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Temple making the best of its practice reps while preparing for Sept. 26 opener at Navy

Temple receivers coach Thad Ward says the team is having up to a dozen scrimmage plays at each practice and the players are making the most of the limited hitting.

Temple wide receiver Jadan Blue runs in for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of a game against Tulane at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philadelphia on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. Temple won the game, 29-21.
Temple wide receiver Jadan Blue runs in for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of a game against Tulane at Lincoln Financial Field in South Philadelphia on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019. Temple won the game, 29-21.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

If all goes right, and that is not a given in these times of COVID-19, Temple will be playing its first football game in less than three weeks.

The Owls are slated to open their season with an American Athletic Conference game at Navy on Sept. 26. Temple has not been able to practice at its usual pace due to the city’s recommendation not to have scrimmaging.

Coach Rod Carey said last week that the Owls finally did some scrimmaging, 10 plays a practice because his team needed some hitting if that Sept. 26 date stays firm.

On Friday during a Zoom call, Temple wide receiver coach Thad Ward, said the team has been doing anywhere from 10-12 scrimmage plays per practice.

Consider that Temple will play a Navy team that hosts BYU in its season opener on Monday. Navy will also visit Tulane on Sept. 19, so the Midshipmen will have two games before the Owls step on the field.

So the key question is whether Temple will be ready to play a football game on Sept. 26.

One potential option is moving the Navy game to Oct. 10 when both teams have an open date, but as of now, this game is still slated for Sept. 26.

“The guys are eager for more [scrimmage plays], we all are, but those 10-12 plays are very tough plays so we’re getting after it again and it has been fun,” Ward said. “We’re excited to have those team plays, along with the rest of the practice that we’ll get a chance to do.”

Does the team have enough time to get into game shape, especially if the Owls don’t increase the number of scrimmage plays? Carey says in a usual pre-COVID practice, there might be 100 scrimmage plays.

“What we’re doing is what we can do and what we can control,” Ward said. “What we can control is the schedule that is put forth and we’re making the best of it.”

It should be noted that Ward coaches one of the top units on the team, led by redshirt junior Jadan Blue, the first 1,000-yard receiver in school history last year when he had 95 receptions for 1,067 yards and four touchdowns. Complementing Blue is graduate student Branden Mack, who had 59 receptions for 904 yards and seven touchdowns. Add in grad student Randle Jones, who returns after redshirting last season due to a hamstring injury. Jones played in the allotted four games before deciding to take a redshirt. This trio, with returning quarterback Anthony Russo, will make the passing game difficult to stop.

“I think we’ll definitely be ready, even though we’ve taken limited practice reps,” Mack said

Blue also expressed confidence that the Owls will be ready, but he outlined the difficulties in the restrictions.

“I feel it has been hurting us a little bit because of the restrictions of the city, but honestly, the past few days we’ve been getting after it with the defense and we’ve been having a little less restrictions,” Blue said. “Once those restrictions are off us, I am not worried about anything we have going forward.”

Nobody knows if the restrictions will be lifted. A Temple official said there is daily contact with the city health department because guidelines are always changing.

Both the city and school have pressing issues about the virus. As of Friday, the number of known cases at Temple was 318, with all but one of the cases among students. On Thursday, Temple moved to almost fully remote instruction.

For now, the football team is making the best of its situation by limiting reps, simply because they have no other alternative.

Becoming the first to wear O. Jones is a real zero, but that only pertains to his number. He will be the first Temple player to wear the No. 0 this season. This season, for the first time, the NCAA will allow football players to wear zero.

Jones already earned a single-digit number last summer. Temple awards single digits to players for their toughness and dedication. This year, he switched from No. 7 to 0.

“I just thought being the first guy to wear zero at Temple as a cool thing to do,” Jones said.