Here is Part II of my interview with Temple coach Matt Rhule. As the Owls open up spring practice, Rhule discusses his priorities for the defensive side of the ball.
There were struggles in every category on defense last year. First, how do you work on stopping the run?
MR: When you look at our defense, there’s certain things that have to get better. The defensive line play up front has to completely emerge and improve. I don’t know how many sacks we had but it’s not very many and we have to stop the run first and so there are some experienced talented players that have to step up and make plays for us. We have a history here of d-linemen playing in the National Football League. These guys coming up have a lot of talent, they just have to go play. In the spring, we’re really going to push those guys and see what they can do.
Is there one guy or a couple of guys you already have in your mind along the front that you have said OK this guy has got to have a big spring for us?
MR: Levi Brown. Levi’s a senior, he’s been starting since he’s a freshman. As a sophomore he played well at times. Turning the film on last year he didn’t dominate the game. He’s been banged-up most of the winter. He played hard; he just didn’t dominate. He’s got to dominate because he’s a talented player. The guy I would put the absolute spotlight on is Sean Daniels. Sean’s brother starts in the NFL. Sean over the years has had some big games at times. He’s got seven sacks in three years, though. He’s never put it all together. It’s now for him. It’s not even the fall. It’s this spring. He has to show himself, show his teammates he can be a reliable every-down threat who can pressure the quarterback. Before we start talking about the DBs, you have to get pressure on the quarterback, then you can more adequately say this is who can cover and who can’t. We need Sean to come through for us as a pass-rusher and as a defensive end.
Where do you want to see improvement from reigning Big East freshman of the year Tyler Matakevich?
MR: I’ve made this clear to him. He needs to evaluate himself not based on the amount of tackles he makes but based on the amount of plays he makes. Coming off a block 4 yards down the field and dragging a guy down for a gain of 5, that’s a tackle but it’s not a dominant play. He’s made some dominant plays, and he can make a lot more, but he’s got to start making plays in the backfield, he’s got to start making plays at the line of scrimmage, he has to dominate with a physical style of play as opposed to falling off blocks. He has a natural intuitiveness to be around the football, which you can’t coach. But we’re going to put a lot of pressure on him to take his game to the next level -- not to just say I make a lot of tackles. Tell me where you’re making the tackles, how many plays you’re making. He’s on board with that. He’s a tough guy, he wants to get better. That’s the emphasis for him, where are you making those plays?
Temple played a lot of young guys in the secondary last year. How does that position look to you?
MR: We have a bunch of guys that can raise their hand and say I’ve played 15 or 20 plays a game but no one who can say, 'OK I emerged as a starter and showed what I can do and was consistent all year long.' That’s the thing for us. There’s a lot of guys who have played but there’s not a lot of guys who have established themselves. When coaches say there’s a lot of competition, sometimes it’s a good thing, sometimes it’s a bad thing. I’d love it to say, 'OK this is our starter.' That’s the challenge to those defensive backs.