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

Temple Signing Day: A Golden Night

Roughly about the same time the most consequential Temple football class since Al Golden’s penultimate one was being signed on TV, down the dial iconic anchor Jim Gardner was saying his final goodbyes to Philadelphia.

From a ratings standpoint, bad timing.

Overnights had the 6 p.m. Action News broadcast at 540,000 viewers which was the highest rated 6 p.m. Action News since Sept. 11, 2001.

You all know what happened on that day.

Sorry, Jim, but I eschewed the local news that day for another down the dial, the Temple Football Signing Show (ESPN+, also 6 p.m.). Probably only the 20,000 or so hardcore Temple football fans joined me. Maybe a sliver of the 20,000 or so “softcore” Temple fans did as well.

The reason was simple: Action News goes on and on for another 46 years with or without Jim Gardner.

Temple football is always looking over its should for the axe.

Fortunately, due to what happened, the Owls future looks bright on paper and any rumors of their demise are, as Mark Twain would say, premature.

We have to say on paper because this is the highest-rated class since the second Steve Addazio class (52) after the big 2011 New Mexico Bowl win over Wyoming.

In fact, it ranks with Al Golden’s first two classes which were the top ones in the MAC.

Back then, Golden would host Temple fans for a night on campus to watch the film of the new recruits and take questions afterward. He always embraced the fact that the Scout.com and Rivals.com services had his recruiting classes ranked No. 1 in the league.

Golden never won a MAC title because recruiting classes have to cycle through the system for a full four years in order to win a league title and he left for Miami before that. A strong argument could be made that his recruiting got the Owls in a position where they were able to make a move up in leagues from the MAC to the Big East. Golden promised to build a house of brick, not straw,

Golden kept his promise and I had to laugh when all the stories about Matt Rhule being hired at Nebraska said it was Rhule, not Golden, who revitalized Temple football. Temple disagrees. Golden is in the Temple Sports Hall of Fame for a reason and Rhule is not.

Golden was the guy who did all the heavy lifting. Rhule benefited from it.

Now it appears that Stan Drayton is following the Golden Template, not the Rhule one, and the organization is better for it.

Drayton realizes his hard work has Temple ranked high up the Group of Five recruiting food chain and has, like Golden, embraced recognition.

The Owls had this chip once. They need to get it back.

Temple put out a couple of social media posts backing up its hard work and that’s smart. Every staff pats themselves on the back and thinks they did a great job but it’s nice to know impartial observers do as well.

For this post, we won’t go through every individual signee (there are plenty of days between now and Cherry and White to do that), but we will note that Dante Wright was a first-team freshman All-American wide receiver in 2019 and the first-team All-American freshman quarterback in 2022 was E.J. Warner.

Put those two on the field together in 2023 and the potential is there for the Owls to turn the Lincoln Financial Field scoreboard into an adding machine. Freshman running back Joquez Smith is considered by most Florida prep writers to be the best running back in that talent-fertile state and his 55 touchdowns over the last two years provides the receipts. Edward Saydee had 53 touchdowns in three years at Penn Charter. Inter-Ac football is good, but it’s not on a 6A Florida level like Tampa Jesuit is. Saydee will give Smith a run for his money but we’ve got to think on pure logic alone Smith wins the job.

Plus, Amad Anderson and Zae Baines made huge receiving strides in the second half of the season and Richard Dandridge, perhaps the best wide receiver in the state of Florida, joins that room. Hands down, Temple has the two best tight ends in the AAC in David Martin-Robinson and Jordan Smith and having those two on the field at the same time only serves to jumpstart what had been a subpar running game. The offensive line has been upgraded so we probably won’t see a pass on a 3d and 1 next year. Gosh, I hope not.

The safest passenger on the bus home in 2016.

Defensively, although Darian Varner made a dumb decision to leave for Virginia Tech (didn’t he learn anything from Jadan Blue last year?), defensive coordinator D.J. Eliott says Layton Jordan (the better Owl edge rusher) is all in and will return. Drayton got Jordan plenty of pass-rushing help and look for Jordan and Jordan Magee to have years next year that put them high up in NFL draft conversations. Staying at Temple will probably make Layton and Jordan millions in the NFL draft. Just ask Haason Reddick.

Jim Gardner might have been the big story on Action News Wednesday but what happened down the dial was the best news for Temple football we’ve seen since The Golden Era.

Afterward, Drayton talked championships as the Temple standard. Channel 6 can have the ratings. I will take riding home on a bus with the AAC championship trophy over that any day of the week. Wednesday made that day a lot closer.

Monday: Five Plays We’d Like to Have Back

Friday: Five scholarships left