Star of the offense: Senior WR Jason Harper
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior QB Vaughn
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OG John Palumbo
Best pro prospect: Sophomore WR James Nixon
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Harper, 2) RB Kee-ayre Griffin,
3) OT Pat Boyle
Strength of the offense: Experience, speed at receiver
Weakness of the offense: Production, pass protection
Vaughn Charlton was saved for
this year, but he needs to prove early on that he’s ready to be the
starter to work the offense around. At 6-4 and 235 pounds he has good
size and good passing skills, but he’s not all that mobile and didn’t do
anything special in his time as a starter two years ago. He threw for
808 yards and three touchdowns in 2007 and now will have to show a bit
of a spark to get the offense moving on a more consistent basis.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore
Chester Stewart was thrown into the mix for three games last year
when Adam DiMichele went down and he showed promise. While he only
completed half of his passes with seven interceptions, including three
against Penn State, he threw four touchdown passes, with three coming in
the win over Miami University, and showed great mobility. At 6-3 and 225
pounds, he has good size to go along with his rushing ability.
The coaching staff is keeping open the idea of
true freshman Chris Coyer to see time right away. The 6-3, 210-pound lefty is a
fantastic runner, taking off for 1,287 yards and 10 touchdowns as a
senior for Oakton High in Virginia, and he threw for 32 scores. While
he’ll most likely redshirt and be the main man two years from now, he
could be too good to keep on the bench for long.
Watch Out For ... Charlton to take hold of the starting
job and not let it go. He was close to playing last year but didn’t see
any time to keep his two years of eligibility alive. He might press a
bit early on and make mistakes, but this should be his gig as long as
he’s at least above average.
Strength: Size. There’s not going to be an issue with
height or at least looking the part with all the quarterback options
big, strong, and with good potential to be the main man.
Weakness: Adam DiMichele. Often hurt, DiMichele had a hard time
staying on the field. However, he was a warrior who fought through
injuries and made things happen for the team. The Owls need a
quarterback to provide the same type of spark, especially in the clutch.
Outlook: While Adam DiMichele will be missed, the overall
situation is strong with Vaughn Charlton ready to step back into the
spotlight after failing to get on the field all of last year. Chester
Stewart has progressed and does a little of everything well, and
freshman Chris Coyer is a mobile prospect to work on for the near
future. Don’t discount the idea of rotating quarterbacks depending on
the situation, but Charlton will likely turn out to be leader after a
good battle for playing time.
Projected Starters: Senior
Lamar McPherson started out
last year as a linebacker, after making 29 stops in 2007, and made five
tackles last year. He saw a little time on offense but didn’t gain any
yards, and now he’ll start out as one of the key options to get the
ground game going. The Syracuse transfer has excellent speed and could
be a game-breaker the offense has been missing.
Projected Top Reserves: Working both in the backfield and
as a kick returner, sophomore
Kee-ayre Griffin had a decent true freshman season with a
team-leading 394 yards and five touchdowns with a 4.1 yard-per-carry
average. At 5-11 and 185 pounds he’s a wiry, quick back who came on over
the second half of last season to become a steady producer. He can be
used as a receiver with eight grabs for 128 yards.
Sophomore Ahkeem Smith saw a
little bit of time last year with 26 yards in a limited role, but now
he’ll be expected to carry more of the workload. While he won’t be much
of a receiver, he provides a little bit of pop and has a nose for the
goal line. At least he was a big-time scorer in high school with 50
touchdowns in his last two years.
Sophomore Joe Jones finished
second on the team with 275 yards and a score getting a little bit of
work throughout the year. The 5-11, 206-pounder can take over the
starting role if needed, he has the skills to become a No. 1 back.
However, he’ll most likely serve as the type of back who gets 5-to-10
carries per game.
When the offense uses a fullback, which won’t be all that often, it’ll
turn to walk-on redshirt freshmen
Zack Collins and Bob DeLucas.
