The quarterback is an easy target to blame for a team's evident struggles on offense. P.J. Walker faltered last season to a point where he was replaced by senior Connor Reilly who possessed less upside than the sophomore. Despite finishing with more picks than TD passes (13 TDs to 15 INTs), Walker's consistent challenges to initiate fluid offense was a joint effort.
For the Owls to return back to a bowl game for the first time since 2012, the O-Line has to find stability. Last season, due to injuries, Temple shuffled around what turned out to be a makeshift unit. They converted DT Brian Carter into a guard out of necessity and started him in a pivotal AAC matchup against Memphis. Scatbacks Jahad Thomas and Kenneth Harper were featured heavily in the passing game as the lack of holes in the trenches rendered their elusiveness useless. Thomas talked about O-line's progression in the summer:
"I think they're going to do great," Thomas said at practice Wednesday. "I think we're going to do a lot better running in between the tackles rather than me just receiving the ball out of the backfield. Because we emphasize running and guys understanding where everyone is supposed to be on the O-Line as well and that's going to help them out a lot. We had some young guys last year, but a lot of the guys are older and more mature. I think they're ready to go this year."
Running the football was one of head coach Matt Rhule's primary focuses of creating offense last season and opening up the airwaves to where the defense wasn't singling out a particular area. Temple ranked as the No. 115 rushing attack in the nation last year and has to establish the ground game as a caveat to Walker's success.
Rhule recently talked about Walker's development in the offseason and the addition of wideout Robbie Anderson who has the potential to breakout once again in a Temple uniform. Thomas returns behind Walker under center this season while every member of the O-Line does as well.
For a unit that averaged just one sack per 19.2 pass attempts, per owlsports.com, keeping Walker upright and focused is crucial to outperform last year's inept offense. Offensive Coordinator Marcus Satterfield acknowledged the growth of the O-Line in the offseason and when asked if the hard work will translate, he's confident it will week one:
"I do (believe it will translate). I think we still have ways to go and like any coach, nothing's great, nothing's perfect. You're always striving to get better as they are as players. From a physical standpoint, what we challenged them to do in the offseason we've seen that come to fruition in the preseason and in our camp. As far as being physical, running, knowing their assignments, and pass protection they've gotten a lot better."
At the tackle positions, Dion Dawkins (6-6, 318 pounds) and Eric Lofton (6-5, 302 pounds) bring veteran leadership and seasoning as consistent members of an emerging unit. Both Brendan McGowan (6-4, 300 pounds) and Shahbaz Ahmed (6-3, 296 pounds) dealt with injuries, but appear to be locked in the guard roles to pave lanes for Thomas and other backs.
The anchor and focal point of the offensive line is undoubtably senior center Kyle Friend. A physical freak in person with shoulders bigger than human craniums, Friend has been Temple's rock since he entered the University in 2012. With 35 consecutive starts, the repetition and knowledge has molded Friend into a leader. He understands the importance of breaking through in 2015 and leaving nothing to chance:
"Don't play up to the expectations and don't play down to them. We're going to treat every opponent the same." - Kyle Friend— Temple Football (@Temple_FB) August 17, 2015
Pairing skill, knowledge and consistency, Friend has earned a nod as one of the nation's top centers entering this season as a Rimington Award watch list candidate. This is his third year operating with Walker as a signal caller and has a developing core around him filled with an O-Line laded with upperclassmen.
Temple isn't devoid of young talent as well. Both Jaelin Robinson and Aaron Ruff have high upside and skills to eventually find their names on an All-AAC ballot. Featuring a veteran group in the trenches, they'll have competition this season on a schedule not lacking perennial bowl teams.
Penn State, with stud defensive tackle Anthony Zettel, comes to the Linc for the Owls opener on September 5. All-American candidate Jaylon Smith and Sheldon Day lead a Notre Dame defense looking to dominate and will face the Owls in November. Bowl game aspirations come with containing heralded defenses. The Owls offensive line is pivotal to developing a more threatening scoring machine and reaching their goals next season.