After three years of sitting on the bench, Stephen Johnson opened the 2010 football season as Temple's starting middle linebacker.
It was a position Johnson held for three games before Peanut Joseph, now in camp with the Green Bay Packers, took over the job that had been his until Johnson's impressive performance in spring and fall practices earned him the spot.
Still, Johnson played in all 12 games a year ago and finished with 31 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble. After looking at Tahir Whitehead as Joseph's replacement in the middle during the spring, the Owls will give Johnson the first crack at solidifying the position this year.
"Tahir we felt actually was more comfortable outside than inside after we worked him inside a lot in the spring," said Temple defensive coordinator Chuck Heater. "Steve played a lot of football, you watch the tape he was in there in the mix of players. But it's different when you're coming off the bench and when you're the guy."
Whitehead, like Johnson a senior, will man the SAM spot after totaling 56 tackles, including 7.5 for loss a year ago. He is on the Butkus Award Watch List and has 37 games played, including eight starts, with the Owls and is the most known commodity on the entire unit.
Whitehead will be backed up by senior Quinten White. Sophomore Blaze Caponegro is running second string in the middle.
The WILL spot is up for grabs with sophomore Olaniyi Adewole looking like the early front-runner, despite playing in only five games a year ago as a true freshman. Another sophomore, Gary Onuekwusi, who also played in five games and was scout team player of the week three times last year, is also in the mix.
Other players, like freshman Nate Smith, could also see some time at linebacker this year as several young players will likely have their chance to shine. Smith was a three-time all state player in New Jersey and totaled 131 tackles his senior year before spending last season at Fork Union.
"Linebacker is probably the biggest unknown for us," said Heater. "We have some guys with ability, we just have to make sure we get some play out of them."
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