The Temple Owls Upward Spring Flight

A noticeable increase of physical play seen during Temple Owls Football spring practices.

A noticeable increase of physical play seen during Temple Owls Football spring practices.

Temple Owls Defensive End Praise Martin-Oguike (50) putting pressure on Temple Owls quarterback P.J. Walker during Tuesday’s spring practice at Edberg Olsen Hall Football Complex (Zamani Feelings-Coach & Player Magazine)

PHILADELPHIA (C+P) — During their fifth spring practice, the Temple Owls’ Chodoff Field vibrated from the clashing of offense versus defense and echoed with coaches’ nonstop shouting of instructions while players yelled encouragement to teammates and cheered fierce hitting.

Even though the Owls’ 2014 (6-6) bowl eligible season notably improved from 2013 (2-10), it still managed to disappoint and be anti-climactic when the Owls were ignored by the bowl selection people. But if the focused energy bouncing off Chodoff Field fences can be an accurate predictor of things to come, then Owls fans, and for that matter all Philadelphia football fans, should feel legitimate excitement for Temple’s 2015 season.

Offensively, the 2014 Owls were dead last nationally in third down conversion percent, 120th in red zone offense and 97th in scoring offense.

In assessing the current state of the team after practice, Owls Head Coach Matt Rhule said, “We are light years ahead of where we’ve been–since last year, I’d say we’re significantly better. Offensively, we’re better now than during the season. It’s a credit to what the kids have done in the offseason.”

Temple running-back Zaire Williams participating in drills during spring practice
Temple running-back Zaire Williams participating in drills during spring practice (Zamani Feelings-Coach & Player Magazine)

The practice showed hard running competition among quality running backs. Zaire Williams, a powerful 5’11,” 195, redshirt sophomore, is one of the impressive backs seeking to find his place in the offense.

About Williams, Rhule said, “He’s looked really good, he’s been competitive, he’s extremely coachable, intelligent, good vision, he’s understanding the type of back that he is—he has to be a powerful back, run through contact…he’s had a tremendous attitude, you can utilize him in a couple different ways.”

Defensively, the Owls are improving on last season’s solid foundation that saw the Owls ranked highly nationally in several categories including fourth in scoring defense and 24th in total defense.

The defensive leader is elite All-Conference senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, 6’1,” 240. Despite having three seasons with 100 plus tackles, his improvement continues. Rhule described Matakevich as “a dynamic player in terms of making plays…instinctive.” Rhule said he’s looking for Matakevich “to be a little bit better in pass coverage, in our zone coverages, breaking on balls and picking off balls and just to continue to be as physical a player as he can.”

Second team All-Conference defensive lineman Praise Martin-Oguike, 6’2,” 250, demonstrated a relentless motor during practice. Afterward, he said, “Being a pass rusher, it’s all about your motor, just keep building on my motor.” Regarding last year’s highly ranked defense, he said the “main thing is just staying hungry. Just trying to build a tradition…just keep working on our standards, making sure we do the same things all the time…that’s what we’re working on.”

Martin-Oguike was just granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA so he’ll have two more seasons for Owls fans to appreciate his “motor.”

Temple Owls Head Coach Matt Rhule answering question from the media after tuesday's practice (Zamni Feelings-Coach & Player Magazine)
Temple Owls Head Coach Matt Rhule answering question from the media after tuesday’s practice (Zamani Feelings-Coach & Player Magazine)

Rhule’s evaluation of the spring goals noted “they’re different on both sides of the ball. Overall, we wanted to build some depth with the young offensive and defensive linemen; they’re getting a ton of reps. Brendon Smith, Michael Dogby, Freddie Booth Lloyd, they’re exhausted at the end they’re getting so many reps. It’s the younger guys we have to develop. It’s really the same on the offensive side; Jaelin Robinson, James McHale, Aaron Ruff, guys like that they need a ton of reps. We want to get back on track offensively, establish what we want to do, protect the football.”

“Defensively they just want to build on what they did last year; I see some really good things out there. They [defense] can’t rest on their laurels. We weren’t great sacking the quarterback, we weren’t great in the run defense, and we didn’t have tremendous depth, we had to count on [Matt] Ionnidis and those guys to have to play every snap, so trying to build that depth and attack those other areas I think are big ones for us.”

The Temple Owls are continuing their upward flight, and if their focused energy is a reliable indicator, there’s reason to believe they could be a hot topic in the 2015 season.



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