Numbers gives Temple flexibility on special teams

Dante Wright shows off his punt returning skills at the 3:19 time stamp.

One tenant in Lincoln Financial Field is forced to play its best punt returner at wide receiver because (ostensibly) they don’t want to get half of the outside receiving game hurt.

The other tenant will not have that problem in 2023.

Given what DeVonta Smith did at Alabama returning punts–where he was nothing short of a magician in the open field–it has to be tempting for Nick Siranni to use him on special teams.

The Philadelphia Eagles don’t have that flexibility due the to limited numbers of receivers the NFL has.

Temple football does.

In this same season (BC=Before Carey), Temple’s Isaiah Wright returned a punt for a touchdown against South Florida.

Dante Wright is no Devonte Smith on punt returns but he will definitely be Temple’s best punt returner since another Wright, Isaiah, roamed the field in 2018.

That year, Wright–who had a cup of coffee with a Washington team called the Redskins (now Commanders)–was named the AAC Special Teams Player of The Year for his ability to break a game open with returns.

This Wright could fill the same role at Temple.

One, Wright was a dynamic punt returner at Colorado State.

Two, the 2023 Owls went from only five scholarship wide receivers at the close of 2022 to what will be 10 at the start of the 2023 season due to the addition of five outstanding players, including Wright–a 2019 freshman first-team All-American at Colorado State and Richard Dandridge, who many Florida prep writers consider the No. 1 outside receiver in the state of Florida.

To me, this whole notion of wide receivers getting hurt on punt returns is overblown. They can get hurt just as easily on a five-yard out as they can returning a punt but, even given that, the Owls have receivers like Amad Anderson, Zae Baines and Dandridge who can be dangerous and productive on the outside. They added three other dynamic newcomers but none have the history of returning punts and kicks like Wright. They can afford to put someone who has the ability to take it to the house back returning kicks.

Wright is that guy.

Now head coach Stan Drayton hasn’t officially named Wright as the punt returner, but he now has that flexibility. Temple used to have the best special teams in the AAC not only because Ed Foley’s units could block kicks on a consistent basis but because they always had a returner who was capable of flipping the field on every punt.

Wright was that guy. Wright is this guy, too.

It will be nice for a Temple special team unit to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition again.

Given the additional numbers on signing day, the Owls are trending that way.

Monday: New Year’s Resolutions

Friday: Four to Score

5 Individual Owl achievements that can happen

In Darvon Hubbard, the Owls have a big-time SEC recruit from Texas A&M who should, combined with a veteran offensive line, significantly upgrade the running game.

Hard to believe, Harry (Donahue, in this case) but after three years of despair, it’s not hard to see some Temple football Owls making a mark this season.

After all, all the cheering in the practices in the snow and the weightlifting at the E-O have signaled an all-for-one, one-for-all atmosphere around the $17 million Edberg-Olson Complex we haven’t seen since the first year of the Geoff Collins Era.

That team, arguably a nine-win squad, still did the university proud by winning seven games and taking home a bowl title.

Former Virginia Tech starter Quincy Patterson probably beats out former Georgia starter D’wan Mathis to give Temple the deepest 1-2 quarterback punch in the AAC this season.

Underachieving is not an option this year.

Regular achieving?

In this space, we’ve set the bar at six wins.

Hard?

Sure.

Impossible?

Definitely not.

Since the team is the sum of the individual parts, we can see five things happening on that level that lead to a team success.

Now, mind you, we’re not predicting them, but can definitely envision them:

One, Quincy Patterson becomes a first-team all-league quarterback. Sean Hennigan of Memphis, really, is his top competition but a guy who heard pass-rushing footsteps against a 3-9 Temple team certainly is vulnerable against a guy who once led Virginia Tech to a double-overtime win against North Carolina. Patterson, in my mind, has the “it” factor that both P.J. Walker and Adam DiMichele had. I hope I’m right.

Two, Isaac Moore, Adam Klein and Victor Stoffel take things personally. All three of these players were outstanding for Chris Wiesehan under Collins and the return of their coach revitalizes the Temple offensive line. Moore in particular signaled the end of the Rod Carey Error a year ago today when he was quoted in OwlsDaily.com as saying: “It’s Temple. You cannot lose here. Everyone knows that.” (That was in response to a question about a rare 1-6 season at Temple.) Wiesehan, who did not experience a losing season in his prior years at Temple, was considered by many an outstanding candidate to get the job Stan Drayton did and that’s because many current Temple players went to bat for him. Reason? He had pretty much this same talent operating on a much higher level under Geoff Collins. That would lead to the next achievement.

Three, Darvon Hubbard gains 1,000 yards and scores at least 10 touchdowns. Hubbard was a three-star Texas A&M recruit for a reason and it was because it was a state champion 100-meter guy who also maximized his carries on the high school football field in Arizona. With less than 100 carries, Hubbard had over 1,000 yards in his senior year in high school football. That’s a lot of yards per carry. If he does the same against AAC competition, the Owls more than double their run production next year. Hubbard will probably be the best transfer running back Temple has had since Montel Harris scored seven touchdowns in a single game in 2012.

Amad Anderson is definitely the best Anderson at wide receiver since Robby (celebrating with the great Temple fans here the win over Penn State) caught clutch passes at Temple in 2015.

Four, Adonicis Sanders and Amad Anderson exceed the production of Jadan Blue and Randall Jones. Sanders, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass against Duke last year, could do the same this year. Anderson was a productive starter at Purdue before coming to Temple. Their collective target? The four touchdowns and 661 yards Blue (now at Virginia Tech) and Jones combined for last year. I will bet $20 against any Temple fan at the season-ticket-holder party who wants to take me up on that.

Five, the Owls as a team get more sacks (16+) this year than they did last year (15, 105 yards in losses). North Carolina transfer Xach Gill (who didn’t play last year) is a significant upgrade inside and Layton Jordan is an improvement outside. Kentucky transfer Jerquavion Mahone (who did play last year) needs to improve on the inside and surprisingly Dyshier Clary is listed as a DE starter on the other side ahead of Darian Varner and Evan Boozer, who both have good motors. That’s pretty good DE depth.

If a team is the sum of its parts (and it is), the parts point to better production. Does that equal 2x the wins?

That’s a math question even Albert Einstein would be hard-pressed to answer but the across-the-board improvement we see in mid-July seems to support the hypothesis.

Monday: What They Are Saying …