Temple head coach Matt Rhule sees a winner in P.J. Walker. Not the quarterback who threw 15 interceptions and lost two fumbles last season.
And Rhule doesn’t want his junior QB to think back to his freshman season, when Walker’s numbers foreshadowed a promising future for the Owls.
“I don’t want him to think too much about two years ago,” Rhule said Aug. 17 at Temple’s media day, “because he was a 2-6 quarterback and last year, he was a 6-6 quarterback.
“In the history of Temple, there are only a couple of guys that have been bowl-eligible quarterbacks. To me, it’s just taking the next step and it’s just one simple thing and one simple thing only: don’t turn the football over as much.”
Rhule does see the turnovers. It’s hard not to. Walker’s 15 INTs were tied for 10th most in the FBS last season. But judging a 20-year-old based off one full season starting isn’t something the third-year head coach is going to do, especially with what he’s seeing in summer camps.
“You see a totally different kid maturity-wise,” he said. “Not that he was an immature kid; he just understands more and more of the game. He is a winner. My point to him was keep winning. He got us to six wins. Now make the next jump.”
In 2014, Walker was a different QB than he was his freshman campaign. Part of it may be because Temple wanted to push the pace last season with a no-huddle offense, something the team plans on scrapping in 2015. Still, Walker saw his passing efficiency drop from 150.8 in nine appearances as a freshman to 107.8 as a sophomore.
Walker’s completion percentage also dipped — 53.3 percent from 60.8. Numbers across the board were down except turnovers. In a no-huddle, high-paced offense, quarterbacks’ numbers tend to increase, as does scoring. But the Owls also saw their points per game fall from 24.9 to 23.1.
Focus was an issue last season, Walker said. He would let small things distract him on the field. The biggest thing he’s learned? He has to stay focused throughout the game.
“When you go back and watch film, you realize you missed this under route just because you were being lazy and wasn’t focused hard enough,” he said.
“There’s nothing you can do about it. All you can do is correct it. You got to take every play serious. Don’t worry about the last play, take every play seriously, next play mentality.”
The Owls hired Glenn Thomas as their quarterbacks coach in February. Thomas comes to North Broad Street from the Atlanta Falcons, where he served as their QB coach from 2011-14.
Thomas brings an NFL résumé to the position and senior center Kyle Friend already sees a difference in Walker since Thomas’ arrival.
“He’s done an outstanding job,” Friend, who has started 33 straight games for Temple, said. “Playing with him when he was younger and playing with him now, his football IQ has gotten so much better. He’s out there running the show pretty much. Just to watch him grow in the past six months, ever since Coach Thomas has got here, he’s done an outstanding job.”
His freshman season, Walker took over at QB when Rhule benched Connor Reilly during Temple’s 30-7 loss to Louisville, the team’s fifth game. Walker started Temple’s final seven games, finishing with 2,084 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and eight picks. He also added 332 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
The Elizabeth, New Jersey, native still had the running element last season — 324 yards and three scores. He says he’s lost 12 pounds over the summer, down to 203. He wants to be as fast as he can, but it’s not something he wants to be known as.
“I’m not going to sit here and say I want to be a legit pocket passer,” Walker said, “But you got to win games by sitting. You can’t always run. I’m turning into more of a guy, I think, if I’m on top of the football … I think I’m pretty much now, if my first read ain’t there, second read ain’t there, get to the third read, get to the back and if the back ain’t there, that’s when you run.”
*Story originally published on NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com on Sept. 2, 2015.
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