Continuing on with my series of previews for Temple’s various position groups, its time to take a look at the running backs. Last week I previewed the quarterback situation, which starts and likely ends with Anthony Russo. You can find that by clicking the button below.
So now we look at a more complicated position group, filled with potential stars but few proven commodities.
Key departures: Ryquell Armstead; Rob Ritrovato
Key additions: Jeremiah Nelson; Onasis Neely; Edward Saydee; Re’Mahn Davis
Armstead rumbled his way to almost 1100 yards rushing last season, 8th among AAC running backs, but amassed 110 yards per game since he played in only 10 games, which ranked 3rd in the AAC. He also accounted for 13 touchdowns, the most by any player not named Anthony Russo. He was drafted in the 5th round by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Behind him was Jager Gardner. A 3 star RB out of Black Mountain in North Carolina, Gardner was not a very highly recruited running back for the class of 2015, but he did have several FBS offers. Few can forget his 94 yard run against SMU later that year for the Owls in a game that resembled a Big 12 backyard brawl. The potential has been there for Gardner, who measures at 6’3 and 215lb.
The last several years have been a mixed bag for Gardner. He has shown flashes at times, but he has also struggled for consistency, limited by injuries and falling behind on the depth chart. Sometimes the game situation dictated the shares, other times Armstead was simply the man.
It is expected that Gardner will take the reigns this year. But even still, early reports are that he has been hampered by injuries in the spring, per the Temple News (Source: Temple News). One of his main issues has been getting onto the field consistently and now he isn’t getting the practice reps he should be getting. Not an ideal situation but it has given the staff a chance to evaluate some of the younger padawans.
The second leading rusher was Fullback Rob “Nitro” Ritrovato, who accumulated almost 300 yards on the ground. The Owls will look to replace their top two rushers.
Aside from the somewhat known production and potential ability of Gardner, the Owls really don’t have much behind that. Tyliek Raynor and Kyle Dobbins are two names that have popped up as potential rotational players. Both were more highly recruited 3 stars out of high school. Both have had quite a journey to the present. Marc Narducci wrote a piece about the running back situation and you can read that here.
Raynor and Dobbins both have potential to alleviate the situation and Dobbins played a prominent role in the Cherry and White scrimmage this spring. He figures to get his fair share of playing time.
Jeremy Jennings is another name that has popped up. The track star has some quick straight line speed and has shown glimpses of becoming a productive running back in limited carries.
The Owls also introduced JUCO RB/FB Jeremiah Nelson out of Nassau Community College. He rushed for over 600 yards and 9 touchdowns last season. That’s solid production at the collegiate level. The Owls now get a running back that can contribute right away.
The Owls RB position group was ranked dead last in Underdog Dynasty’s ranking of AAC RBs. The list can be found here: Underdog Dynasty. To be fair, they site similar concerns about lack of quality depth behind Armstead and the lack of production that exists without him.
Gabe Infante also enters his first season as a collegiate coach. Infante has coached St. Joseph’s Prep to 4 state titles and was recently named to the NFL Foundation’s Don Shula Coach of The Year (Source: Philadelphia Eagles). He comes to Temple with a lot of uncertainty in his position group. It will be interesting to see how he handles the situation.
The Owls also featured three new additions from their 2019 class including Edward Saydee out of William Penn Charter, Re’Mahn Davis from Blair Academy, and Onasis Neely from East Pennsboro who is a holdover from the 2018 class. The freshmen arrive with some significant success at the high school level. Some of their stats are eye-popping, take a look for yourself:
Those are some really impressive numbers for the freshman. The Temple roster is full young talent, now we can only sit back and watch, waiting to see who emerges and contributes this season. The future is bright for the Owls run game, but how much they contribute this year remains to be seen.
Position Outlook: C-, I think we have to see who develops and who is ready to take over. Do the Owls have a #1 running back? Will they go running back by committee and ride the hot hand as the season progresses? That’s going to hamper production until the offensive line and running backs can find consistency.
Level of worry: High