Running back Williams has slipped down Temple depth chart

Temple running back Zaire Williams. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today Sports)

As far as freshman Temple running backs go, only Bernard Pierce (1,361 in 2009) and Paul Palmer (628 in 1983) had more yards than Zaire Williams (533) did in his first season in the cherry and white.

That performance included a Temple season-high 19 carries (94 yards and a touchdown)  as the Owls ended a six-game losing streak with a win over Army.

But nagging injuries in training camp slowed Williams, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season, and now he finds himself fourth on the depth chart behind last year’s leading rusher Kenneth Harper, Jamie Gilmore, who spent most of his time on special teams last season, and Jahaad Thomas, a defensive back last season who garnered most of his attention in his role as a return specialist.

“He’s fourth now and he’s banged up,” Temple coach Matt Rhule said. “He’s trying to find roles and ways to play. I was pleased with Kenny (against Vanderbilt). He really ran hard. We didn’t block well early on in the game.  But he protects well, he catches the ball out of the backfield, he picks up blitzes. Everybody talks about what P.J. (quarterback Walker) does, but he can’t do those things if Kenny is not in their picking up blitzes, chipping and doing all those things.

“Jamie got in there and he has a burst,” Rhule continued. “Jahaad gives us those shifty dimensions that we want; I was really pleased with Jahaad.”

And Williams?

“Like I said, right now Zaire is a little banged up and he’s trying to fight for reps,” Rhule continued. “He’s had a good attitude in practice and he’s worked hard. I’m very pleased with where he is from a mental standpoint so we’ll see.”