2013 Temple Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Temple Owl Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: You are not in the MAC any longer, Temple. The Owls were a dominant D back in their old stomping ground, but last season served as a rude awakening. The program pulled up the rear in the Big East in many major statistical categories, yielding at least 32 points in each of their final six games. New coordinator Phil Snow faces an uphill climb in 2013 and beyond. His inherited talent is decent, but will need to be coached up, much the way it was when Al Golden was piloting the program a few years back. The upcoming edition is no more talented than the last one. There are holes in run and pass defense, and depth will be an ongoing worry. Two of the Owls' better players are young linebackers, Tyler Matakevich and Nate D. Smith, who ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in tackles last fall. Pro scouts will have an eye on NT Levi Brown, an underachiever in 2012 looking to make a salary run in 2013.
Star of the defense: Sophomore LB Tyler Matakevich
Tackles: Tyler Matakevich, 101
Sacks: Nate D. Smith, 3.5
Interceptions: Tavon Young, 2
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE Sean Daniels
Unsung star on the rise: True freshman SS Jihaad Pretlow
Best pro prospect: Senior NT Levi Brown
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Matakevich, 2) Brown, 3) Sophomore LB Nate D. Smith
Strength of the defense: The tackles, linebacker, forcing fumbles, generating pressure
Weakness of the defense: The ends, safety, pass defense, run defense, third-down stops
The D-line has its work cut out for it this year, returning a dearth of experienced players, especially on the outside. On the interior, the coaches are counting on senior NT Levi Brown to anchor the group. The 6-2, 300-pounder has been starting since his freshman year, and he has the talent to attract the attention of pro scouts. Too often in 2012, though, he was neutralized by Big East blockers, and finished with only 27 tackles and 3.5 stops behind the line.
The frontrunner at defensive tackle will be 6-4, 290-pound sophomore Hershey Walton, who started three games in his debut on the field. He showed good athleticism for a big man, collecting 35 tackles and 1.5 stops for minus yards. There's cautious optimism that he'll be even more effective this season.
The real concern in Philadelphia rests with a coterie of unproven defensive ends looking to supplant John Youboty and Marcus Green. The team is banking on a big year from senior Sean Daniels. The 6-3, 230-pound younger brother of Green Bay Packer Mike Daniels has shown flashes as a pass rusher, but not enough consistency. Quick off the edge, he has seven career sacks, despite starting just one game.
Challenging for a starring role on the other side is 6-3, 245-pound sophomore Shahbaz Ahmed. He played briefly in six games as a rookie, gradually getting a feel for the speed of the game. He's packed on 25 pounds without sacrificing his quick first step and closing speed.
The Owls boast a talented veteran tackle working his way back into the mix. Senior Kamal Johnson had started two of last year's first three games, before an October arrest sent him to the sidelines. The 6-4, 295-pounder is back with the team, hoping to use his size and strength to get back into the rotation.
Watch Out For .... Daniels to finish strong. He's heard the message, both from his new coaches and from his older brother. The senior will be on a mission this fall, maximizing his chance to flourish as a full-timer. Daniels is capable of doubling his career total in sacks and leading the team in 2013.
Strength: The tackles. The Owls are much stronger on the inside than the outside as 2013 approaches, sporting an impressive three-man rotation. Brown got his wake-up call after plateauing in 2012, and the return of Johnson will infuse much-needed talent to a run defense that allowed 4.7 yards per carry.
Weakness: The ends. Youboty was a very pleasant surprise a season ago. Temple will need a similar finale from Daniels in 2013. But even if he's up to the challenge being presented by the coaches, the Owls don't have another viable option to prevent opponents form doubling the team's most dangerous edge rusher.
Outlook: When Temple was surging under Al Golden, the D-line was fantastic, producing NFL talents, such as Muhammad Wilkerson and Adrian Robinson. While this unit doesn't harbor nearly that level of talent, it does have a few important pieces, such as Brown on the inside and Daniels outside. Above all else, Temple has to clog running lanes better than it did in 2012.
The Owls went with youth at linebacker last season, making the future at the position rather bright. Undersized and lightly-recruited by other schools in 2012, 6-1, 220-pound true freshman Tyler Matakevich had a revelatory debut at weakside in Philadelphia. A backup when the season began, he made the most of an injury to a teammate, adapting on the fly to a starting assignment. The Big East Rookie of the Year wound up leading the team with 101 tackles, peaking with an epic 19-tackle effort in an upset of Connecticut. Matakevich is as tough as nails, instinctive and willing to do whatever is necessary to be prepared for Saturday. The sophomore could be the face of the Temple D for the next three years.
The program started a second rookie at linebacker in 2012, then-redshirt freshman Nate D. Smith. The Owls' man in the middle finished second to Matakevich with 75 stops, 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He also forced a team-high three fumbles, testament to his walloping hits and physicality. The 6-0, 230-pound Smith is easily the biggest of the team's linebackers, employing the solid base to stand up to straying offensive linemen. With a full season now behind him, he's hoping to eliminate the rookie mistakes that plagued him a year ago.
Smith sat out the spring, creating opportunities for 6-0, 228-pound senior Wyatt Benson and 6-2, 228-pound senior Olaniyi Adewole. After bouncing around between fullback and linebacker, Benson is staying put on defense. It was Adewole's injury that created an opening for Matakevich. Still, he wound up starting three games and making 29 tackles, four stops for loss, a sack and two fumble recoveries. He plays the game very fast and with a sense of purpose.
Back to recapture the job at strongside is 6-1, 218-pound Blaze Caponegro. The steady senior has started 15 of his last 21 games in cherry and white, collecting 30 tackles, three stops for loss and two sacks in 2012. Yeah, he lacks ideal size for the position, but he's smart, experienced and plays hard every Saturday.
