At this point, it’s a breath of fresh air to say the Temple Owls football program is “up and coming.” It means we truly believe this program is headed in the right direction. But it also means our expectations for the future are real.
Head coach Matt Rhule inherited a team that went 2-10 in 2013 behind awful defense (notably horrible pass defense). A year later, he improved the Owls to 6-6 behind stellar, much improved defense. He improved the team through recruiting with signings of JUCO defensive backs Khiry Lucas and Alex Wells and freshman standout Sean Chandler. Those guys made immediate impacts and helped make Temple one of the best defenses in the conference. But just as the defense took a giant leap forward, the offense took a major step backwards.
Most of the defense will be coming back next year, which you should be excited about. I know I am. But it was the offense that was a concern for that 6-6 team. Quarterback PJ Walker showed frustration throughout the year and could have stood to see a better supporting cast. And that’s putting it lightly since the team was historically bad on third down.
Following trends, you might expect Rhule to greatly improve the offense during the recruiting period this year. He didn’t do that exactly but he still managed to meet expectations. Allow me to explain.
The 2015 recruiting class was actually pretty even between offense and defense—11 defensive players and nine on offense.
The wide receiver position was maybe Temple’s worst this past year (along with offensive line), but the team signed on only one wide out: Cortelle Simpson, an under-recruited, undersized two-star wide receiver from Maryland. This was a curious move because it was a position that I think really needed to be addressed.
Instead, Rhule focused on the running game. Temple signed three running backs, the smallest one, Ryquell Armstead, being listed at a not-so-small 5’11”, 205 pounds. The most highly anticipated of the three, TJ Simmons, was ranked as the no. 17 running back in the country according to Rivals and was offered scholarships by schools like Auburn, Ohio State, Penn State, UCLA, DeVry, and more. Curiously, Simmons ran just a 4.67 40 yard dash. One explanation is that he broke his leg in the beginning of his senior year of high school. Also, his picture on ESPN is… hilarious. I hope he makes that face when he runs.
Another recruit, Chappelle Cook, was originally listed as a running back but the team’s official site now lists him as a linebacker. Cook played both positions (as well as quarterback) in high school. And let me just say I can not wait to roll out the Chappelle Show references when writing about this guy.
Rhule reiterated during a press conference that he’d love to keep building on what he thought was a really impressive defense, saying, “Defensively, I think we look like we’re pretty solid. [Defensive coordinator Phil Snow] is in there right now with some players… Right now, they’re watching Seahawks’ cut-ups, trying to get better.”
Temple’s top recruit was cornerback Kareem Ali, Jr. He floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Kareem’s father, Ali, Sr., played for Temple in the mid 90’s. Ali, Jr. played for the same back-to-back high school championship team as teammates Zaire Williams and lone 2015 JUCO transfer Greg Webb. Ali and Webb are two of seven recruits from New Jersey, the most of any state Temple recruited from this year. That’s a big blow to Rutgers, Temple’s biggest rival.
Ali, Jr. reinforces an already strong defense, which Rhule seemed to favor for the second straight offseason.
With the addition another great defensive back, three Beast-Mode-sized running backs, and a Seahawks reference from Rhule, it’s easy to see what team Rhule is molding the Owls after. Could this be the beginning of Legion of Boom East? I’ll buy the Skittles.