DeLucas is 240 pounds and Collins is 235.
Watch Out For ... more Kee-ayre Griffin. Forget about the
off-season depth charts and the idea of rotating backs on a steady
basis. Griffin will be the team’s top back until he drops, if he drops.
He’s the team’s best back and he should lead the team in rushing again.
Strength: Options. There’s only one running back slot in
the offense but there are four good, quick players to work with. There’s
a good mix of youth, athleticism, and possibilities to find a hot hand
to stick with.
Weakness: Production. The Owls had a big, veteran offensive line
last year and a decent passing game, but the running game wasn’t able to
take advantage averaging a mere 95 yards per game with 12 touchdowns.
It’s not a plus when the leading rusher (Griffin) had just 394 yards.
Outlook: The coaching staff has made a concerted effort to
push the running game and get it going, but first there has to be a back
who takes the job by the horns. Kee-ayre Griffin will be the main man
for stretches, but former LB Lamar McPherson will add more flash.
Running back coach Tyree Foreman has several decent players to work
with, and now there needs to be more production.
Projected Starters: With leading receiver Bruce Francis
gone, it’ll be up to senior Jason
Harper to become the main man. Originally a running back with 586
yards and five touchdowns in 2007, he was switched to wideout and
finished second on the team with 33 catches for 571 yards and three
scores. At 5-9 and 195 pounds he’s not all that big, but he can move at
the outside X position in place of Francis.
Taking over Harper’s spot at the Z will be
James Nixon, a 6-1, 185-pound
sophomore who saw a little bit of time last year but only made one catch
for 46 yards. The UConn transfer is one of the team’s fastest players
and best all-around athletes, but now he has to make his skills
translate into production. A pure home-run hitter, he might not be build
like a pounding back, but the two-time New England 100-meter champion
should be a bolt of lightning once he gets into the open. The plan will
be to find several ways to get him the ball
Back at his spot in the slot will be senior
Dy’Onne Crudup after making 15 catches for 214 yards and a score. It
was a down year after he came up with 39 catches in 2007, and now he has
to be more consistent and come up with more big plays to use his
experience and speed to do more.
Senior Steve Maneri took over
the starting tight end job halfway through the season and will be a big
blocker once again. He hasn’t been much of a receiver in his career, but
he has made the most of his opportunities with seven touchdowns on just
26 grabs. He scored four times last year and can be used more as a
safety valve. At 6-6 and 271 pounds, he’s built like a third tackle who
can run decent short routes.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior
Nyles Bynum has been involved as a practice player over the last few
years but has yet to catch a pass in game play. He has been on the field
for 11 games and now has to provide some production as the backup behind
Jason Harper at the X. At 6-1 and 190 pounds he has decent size to go
along with good speed.
Junior Delano Green has
mostly served as a punt returner averaging 10.8 yards per try to so far
in his career. However, he only has four catches in two years. The star
high school quarterback is only 5-10 and 170 pounds, but he can fly.
One of the team’s most interesting new weapons will be
Matt Brown, a 5-5, 160-pound freshman who has lightning quickness.
He went the military academy route for a year before joining Temple, and
now he’s ready to see time right away behind Dy’Onne Crudup in the slot.
Combining with Steve Maneri at tight end will be 6-4, 258-pound
sophomore Matt Balasavage. After getting hurt right away, he got
on the field early as a true freshman and made two catches for 42 yards
with a touchdown in 2007 and redshirted last year. With good size and
the athleticism to become a regular contributor, he needs to be used as
a regular in the passing game.
Watch Out For ... more big plays. The speed is there to
make several big plays. The Owls averaged an excellent 13 yards per
catch last year, but the quarterback play could be a bit shakier early
on. Eventually, there should be plenty of home runs.
Strength: Veterans. Bruce Francis might be gone, but
everyone else of note is back. A true No. 1 go-to target has to emerge,
but there are plenty of No. 2s.
