After an 8-5 first season under coach Rod Carey, the Temple football team will officially begin season No. 2 with the opening of spring practice on Tuesday. For the second straight year, the Owls will pass on playing a spring game but will conclude on April 4 with an open practice.
The American Athletic Conference is going from two six-team divisions to one 11-team league with the departure of UConn. Temple will likely be picked to finish in the middle of the pack.
Here is a look at the team that finished last season with a 55-13 loss to North Carolina in the Military Bowl, the Owls’ fifth straight bowl appearance.
The big losses
Besides losing quality seniors such as first-team all-conference linebacker Shaun Bradley and second-team all-conference guard Jovahn Fair, who started 43 career games, the Owls’ biggest losses were from players who still had eligibility remaining.
The most difficult player to replace will be third-team AP All-American center Matt Hennessy, who has bypassed his final season to enter the NFL draft. Invited to the NFL scouting combine after playing in the Senior Bowl, Hennessy was the quarterback of the offensive line. Carey, an ex-center, called him the best center he has coached.
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Quincy Roche, the AAC defensive player of the year, decided to transfer to Miami, Temple’s opening opponent, for his final season. He had 19 tackles for losses, including 13 sacks.
Two other players who transferred were tight end Kenny Yeboah, who left for Ole Miss, and backup quarterback Todd Centeio, who will have two years of eligibility and is now at Colorado State.
Yeboah, who has NFL potential, came on at the end of the season with eight receptions for 143 yards and four touchdowns in his last four games.
Starting cornerback Harrison Hand bypassed his final season to enter the NFL draft. He had 59 tackles to go along with three interceptions and five pass breakups in his only season at Temple after transferring from Baylor.
The key additions
Two graduate transfers who should make an immediate impact are Michael Niese, a 6-foot-5, 275-pound guard from Dayton, a non-scholarship Football Championship Subdivision school, and Manny Walker, a 6-4, 250-pound defensive end from Wake Forest.
In addition, there are seven freshmen who have enrolled early and will participate in spring practice: safety Trey Blair (Haverford High), linebacker Kobe Wilson, safety/linebacker Muheem McCargo (Woodrow Wilson), defensive tackles Nick Bags and Darian Varner and offensive linemen Sam Davis and Miles Zietek.
Strengths coming back
Having Anthony Russo return for his third year as a starting quarterback is the biggest plus.
Russo completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 2,881 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season. The previous year he completed 57.4 percent of his passes for 2,563 yards with 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He has made 23 career starts.
With Centeio’s departure, there is no one with any experience behind Russo. Last year’s third-string quarterback, redshirt sophomore Trad Beatty, will get every chance to see if he can be the backup. Carey also mentioned that Temple could bring in another quarterback as a transfer before fall camp.
Receiver will be a strength led by redshirt junior Jadan Blue (95 receptions, 1,046 yards, 4 TDs) and redshirt senior Branden Mack (59 receptions, 904 yards, seven TDs) .
Sophomore Re’Mahn Davis (936 yards rushing, 4.8 avg., 8 TDS) leads the ground game, but one of the major tasks in spring practice will be finding suitable backups.
The return of redshirt freshman Onasis Neely, who missed last season due to a knee injury, will be a boost to the backfield.
The strength of the defense will be at tackle with junior Ifeanyi Maijeh, a first-team all-AAC selection, and senior Dan Archibong.
Even though linebackers Bradley, Chapelle Russell, and Sam Franklin have graduated, Temple returns experienced redshirt seniors Isaiah Graham-Mobley and William Kwenkeu. Graham-Mobley missed the final five games due to injury but had 36 tackles in eight games. Kwenkeu, who appeared in three games while redshirting last season, has played in 40 career games. Both players would have started on many teams last year.
Two corners, graduate student Linwood Crump and redshirt junior Christian Braswell, bring experience in the secondary.
Biggest areas to replace
When it was suggested to Carey that the offensive line and defensive end were two of the biggest positions in question, he agreed.
“Not only did we lose Quincy, but we had a lot of other defensive ends who played a lot,” Carey said. They would be Dana Levine, Zach Mesday, and DeAndre Kellty, who all graduated.
As for the offensive line, replacing Hennessy and Fair will be difficult. A key will be how redshirt senior Vincent Picozzi rebounds from a season-ending lower body injury. Picozzi has made 28 career starts and is also capable of playing center if needed. He has the ability and experience to be the leader of the offensive line.
Carey says there may be more depth on the offensive line this year, but acknowledges that replacing Hennessy and Fair will be a formidable task.