Written By: Ari Glazier
While the prospects of a college football season this year remain in flux, Temple Football head coach Rod Carey hasn’t gotten the sense of normalcy that comes with the annual ramp up to kickoff, even as the Owls train in a limited capacity.
Still, football is football, and Carey is glad it’s back in some form.
“Normalcy, no,” the second year coach said. “This ain’t normal. I certainly enjoy, now more than ever after having it taken away, being on the field with the guys. That has been great.”
On a Tuesday afternoon press availability via Zoom, Carey revealed that five unnamed players have opted out of the coming season with the team and University’s full support, due to COVID-19 health concerns.
The second year coach broke down the safety measures that his team has implemented since the start of training camp in late June. The first and second teams practice in separate sessions from the third and fourth teams. Both of those groups are split into sections of no more than fifty, in compliance with city government. The team has yet to start contact play, nor have the offense and defense played together.
Throughout the call, Carey hesitated to call what the team has done so far “practice”, as both safety measures and the need to slowly integrate athletes who have been quarantined back into football conditioning have prevented the Owls from a more traditional camp.
“I wouldn’t say that we are practicing yet,” Carey said. “We are doing football related activities. The length of the practices have been about 50% of normal practice, we’re trying to bring them back slowly with strength and conditioning. We already have COVID, we don’t need to add any other avoidable injuries to this.”
Carey emphasized the value of slowly ramping up the intensity of training, promising that contact drills are around the corner. The build-up, Carey said, helps keep players engaged in what might otherwise be frustrating and stunted camp. The staff manages to keep things new and interesting by regularly introducing new drills and activities.
Defensive Coordinator Jeff Knowles, who spoke after Carey, feels that the increased walkthrough and film time will be a boon to the Owls when they finally do put on the pads.
“Because we’ve been moving forward slowly, we’ve been able to do a lot of teaching,” Knowles said. “It’s been good for our guys to keep learning the install and getting coached the finer points.”
Of course, looming over everything is the uncertainty as to whether a season is even possible or appropriate. As it stands, the AAC is holding to its September 19th start date, even as other major conferences have cancelled the season outright. One added wrinkle, Temple’s entire non conference schedule has been cancelled. Carey said he’s been in constant communication with Senior Associate Athletic Director and Chief of Staff Vinnie James about possibly scheduling new non conference matchups. Interim Athletic Director Fran Dunphy indicated that hypothetical non conference games would likely be against FBS opponents rather than FCS.
“Whether we can make it all happen, timing, logistics, with the short window, I don’t know yet,” Carey said. “I certainly would like to give the kids more opportunities to play than just eight with all the work that goes into the games. If we only have eight, there are some conferences that aren’t playing any, so we feel pretty good about where we’re at now. “
Both Carey and Knowles were highly complimentary of the players’ response to the daunting circumstances. Knowles singled out the work that guys did in the weight room over quarantine.
“Most of our guys were sending in pictures of what they were doing, ‘hey coach check this out’,” Knowles said. “But at the end of the day, not everybody’s got 500 pounds to squat sitting in their garage gym, so the guys came back in pretty good shape.”
It’s difficult to get bogged down in the minutia of positional battles, personnel changes, and tactical alterations that typically make up training camp when the prospects of college football are optimistically a question mark. But Carey is glad to be back in his element all the same, and according to him, the players are of a similar mind.
“There has been no b******* and complaining about it,” Carey said. “It has been ‘yeah, let’s do it’, because I think they get it from the national narrative, how tenuous things are right now, so all we’ve got is today, and that’s all they’re trying to do is do today and get to tomorrow and I love that about them.”
Carey said there is a real competition in the quarterback room between redshirt senior Anthony Russo, recent Iowa State transfer, redshirt sophomore Re-al Mitchell, and redshirt sophomore Trad Beatty.
“[Russo]’s still our quarterback,” Carey said. “Somebody has to go beat him out. But, there is good competition going on there right know.”
Redshirt senior linebacker Isaiah Graham Mobely was cleared to play in late June after an ankle injury against UCF cost him the rest of the previous season. Carey was confident that Mobely and fifth year linebacker William Kwenkeu, who has also dealt with injuries, could fill the hole left by the departure of a loaded 2019 positional class.
“I certainly think IGM and Will have the ability to fill those shoes,” Carey said. “Now they have to go out and do it, but the familiarity is better in year two with our defense than it was in year one with those guys, and they’re both back healthy, and obviously God has given them a lot of talent and they provide the work ethic which is pretty fun to watch.”
Knowles gave updates on a few positional battles. The free safety position is up for grabs, with community college transfer, redshirt junior Jalen Ware and redshirt sophomore Chauncey Moore being the top contenders. Knowles also mentioned that freshmen Alex Odom and Trey Blair are in the mix.
The race for the third linebacker opposite Mobely and Kwenkeu is between redshirt freshman Yvandy Rigby and redshirt freshman Thomas Joe-Kamara, although Knowles said they plan to play more nickel formation to offset the loss of versatile linebackers like Sam Franklin.
Temple is currently scheduled to begin its season on September 26th at Navy.