The Temple football team graduated a huge chunk of experience and leadership after last season.
Center Kyle Friend, guard Shahbaz Ahmed and tackle Eric Lofton are all gone, but the good news is left tackle Dion Dawkins has returned.
Dawkins has been protecting quarterback Phillip Walker’s blind side for the last two years, starting every game but two, both missed because of injury. As a freshman he played in five games and started two before suffering a season-ending foot injury.
“I take that very personal, the left tackle is one of the most important spots on offense,” said Dawkins. “I want my quarterback to feel as comfortable as possible in the game, so he can do what he can do to help us win this championship.
“Phillip is one of my great friends. We’re tight. Everything he’s going through comes to me and vice versa. We’re brothers. I trust him and he definitely has to trust me.”
All that familiarity might make you think Dawkins has a keen idea of Walker’s tendencies, when he might take off when the pocket starts to break down or a receiver doesn’t come open after a couple seconds in the pocket.
“You never know where Phillip is in the pocket, I’m just coached to stay on my block,” said Dawkins. “You never know. Some plays he could be setting and all of the sudden, there he goes. I go downfield, pick him up and get right back to the huddle. It’s dangerous, but him as a quarterback I trust exactly what he’s doing.”
Dawkins said he has taken it upon himself to be more of a leader on the line with the losses to graduation and his senior status.
“Every day, I constantly have guys in the film rooms, eat with them, I’m around them. … It’s a brotherhood. I take them by the hand and we attack everything as one.”
As much as coach Matt Rhule appreciates Dawkins’ leadership, he says his main role is keeping Walker upright for hopefully 14 games this year.
“(Center Brendan) McGowan is probably the on-field leader of the group,” said Rhule. “Dion is the vocal leader. He’s the kid off the field who takes care of everybody, His No. 1 job is to play well, protect the quarterback and dominate the run game.”
Dawkins feels he has taken steps in the offseason to improve himself and feels good about the new-look offensive line he will help lead.
“Every year I’m opening to growing,” said Dawkins. “Once you feel comfortable, it’s time to move on. I never want to feel comfortable. I worked on my pass set, power-down set, jump-set, inside run, outside run. Everything needed to improve.
“There’s been no hiccups (with the new line), it’s been the same thing all the way through. (At one point) Shahbaz was a first-year player basically. He learned, was taught, watched film and grew. Now we have more depth and other guys who are ready to play.”