carried the ball one time for six yards.

"Seeing the flexibility of our team is just a plus for me," Randall said. "We have enough guys that can do multiple things and it will help during the season."