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Temple’s linebacker competition heating up as Owls defense looks to rebound from 2020 struggles

The Owls have some experience returning at the position, but some young players are working to grab some playing time.

Temple coach Rod Carey needs to rebuild a defense that was among the worst in college football last season.
Temple coach Rod Carey needs to rebuild a defense that was among the worst in college football last season.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Temple coach Rod Carey wouldn’t mind some normalcy with his football team, and he’s found some already.

Carey admitted the defense has gotten off to a good start five days into training camp at the SUNY-Maritime college football facility in New York City.

“Right now, I’m really pleased with where we’re at,” Carey said Tuesday. “Defense is a little bit ahead of the offense, which in my coaching career, I think that’s pretty normal.”

With Temple’s defense finding its momentum, the competition level has increased among young players and those with greater experience as the players begin to take more reps in pads, especially at the linebacker position.

» READ MORE: Temple’s football team will look a lot different. But anything will be better than last year.

William Kwenkeu, a graduate student who recorded a team-high 48 tackles last season, is competing with redshirt freshman Yvandy Rigby at inside linebacker. Rigby started as a “BUBO,” similar to a safety and outside linebacker, in the offseason. His speed and quick adjustment on defense could be effective against pass-heavy offenses like those of Central Florida and Memphis.

At weakside inside linebacker, George Reid, a graduate student who had 20 solo tackles in six games last season, is battling redshirt freshman Kobe Wilson, a three-star recruit from the 2020 class and one of two freshmen to start on defense last fall.

Carey said that Jordan Magee, who is practicing in both inside linebacker spots, has also brought a level of strength and versatility to the position. But none, Carey said, has separated himself as a starter.

“It’s a really good battle to watch,” the coach said. “If I had to bet right now, I would bet that all five of them are going to play, and I don’t think that’s because Will [Kwenkeu] and George [Reid] have gotten worse. I think they’ve gotten better. I just think that’s how good the young three guys [Rigby, Magee, and Wilson] have gotten.”

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Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jeff Knowles said he would be open to different rotations for every drive to keep the group as fresh as possible.

Knowles is familiar with running a linebacker rotation. In the 2019 season, Isaiah Graham-Mobley, who later transferred to Boston College, rotated between the inside linebacker positions with Shaun Bradley (now with the Eagles) and Chapelle Russell (Jacksonville Jaguars).

The Owls gave up more than 35 points per game last season en route to a 1-6 record, and were especially bad against the run.

“The main thing we’re focusing on is getting back to the basics and what wins football games,” Knowles said. “That’s takeaways, tackling and effort.”

Said Wilson: “Here at camp, they’re really trying to go deep down into the playbook with me. We’re dissecting every little thing, that way I know every little thing. When I get out there on that field, there are no mistakes.”