The numbers say Temple quarterback P.J. Walker regressed.
An NFL scout who has seen every snap of his career said something a little similar and, at the same time, a little different.
"I don't think he regressed so much as he may have reached a plateau," said the NFC scout, speaking anonymously. "I feel like he didn't make any great strides, especially when it came down to his pocket presence. I wanted to see more of that, and more poise. I was looking for more of that natural feel, and I didn't see that."
Quarterbacks receive too much credit when things go right and too much criticism when they go wrong. Temple coach Matt Rhule, a strong defender of Walker's, pointed that out this week, saying that Walker can be looked at as a quarterback who guided the Owls (6-6) from just two wins as an unknown freshman to bowl eligibility as a sophomore.
But after a standout freshman season that saw Walker pass for 2,084 yards, 20 touchdowns, and eight interceptions in nine games, Walkerwas not as good in this season's 12 starts. He passed for more yards (2,317), but he also threw fewer touchdowns (13) and more interceptions (15).
That can be looked at two ways, the pro scout said. Last season, Walker played behind a more-experienced offensive line. Top receiver Robbie Anderson, an academic casualty, caught nine of Temple's 17 touchdowns by wide receivers in 2013 (no other receiver caught more than two). And while senior Jalen Fitzpatrick had 730 receiving yards and six touchdowns this season, Anderson put up 743 receiving yards in seven games.
The scout used Florida State's Jameis Winston as a comparison. Last season, with receiver Kelvin Benjamin - now a Carolina Panthers receiver - on the roster, Winston threw 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
"He doesn't have the same weapons, and that has hurt him in his second season," the scout said of Winston, who this season threw 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
"You want to see P.J. make up the deficiencies," the scout said. "But I don't think he really totally trusted his offensive line. But, by the same token, I wanted to see more of him moving in the pocket and giving guys more of an opportunity to make plays for him.
"I also wanted to see him cut down on some of the unforced errors," he continued. "There were some plays that were on his receivers, but there were also some plays that were squarely on his shoulders. I believe that it is correctable. And, with an infusion of talent, I believe his trajectory will go up."
A big problem facing the Owls next season is the loss of Fitzpatrick, the team's lone deep threat. Rhule said that the leading candidates to replace Fitzpatrick from the crop of redshirt freshmen are 6-foot-3, 180-pound Ventell Bryant, and 6-4, 200-pound Matt Eaton. He also hopes that Hawaii transfer Keith Kirkwood, with an opportunity to familiarize himself with the offense during the offseason, can help.
"We have to find that playmaker for us, that's crucial," Rhule said. "We have some guys that we are confident can fill that role, and we're also recruiting guys who can do that."
Walker was entrenched as the starting quarterback coming into this season. Tim DiGiorgio was the team's third-string quarterback, but he attempted just one pass. Frank Nutile, a three-star prospect who suffered a season-ending ACL tear, should be ready to play by the spring, and Lenny Williams, also a freshman, is on the roster.
A wild card at quarterback is 6-1, 175-pound Logan Marchi, who was set to sign with UConn but had his application denied. Marchi later committed to the Owls and will enroll at Temple next semester.
Asked whether Walker will go into next season as the starter, Rhule said, "I would think so. But I'm also the guy who threatened to pull him out five times last year.
"I understand why it looks that way on the other side," the coach said. "But, on our side, we're looking at it as we've got to get better guys to play around him."
Freshman vs. Sophomore
The team's victories increased from two to six, but most of P.J. Walker's other statistics as Temple's quarterback declined in his sophomore year. Here is a comparison of his first two seasons under center:
Year Games Comp. Pct. Yards TD-INT Rtg.
2013 9 60.8 2,084 20-8 150.8
2014 12 53.3 2,317 13-15 107.7 EndText