Temple's receivers will be more than decoys

Jalen Fitzpatrick listens to instructions from Owls coach Matt Rhule. Jalen, a junior wide receiver, said Rhule "has placed a lot of emphasis on us making plays on the ball."
Jalen Fitzpatrick listens to instructions from Owls coach Matt Rhule. Jalen, a junior wide receiver, said Rhule "has placed a lot of emphasis on us making plays on the ball." (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 29, 2013

The good news is that Temple's leader in touchdown receptions is back. The bad news is that Cody Booth, who caught four touchdowns last season at tight end, has added more than 30 pounds and now starts at left tackle.

Last season, Temple's passing game was, at best, an afterthought. With Montel Harris leading the Big East with an average of more than 105 rushing yards per game, and with the Owls so committed to the running game that they often ran the ball while trailing, the receivers were mostly decoys.

However, first-year coach Matt Rhule has turned over the keys to Temple's new pro spread offense to first-time quarterback Connor Reilly. And while this puts a great deal of the focus on Reilly, Rhule wants his receivers to work extra hard to help take some of the pressure off his quarterback when Temple plays its season opener Saturday at No. 14 Notre Dame.

"Coach has placed a lot of emphasis on us making plays on the ball," wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick said earlier this month. "A lot of the offense being successful is going to be us making plays for the ball."

When the Owls did throw last season, Fitzpatrick was the favorite target of 2012 quarterbacks Chris Coyer and Clinton Granger. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior led Temple with 30 receptions and 363 receiving yards.

Fifth-year senior Ryan Alderman (5-9, 175 pounds) out of Bishop Shanahan and sophomore John Christopher (5-10, 185) are the other starting receivers. Between them, Alderman and Christopher combined for just 14 receptions, 173 receiving yards, and one touchdown (by Christopher) last season.

Diminutive as they are, Rhule expects the Owls receivers to make a contribution and become better as the season goes along and they grow more comfortable in the offense.

"I think we have good receivers," Rhule said. "They are athletic. They'll catch the ball, and they are courageous. We have depth at receiver, and we're going to tell them to just go out there and play."

One receiver unlikely to play Saturday at Notre Dame is 6-5 senior Deon Miller. Miller, who had a viral infection most of last season, has been a victim of cramping that has kept him off the practice field for almost all of training camp.

The depth Rhule spoke of will be provided by backups Nate Hairston (6-0, 185), a redshirt freshman; sophomore Khalif Herbin (5-7, 170); and sophomore Samuel Benjamin (6-0, 195).

"They are young, but we feel they will compete," Rhule said. "This is the offense they are learning. We think they can be good in it."

Rhule expects the Fighting Irish defensive line led by nose guard Louis Nix III - whom Rhule calls the best defensive lineman in college football - and defensive end Stephon Tuitt to put pressure on Reilly throughout the game. Reilly, Rhule said, has demonstrated an ability to make quick reads and pre-snap adjustments in training camp.

But it will be harder to make those adjustments against a fired-up ranked team looking to make an early season impression.

"That's why it will be very important for [the receivers] to help Connor by running every route hard and winning one-on-one battles on Saturday," Rhule said.


Contact John N. Mitchell at  jmitchell@philly.com. Follow on Twitter @JmitchInquirer.

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