The Spring Game is an opportunity for college football teams to view their roster and examine vital position battles in the off-season. Over the years, various upstarts cemented their starting gigs after being buried on the depth chart previous to the Spring Game. Temple is in a similar situation as only quarterback and the majority of the offensive line are locks on the first team offense.
On the other side of the ball, Praise Martin-Oguike, Tyler Matakevich and Tavon Young headline one of the most dominant defensive groups in the nation. In last season's Cherry and White (Spring) Game, PR/KR Khalif Herbin emerged as the star performer on offense with five catches for 93 yards and a TD. He was named the starting returner as a sophomore and was electric to start the season. However, the 5'6" Herbin muffed multiple punts and was replaced by the dependable, but immobile, John Christopher.
In addition, coach Matt Rhule has an opportunity to evaluate improvements made in the off-season from his players. Also, there are a plethora of coach-able traits for each position. No Owl should be complacent, as Rhule had a knack for fully utilizing the depth chart in 2014 on offense.
The Cherry and White game at Edberg-Olson Hall has many underlying story-lines. Here are a few that observers should analyze when the Owls take the field for the first time since November.
1. Who Emerges as P.J. Walker's Go-To Option at Wideout
For the second straight season, the Owls lose their most productive wide receiver. Robbie Anderson flunked out of Temple in 2014 and Jalen Fitzpatrick graduated following last season. For P.J. Walker, the loss of Fitzpatrick is substantial. With a stat line of 53/730/6, the senior had by far the most receptions, yards and touchdowns for the Owls in 2014. However, Offensive Coordinator Marcus Satterfield does have an intriguing assortment of talent on the outside despite their non-existent production heading into 2015.
Keith Kirkwood, a 6'3" transfer from Hawaii, brings a height-weight-speed guy offensive coordinators covet in their system. Despite flopping on special teams, Herbin is an ideal gadget play receiver whose speed will be utilized in his junior year. The wild card to be the main threat in the Owls' spread attack is freshman Patrick Anderson. The three star product out of Alquippa, PA. has the build to separate from, and out-work corners at the college level. Kirkwood has the edge heading into the Cherry and White Game, but Anderson is a dark horse to finish 2015 as Walker's go-to man at wideout.
2. Jahad Thomas Against the Freshmen
Walker recruited Jahad Thomas out of high school to join the backfield in North Philadelphia. Both were teammates at Elizabeth HS in New Jersey, and Matt Rhule believed that their chemistry would give a jolt to their offensive attack. Thomas produced a respectable 4.8 yards per carry but the ever-shifting offensive line nullified a balanced attack. Along with Kenneth Harper, the Owls failed to accommodate Walker as Temple faltered mightily in the trenches. Far too often the Owls lack of traction consistently resulted in third and long.
Returning all five starters, including senior anchor Kyle Friend, Temple should allow Satterfield to dial up various runs to balance the spread formation. With Harper lost to graduation, a trio of freshman running backs look to make an early impact. Like Thomas, three star RB T.J. Simmons, out of Lakeland FL., has the greatest opportunity to team with the sophomore. Chapelle Cook can also have a role in the running back fold, bringing a bulky 6'2" 205 pound frame as the thunder to Thomas' and Simmons' lightning.
3. JUCO Greg Webb Making an Impact
College football has it's own version of free agency in transfers. Temple has historically been a barren wasteland unable to attract highly-rated recruits or bring in transfers anxious to play instantly. With the additions of Kirkwood and TE Collin Thompson from Miami, that notion is deteriorating. The Owls instant-impact addition of 2015 formerly played at Hutchinson Junior College, and now will line up in the A-Gap for Temple. Greg Webb is the number six rated JUCO DT, according to espn.com, and will immediately upgrade a run defense ranked 57th in the nation in 2014.
Webb will ideally line up next to DT Matt Ioannidis in a 4-3 defensive look DC Phil Snow utilizes. Snow transformed the defense drastically in 2014, which ranked sixth in the nation in points allowed. Snow's tutelage of Martin-Oguike last season on the defensive line could also result in a similar situation with Webb this season in his first year in Division I. Webb would have to beat out starting DT Hershey Walton in the Cherry and White Game, but has the talent and size to wreck havoc early and often in 2015.