TC Preview: Front Seven

As defensive coordinator Chuck Heater sized up his 2011 Temple defense, he admitted the biggest concern was at linebacker. Now as Heater looks at his 2012 defense with Tahir Whitehead and Stephen Johnson gone, he admits the No. 1 concern is the same.

As defensive coordinator Chuck Heater sized up his 2011 Temple defense, he admitted the biggest concern was at linebacker.

Senior Stephen Johnson produced an unexpected career season in the middle and sophomore Blaze Caponegro was solid in his first extended time as the pair joined veteran Tahir Whitehead in the starting lineup last year.

Now as Heater looks at his 2012 defense with Whitehead and Johnson gone, he admits the No. 1 concern is the same.

"Linebacker is a big question mark," admitted Heater. "Ahkeem (Smith) has played for us. Blaze played for us, but he didn't play in the spring (sitting out with an injury). There's an unknown factor there, but there's people there. It's not like there's nobody there.

"It's the job of the coaches to develop those guys and have them play to their ability, and if we can get that done they'll be playing well enough to win."

The main guy the Owls will be counting on is redshirt freshman Nate Smith. The brother of former NFL tight end L.J. Smith should replace Johnson in the middle.

An aggressive tackler, Smith and head coach Steve Addazio both agree the next step in his game is to clean up the mental mistakes his enthusiasm can cause. But both Addazio and Heater rave about Smith's ability.

"He's a guy. …. Some guys when the lights come on, they're not as good as they were in practice," said Heater. "Some guys, the lights come on, you see an (extra) step. That's him.

"He's a very instinctive kind of guy, so he has to keep developing his knowledge. When the ball's snapped, it's all about your ability to find the football and tackle the football. He has that. Some guys you can teach every specific progression and can never quite find the football. But he finds the football."

Ahkeem Smith, who converted from running back last year and saw some time, will likely start at the WILL linebacker after being named Most Improved Defensive Player in the spring.

"He's finding the football better," said Heater. "He seems to understand things better and is becoming a more instinctive player. He has some skills, he's still developing, but obviously he's much better than a year ago."

Olaniyi Adewole, the most improved special teams player in the spring, will start at the SAM linebacker spot. Freshman Tyler Matakevich, who came to Temple in January out of prep school, will likely back up in the middle, while Caponegro could see time at different spots.

The Owls will also have some players to replace on the line with the departure of former Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year Adrian Robinson and fellow end Morkeith Brown, who are both in NFL camps.

Seniors John Youboty and Marcus Green should start, with Kadeem Custis and Sean Daniels supplementing the pass rush.

"Adrian was a real good player, I'm not sure we'll replace his production, but I trust Marcus Green and Youboty as well," said Heater. "They're both good players, and they can come close to what we're losing."

Junior 300-pounder Levi Brown will continue to clog the middle along with junior Kamal Johnson. Junior Shahid Paulhill will provide depth, and redshirt freshman Hershey Walton could play a role after a strong spring which culminated with an eye-opening performance in the Cherry and White Game.

"Hershey was a total surprise," admitted Heater. "He was a non-descript offensive player for us, and we moved him to defense and he showed an ability to get off the ball. He's a big, wide body inside, disruptive, has an ability to strain to make plays.

"He was really a surprise. Inside guys are hard to find, so that was a major bonus for us."

Owls Daily Top Stories