Continuing our examination of the strengths and weaknesses as Temple prepares for the season, we will take a look at the defensive side of the ball.
While the unit finished its 2015 campaign as one of the nation’s top defenses, several key pieces have moved on, including three players who were selected in April’s NFL Draft. As a result, current players will be counted on to step up and carry the torch in the Owls’ pursuit of an AAC Championship.
Will the 2016 squad be up to the task, or will the defense take a step back this year?
Without further ado, here are the strengths and weaknesses of Temple’s defense.
Sean Chandler – Recently named to the watch list for this year’s Chuck Bednarik Award – awarded to the nation’s best collegiate defensive player – Chandler will be counted on to be the top dog in Temple’s secondary.
In 2015, Chandler recorded 65 total tackles, 10 pass deflections and one sack. The shifty defensive back also finished second on the team with four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
Chandler has developed into a formidable defender – and somewhat of a ball hawk – during his time at Temple, which should go a long way toward limiting the production of opposing wide receivers this season.
Defensive Line – As reported in one of my earlier articles, Temple coach Matt Rhule has constructed an intimidating defensive line built to last.
Boasting solid depth along the front, the defensive line will be home to several players looking to make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks. Perhaps the best of the bunch, defensive ends Praise Martin-Oguike and Haason Reddick, should be able to improve upon the three and five sacks they recorded in 2015, respectively.
Fellow defensive lineman Karamo Dioubate, a four-star recruit landed by the team this offseason, will also look to bring the heat in sub packages in his first year in Philadelphia.
Stopping opposing offenses starts with establishing pressure, and a talented, well-rested line spells doom for those facing the Owls.
Secondary – Aside from the talented Chandler, the secondary is thin. The majority of the secondary is still young, or has only played in a reserve role, and therefore lacks experience. It is still up in the air as to who will start opposite Chandler when the season kicks off.
Nate L. Smith, who played in every game last year and started seven due to injuries to Temple’s regulars, should help solidify the back end. However, it takes more than two guys to stop an aerial attack.
It is tough to say right now who will emerge as viable starters.
Big Shoes to Fill – With former Owl linebacker Tyler Matakevich now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Temple will need to find someone to fill his shoes and match his production.
The heart and soul of Temple’s defense – and the 2015 Chuck Bednarik Award recipient – Matakevich was a tackling machine.
Thankfully, the Owls currently have a pair of linebackers who could help ease the transition as the post-Matakevich era gets underway.
Avery Williams recorded 49 tackles and one INT last season while Jarred Alwan finished with 1.5 sacks and was second on the team in total tackles with 73.
However, if these two players are unable to match Matakevich’s durability and high level of consistency – which will be difficult to do – linebacker will become a position of weakness this season.