Matt Rhule cracked a wry smile when asked how much the Temple football team missed Robby Anderson last year.
It’s a question he might have been remiss to answer a year ago after academics forced the standout wide receiver off the football field, apparently for good.
But now with Anderson nearing a comeback with the Owls for a final season, Rhule admitted his presence was sorely missed. If Anderson completes the necessary academic work this summer, he will return to the Owls and try to recreate the magic of 2013 when he caught 44 passes for 791 yards (an 18.0 average) and nine touchdowns.
His big sophomore season came despite missing most of training camp and having limited team at wide receiver as he spent the early part of his career as a defensive back.
“Yeah, he was definitely missed,” said Rhule. “The John Christophers of the world will be excited to get him back. It’s not a slight to other receivers, but teams did a good job against us last year. They lined up, played us man-to-man and it never came together. When people did that against us two years ago, he hurt people.”
Anderson left the program after the 2013 season and sat out last year. Rhule is hoping for an Anderson comeback as much for what it would mean to the player as what it would mean to the program.
“Robby was never an issue with us,” said Rhule. “Robby has done everything I asked. It was more of an issue with the school. If he’s able to play this fall, forget about his talent, he’s a true competitor and makes everyone around him better. Other receivers, he’ll make them better. Defensive backs, he’ll make them better.
“He has to do some things Temple-wise, but I’m happy for him. It makes a statement about Temple and our players. He’s a free agent, he can go anywhere he wants and he wants to come back here. It’s the kind of relationship we want to have. Whether they leave or we ask them to leave or they graduate, we want them to have a relationship with us.
“I like Robby. I hope he gets it done in the classroom because we all know he’s a great football player, but I like the kid.”
A team that struggled getting the ball downfield last year could have two explosive threats if Pitt transfer Adonis Jennings receives a waiver to play this year, which he has asked for because of a family situation. If he’s denied, he will sit this year and have three years to play for the Owls.
“Right now, he’s not eligible as a transfer,” said Rhule. “But he’s tremendously talented. We saw him in high school (at Timber Creek, N.J.). I was standing on the field and he went by me on a kickoff return.
“What I didn’t know was how tough he was, watching him in the weight room, running, how mature he is. He’s really a mature focused kid. I’m happy he’s here and I’m happy we have him. If he has to redshirt this year, I feel good that we’ll have him another three years. If he can play this year, great. I’m just happy he realized this is the right place for him.”
Even if Anderson isn’t eligible and Jennings doesn’t receive his waiver, Rhule feels the wide receiver position will be greatly improved. He saw great strides out of Sam Benjamin and Romond Deloatch this spring and has high hopes for young players like Marshall Ellick and Ventell Bryant.
But if the Owls get good news on Anderson at the end of July, the quality of play at the position could take a big jump up. And if Jennings is available, even better – though just being in practice should push the other players.
“Robby hasn’t played in a year-and-a-half, so who knows, he might be in worse shape than me,” joked Rhule. “But you know, two years ago he wasn’t in camp and he just went out and played. He went out and played on competitiveness and athleticism.
“If he’s back, he’ll have a chance to develop under (wide receivers coach) Fris (Jackson). I don’t know what his ceiling is, but I know if he’s back he’ll compete to play. Those other guys won’t want to give up their spots, so everyone will be better because of it.”
Anderson, Jennings and the WR position
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