Temple running backs eager to make an impact

Posted: August 07, 2013

FOR THE PAST few years, Temple has been known for producing big-name running backs who produce big numbers.

As the Owls' training camp began yesterday, first-year coach Matt Rhule was still uncertain about who might emerge as that next big producer in Temple's backfield.

The five running backs in camp all share a lack of collegiate experience, as only junior Kenneth Harper and sophomore Jamie Gilmore ever carried the ball for Temple.

"All 3 of my years [at Temple] have been a learning experience for myself, and now with the rest of the running backs here, we are just out there to show what we can do and I'm excited for it," Harper said.

As camp opened yesterday, Rhule and his players reiterated their hope to continue to build off a successful spring season. While practices during that period were not taken lightly, Rhule thinks his running backs are adjusting to a new style of camp and will only benefit from the upbeat and lengthy practices under the hot summer sun.

"I think the fact that we are going to run all day is different," Rhule said. "Guys were starting to cramp up a little bit, because we had a long practice, but in order to play that style of football, you have to be in shape if you want to outrun your opponent, and they get that. It will take a day or two to get that back in their system, but they like that, and they like playing football this way."

Throughout former coach Steve Addazio's tenure at Temple in 2011 and 2012, the philosophy of the offense was to run first and pass second.

Rhule wants to transform the offense into one that is more evenly balanced.

"It's a little different, but I think it will help us in the long run," Harper said. "The more we can pass, the more it will help open up the running lanes, and it kind of goes hand in hand. I think it will work better for us. It's more passing than running, and it's way more balanced. You have to get everybody to make themselves be their own weapon, so for me, I love it, because it doesn't let you be one-dimensional, and shows you different skills around the team."

Who will get to run in this transformed offense is still to be determined. Throughout the rest of training camp, Rhule and the coaches will determine whether the Owls will utilize one running back or multiple options in the backfield.

"I think the more weapons you have, the better you are," Harper said. "The more people we can get on the field producing will be better for us."

Rhule described Gilmore, who rushed 20 times for 94 yards in 2012, as one of the team's dynamic players. Harper, the team's biggest and most physical back, is one of a kind on this Temple team, said Rhule, with a style unlike any of the Owls' other backs. Last season, Harper had 13 carries for 65 yards and notched two touchdowns.

"I think Kenny is the only back that we have of that type - the only big back - and he certainly understands protections," Rhule said. "Jamie is somebody that has it completely in his hands right now. He's a dynamic player when he shows it, and we are putting a lot of pressure on him to really step up. He's a guy that really has to step up, and he hasn't yet, and we are hoping that he will as we get the pads on in the next week or so."

Rhule also has his eyes on the younger running backs: sophomore Hassan Dixon, redshirt freshman Avery Williams, and freshmen Zaire Williams and Jahad Thomas. Rhule thinks that with all of their different styles, each can contribute to the team, if not this season, then in the future.

"Each of those guys is going to have to take reps and show what they can do," Rhule said. "I will play with different styles of backs, and I just want, with whatever style you have, you better be good at it."

With running backs Bernard Pierce, Matt Brown and Montel Harris now gone from the program, Rhule said he hopes the group of inexperienced running backs will focus on the styles of those three and aim for success.

"Running backs are going to be huge this year," quarterback Connor Reilly said. "They are going to be that secret weapon that nobody really knows about, because they are going to get 50 to 70 catches this year, so if they know their stuff and know their roles, they know us throwing the ball is going to open up their running lanes, and if they have opened up their running lanes, we will keep giving them the ball."

After only the first day of practice, Rhule said that he liked what he saw from his running backs, but that it is tough to get a real evaluation until the team wears pads and begins contact. Until then, each back will focus on doing what is needed to be not only a starter, but also a leader.

"I am just trying to be a leader and coming out here every day," Harper said. "I am trying to fine-tune my game every day and make sure my weaknesses are becoming my strengths, too, and I am trying to be an all-around player."


On Twitter: @JohnMurrow12

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