Watch Out For .... Smith's situation. The sophomore was held out of the spring game for showing up late for a team meeting. He needs to be careful, because Matt Rhule and his staff is a no-nonsense bunch. The Owls need their precocious defender to be focused and ready to play with the same intensity he had in 2012.
Strength: Range and closing speed. Largely by design, all of the Owls' linebackers move very well laterally, and have the quickness to go from sideline to sideline in a flash. Above all else, they are quality athletes, with the right size and passion to quickly fill running lanes, and modeling a safety by blanketing tight ends and receivers.
Weakness: Size. The offensive lines in the American Athletic Conference are a little bigger and a little more physical than the ones Temple used to face in the MAC. The current group of Temple linebackers is going to realize the aforementioned fact the hard way. They're small for the position, averaging around 220 pounds, and lack depth at the two outside positions.
Outlook: After using a couple of eager freshmen in 2012, Temple is poised to reap the rewards this fall and beyond. Stopping running backs in their tracks will continue to be an issue in Philadelphia. However, with Matakevich and Smith setting the tone, the Owls will be unleashing fearless guided missiles form the second level of the D.
Temple will begin the 2013 season experienced at cornerback, and unproven at safety; the Owls return 22 starts from a year ago at the former to just four at the latter. And that's a worry for a program that struggled badly against the pass in 2012. Junior Anthony Robey is the only Owl defensive back who started every game last year. He finished the year with 41 tackles, 3.5 stops for loss, 1.5 sacks, six pass breakups … and no picks. After 16 starts, the 5-10, 180-pounder is hoping to turn the corner in his development.
Rejoining Robey at corner will be 6-0, 170-pound senior Zamel Johnson, the former Hofstra transfer. He's played in 35 games since arriving, including 18 starts, making 23 tackles, two stops for loss and four pass breakups last season. He has good speed, but needs to use it more efficiently on the field.
The safeties will begin the year without a lot of experience. Senior FS Abdul Smith is the clear-cut veteran, a former Rutgers transfer who started a pair of games at cornerback in 2012. The 6-0, 205-pounder was only in on nine tackles, and will need to be far more active and instinctive now that he's a full-timer. Right behind Smith is 5-10, 185-pound junior Chris Hutton, who also started a pair of games last fall. He finished with 11 tackles and a pick, but will struggle to match Smith's size and physicality.
The Owls are likely to go with a freshman at strong safety, either 5-11, 185-pound rookie Jihaad Pretlow or 5-11, 181-pound redshirt freshman Stephaun Marshall. Pretlow graduated early to take part in spring drills, and quickly impressed the coaches with his maturity and athleticism. Marshall was a three-star recruit from 2012, who used his first year to get bigger and stronger in the weight room.
The most experienced cornerback off the bench will be 5-10, 159-pound sophomore strong> Tavon Young. One of just four true freshmen to start a game in 2012, he made 12 tackles, two stops for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.
Watch Out For.... the Owls to be better in November than in September. This group is young and growing, a concern when Notre Dame and Houston are the first two opponents on the 2013 schedule. The last two opponents? Connecticut and Memphis, which help the secondary build some momentum heading into 2014.
Strength: The cornerbacks. Temple is fortunate to be bringing back four players who started games at cornerback in 2012. Johnson and Robey are going to be team leaders, with enough experience to keep the other guy's best wide receivers from running wild in the defensive backfield.
Weakness: Pass defense. The Owls moved to the Big East last year, but the secondary made it look as if the team was a Big 12 member. Temple allowed 21 touchdown passes, while picking off only four to rank 115th nationally in pass efficiency D. Over the final seven games, it intercepted just a single throw.
Outlook: Even when the defensive backfield was getting support from the pass rush, it was being burned a year ago. That's a major concern, especially since two new safeties are being inserted into the lineup. The Owls will be fine against the likes of Fordham and Army, but with the additions of Houston, SMU and UCF to the league, this group's job will actually be tougher than it was in 2012.
It won't get as much attention as it warrants, but Temple will really miss the services of Brandon McManus, an All-Big East punter and placekicker in 2012. For now, the job of replacing McManus at both positions could belong to senior Paul Layton, a transfer from Albany. The two-time All-Northeast Conference punter is experienced, with a track record of driving his foot into the ball. His challengers at both positions among the holdovers are sophomore Tyler Mayes and redshirt freshman Colby Perry, who've yet to play for the Owls.
Temple also needs to decide on its return specialists as well now that Matt Brown is gone. Sophomore Khalif Herbin and junior Jalen Fitzpatrick, a couple of shifty playmakers will contend for the punt and kickoff jobs.
Watch Out For… the arrival of coveted rookie Jim Cooper. Ranked as the No. 17 kicker in the country when he signed in February, the second-generation Owl will immediately compete for an opening that has no obvious frontrunner.
Strength: The coverage teams. Sure, there'll be a drop-off now that McManus is an Indianapolis Colt, but Temple still did a very nice job getting downfield and making open-field tackles in 2012; the team ranked No. 6 nationally on kickoffs and No. 21 on punt returns.
Weakness: Uncertainty in the kicking game. You don't get better by losing a leg of McManus' caliber. In fact, you could get a lot worse. The Owls still haven't decided on their punter or placekicker, and not because more than one contender has been particularly special.
Outlook: It'll get lost in the discussion about the quarterback or running back situation, but Temple has problems on special teams that will likely bleed into both the offense and defense. Much of the unit is young and unproven, which is why the addition of Layton from the FCS could wind up being an underrated stopgap move by the staff.
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