PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Greetings from the great state of New Jersey, where I am set to get my first glimpse of Rutgers this morning.
I believe this is the first ever trip to Rutgers for the Big East blog, so I am thrilled to be here to check in on how coach Kyle Flood and his team are faring this spring. I have got a full day of interviews planned, so stay tuned to the blog for plenty of coverage.
Now considering I am about an hour away from Philadelphia, I drove to Temple on Monday and spent the afternoon catching up with coach Steve Addazio, defensive coordinator Chuck Heater, offensive coordinator Ryan Day and quarterback Chris Coyer to see how the Owls are doing in their first spring back in the Big East.
The football complex is under construction as a new $10 million facility is set to open July 1. A huge chunk of the addition is right next to Addazio's office, which means the wonderful sounds of saws, blades and machinery blast throughout the day. But it's music to his ears because the addition has been a long time coming and will give the Owls a state of the art weight room along with many other facility upgrades, crucial to compete now that they are in the Big East.
While the weight room has been under construction, players have been working out at an old warehouse a few blocks away without much in the way of amenities. But that's fine for the players. One of them compared it to the way Rocky trained in a meat locker -- perhaps a perfect analogy for a program that prides itself on being Philly tough.
What you come away with after being there is just the remarkable transformation of a program that was one vote shy from being completely eliminated after it was axed from the Big East a mere eight years ago. The job Al Golden, Bill Bradshaw and Steve Addazio have done in the time since is truly inspiring. Stay tuned for a bigger story next week on how Temple rose back up. Now here are a few notes from the coaches:
The main point of emphasis for the team this spring has been finding ways to gain an edge on their opponents now that they are going to be playing in a tougher league. There is no doubt from the coaching staff that this team can compete immediately. But to win a championship, they are going to have to find advantages across the field. That means playing disciplined, winning the line of scrimmage and keeping opponents off balance.
One way to do that is diversifying the offense. Addazio now believes he has some hybrid players in place, the way he did at Florida, to make the Owls more dynamic. Watch for Jalen Fitzpatrick, who fits into the role Percy Harvin had during his time with the Gators. Fitzpatrick has had a nice spring, and he can line up in the backfield or in the slot and be a versatile player.
Coyer, a dual-threat quarterback, also will alternate taking snaps out of the shotgun and from under center. Essentially, Addazio wants to be able to spread teams out and have a conventional power-run game all in one. You need a solid offensive line to be able to do both, and that has been a key to watch this spring as the Owls are replacing four of five starters. Sean Boyle is healthy at center and Martin Wallace returns.
The others who are projected starters: guard Jeff Whittingham and Jaimen Newman at guard, and Zach Hooks at left tackle. But depth does remain a concern at this position, as the Owls have about six players right now they are comfortable with in the rotation.
Defensively, secondary is the biggest area of concern because of some depth issues. There may be a need to have true freshmen contribute at this position. Heater is hoping Anthony Robey, Justin Gildea and Maurice Jones take the next step and anchor the unit. Vaughn Carraway is another player Heater has high hopes for, but now he has to take advantage of his opportunities.
At middle linebacker, Nate Smith appears to have an edge, but that is a position that remains an unknown with spring almost wrapped up. One of the players who has impressed Heater the most this spring is Hershey Walton, a converted offensive lineman now playing nose tackle. He should help the depth on the line, which should be pretty strong again this season.