Temple football coach Geoff Collins insists his version of a depth chart is not an exercise in subterfuge, that he isn't merely trying to hide starters and second-stringers from opponents.
When he so chooses, Collins can give a non-answer with the best of them, but he also knows how to explain his thinking with the best of them.
His Above the Line charts for Owls players — he's proud of this little innovation. He think it speaks to how the game is really played. He believes it adds clarity.
The idea is simple. Under Collins, Temple doesn't have a depth chart. There are no starters listed, no second-teamers. Above the Line refers to the players who earn playing time for a particular game, such as Thursday night's pivotal American Athletic Conference matchup — Temple (5-3, 4-0 AAC) at undefeated Central Florida (7-0 and 4-0).
OK, Collins can deny it, but there is a tinge of subterfuge. Not offering starters doesn't mean there are no starters. Check after the kickoff: 11 Temple Owls will run on the field.
Still, his thinking here is interesting, worth looking at for a bit. Temple does bold-face the previous week's starters. The team just otherwise lists all players at a position in numerical order, noting that all are deemed ready to play, "while others work to get to that level." A couple of weeks ago, Collins talked of several players who are statistical leaders on the team despite not being formal starters.
You can see why such a listing could work as a motivational tool. Who wants to be below any line?
What's the origin of Above the Line? Did he steal it off somebody?
"Absolutely not,'' Collins said. "When I was the defensive coordinator at Western Carolina University" — this was 2002-05, before Collins was on the staff at Alabama and Georgia Tech, then defensive coordinator at Mississippi State and Florida — "the thing that helped me … I still remember, I think it was the second year, we had a depth chart. Here are the ones; here are the twos. We practiced, the ones got eight reps, the two got four reps, then the ones got eight reps again, the twos got four reps. So the ones were getting developed significantly more than the twos."
His starting safety went down, Collins said. The backup was really the fourth-best safety — "really the ninth-best DB, or the eighth-best DB that we had" — but since he was the backup, he got slotted in there, after the starter had gotten almost all the reps before getting hurt.
"You roll this guy in,'' Collins said. "He thinks of himself as a backup, has practiced as a backup. So when he gets in there, he plays like a backup."
In the heart of the schedule, you need a full offense and full defense, Collins said. "That helps you be injury-proof for the most part. Injuries here or there, you just plug in another guy who has been playing the entire season. I think that lesson learned as a young coach has paid off."
Philosophically, Collins said, he knew that when he became a head coach, he was going to do that across the board, make a public statement of it.
He wasn't quite doing that at Mississippi State or Florida?
"We were doing that, oh yeah,'' Collins said. "But I wasn't the head coach."
Introducing it to players, Collins said it is "constant education,'' even in the last two weeks of preseason camp, "I would have to re-educate them on what Above the Line is. You're a young guy and you're going to go back home over the weekend and everyone is going to be, 'Are you the starter? Are you the starter?' Around here, we don't care. They know if they earn it out there on that practice field, they'll get to do it on Saturday."
There are ones vs. twos at practice, Collins said, but they try to rotate as much as possible. The day before each game, the staff gathers in a room — "every coach has to tell their plan to the entire coaching staff, how they're playing their position. How many reps, what percentage. This guy is going to come in [at a certain time]. Then they communicate it to our players. So Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, it's our players' job to get to a point where they are maximizing their reps. They all take pride in it. They all know what they do out there is going to translate."
The day is different this week — the game is Thursday — but the idea stands; the meeting just happened on Wednesday. The chart doesn't change radically week to week. One young player dropped off from two weeks ago to this week's chart. Nobody was added.
Collins and his staffers just believe that more players are listed using this method, that players who wouldn't otherwise appear on a standard two-deep are getting significant time.
Does this chart factor into a win or a loss? No, probably not. Let's just say it offers a window into the mind of Temple's head coach, who might have been working Below the Line early this season, but has gotten his Owls to rise above.