From being a savior to criticized and scrutinized for his play, Temple QB P.J. Walker has had nothing short of a tumultuous two seasons. Last season's anemic offensive attack (No. 119 in total yards) was comprised of factors stemming from the main three areas of offense.
Walker lacked playmakers around him to constantly target and the offensive line faced injuries shifting players and creating havoc in arguably the most vital unit. This year, Walker's assistance comes full circle getting players back healthy and adding key playmakers. Offensive Coordinator Marcus Satterfield talked friday about how this influx of talent will boost Walker in 2015:
"I feel like we’re a year older now at the wideout position which will be huge. I think at times last year P.J. looked like he was struggling a little bit more than he was because we didn’t have the full component of our wideout position. We had guys that had just got here playing new positions and people were able to play man coverage. We struggled to get open which was hard on P.J. and we didn’t run the football very well. This year, with our running backs and the depth there, we get Robby (Anderson) there and a quality transfer in Adonis (Jennings). You got all those young kids that are a year older that have been working really hard since last year."
Both Anderson and Jennings add to a seemingly deeper and scarier wide receiver core with what Jennings called "10 deep". Jennings, a 6-foot-3 sophomore transfer from Pittsburgh, sat out the 2014 season, but is excited to play with a quarterback he's followed previously to joining Temple:
"He’s a very good quarterback. I watched him my freshman year when I was getting recruited. He’s gotten way better and you can tell he got mature. He’s going to be a next level-ready quarterback."
Jennings provides Walker with a big target on the outside and is poised to break into a crowded wide receiver rotation. Anderson rejoins the Owls after missing last season and was a dominant playmaker in 2013 when he led the team in receiving (791 yards) and touchdown receptions (9). Walker illustrated the importance of getting Anderson back into the fold and the capabilities he offers:
"He’s a big aspect to the team, just for him to go out there and take the top off the defense. Same with Adonis; they’re able to run by people and make plays with their hands. It’s not even just worrying about the deep threat. Now the secondary is putting seven, eight in the box. Now we have a good overall team."
Satterfield talked about the lack of weapons Walker had around him last season, which led to some of Walker's struggles. This year, Temple boasts a bevy of wideouts capable of having a breakout season. Walker also has a full season to sync with former high school teammate Jahad Thomas. Kenneth Harper graduated in 2014 and Thomas is etched as Temple's starter at tailback.
His shiftiness and receiving capabilities out of the backfield compliment Walker, who targeted him last year as a receiving weapon. When referring to what he's seen from Walker in the offseason, Thomas used terms such as "poise" and "leadership" and believes Walker finally understands what it takes to be a pocket passer as a junior.
The skill position players excite Walker, but he understands the positive influence of a healthy unit in the trenches:
"It’s really going to help us a lot. If you look back to last year, first game of the season, we looked really good up front. We did a lot of good things and I only got sacked one time that game. You got a healthy O-Line, you got guys communicating and talking, it helps us and we get to play a lot better."
The vitality of the O-Line is paramount for Walker to have a calming demeanor in the pocket and limit his mistakes. Last season he threw a career-high 15 interceptions to just 13 TD passes. His first opponent this season is a perennially stout team on the defensive end who gave Walker problems last season.
Penn State, like Temple, tied a top-ranked defense into a Pinstripe Bowl victory last season and return key position players. Satterfield delved on Anthony Zettel's impact friday after practice, but Walker's focus comes from hindsight and a second chance:
"It was a learning thing for me. It was on of those times where I tried to do too much at the wrong moments. I felt I played really good in the first half. I had no interceptions in the first half, but then I had four or five in the second. I did well in the first half, but in the second half, I let the game get the best of me. (I just need to) stay in the game and not try to make the big play when you don’t need to. I look at it as another opportunity. It’s our first game of the season and another opportunity to show them what we can do."
It's universally recognized that Temple's offense flows through Walker and the junior is vital for the Owls to consistently blitz teams in terms of points and not just defense. The pieces are in place throughout the offense and with a copious amount of upperclassmen offering big-game meddle, the propensity for mistakes shouldn't be as evident as previous seasons for Walker. As a junior, there's worthy and legitimate belief for a turnaround for him and the program this season.