Weakness: A proven scorer. The Owls came up with 22 touchdown
catches last year, but Francis had 13 of them. There might have been too
much of a reliance on the proven veteran, but his loss leaves a gaping
hole to be filled.
Outlook: The receiving corps could be one of the team’s
biggest strengths even if the stats don’t quite show it. The speed is
there, and then some, led by the combination Jason Harper and James
Nixon, who can blow past anyone in the MAC. The tight end combination of
Steve Maneri and Matt Balasavage has been underutilized and could be far
more productive as safety valves.
Projected Starters: The team’s biggest loss, other than QB
Adam DiMichele, is at center where Alex Derenthal is gone. Sophomore
Wayne Tribune started last
year at left guard but will move inside to bring excellent size and
surprising quickness for the position. At 6-4 and 312 pounds, he’s a
thumper who can also move.
Stepping in at Tribune’s spot at left guard will be
John Palumbo, a right guard who’ll move to the other side. The 6-6,
304-pounder started the final five games last year and should grow into
the role in his new spot. He’s a good athlete for his size and could be
a tackle if needed.
With Palumbo moving spots, that means
Colin Madison will step in
after seeing a little bit of work in six games. He has starting time at
guard and should be fine at right guard with a little bit more time. The
6-4, 310-pound junior has mostly made his mark on the track field so far
as a star in the shot put for the Owl track team. He’s a very strong,
very physical player who should turn into a mauler on the inside. Even
though he has the potential to be an All-MAC performer on the football
field before his career is over, he likely won't ever be as good as he
in on the track.
Senior Devin Tyler
spent most of last year at left tackle and now will move to the right
side. The 6-7, 301-pound veteran is a former defensive end who has had
problems in pass protection throughout his career. He was a part of a
rotation last season after starting all 12 games in 2007. Now he needs
to use his size and experience to be more consistent.
Taking over at left tackle will be Pat Boyle after starting four
times as a true freshman. The 6-5, 308-pound sophomore took over the
starting job late in the year and he should be a mainstay for the next
three seasons. He needs to improve his pass protection, but he’s a good
athlete for his size and he should grow into the team’s star.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior
Marcus Brown won’t likely
take over the starting left tackle job from Pat Boyle, but he’s just
good enough to see time somewhere on the line. The 6-4, 292-pounder
redshirted last year and saw a little time in 2007 after starting ten
times as a true freshman. He might move to the right side at times.
6-5, 316-pound junior Derek Dennis got his feet wet as a true
freshman starting ten games at right guard and got six starts last year
on the left side. One of the team’s most versatile blockers, he could
see time at either guard or tackle and will start out playing behind
Devin Thomas at right tackle.
6-4, 305-pound junior
Darius Morris was supposed to
play a role last year but ended up redshirting. A strong recruit a few
years ago, he got four starts as a sophomore and now will be a big,
athletic option behind John Palumbo at left guard.
Watch Out For ... more tinkering with the combination. The
lineup was never set with only one player, Alex Derenthal, starting
every game in the same spot. There are plenty of interchangeable parts,
and the coaching staff will have to keep working to find the right fits.
Strength: Veterans. There’s veteran depth to go along with
all the starting experience among the starters. This group has seen it
all in MAC play and has been around long enough to be far better if
there can be a little more cohesion.
Weakness: Production. Considering all the experience and all the
talent of last year’s line, there should’ve been far better protection
for the passing game and far more done for the ground attack. Temple was
last in the MAC in rushing yards and last in sacks allowed.
Outlook: Offensive line coach Andrew Dees had veterans,
backups, and options to work with last season and it was still the
league’s least productive offensive line. This year’s group has everyone
back except for all-star Alex Derenthal at center, so while there’s
still a ton of work to be done, this should be an area of improvement if
experience means anything. The key will be to find a steady starting
five to count on game in and game out, and it’ll be vital to find one
thing this group can do well.