Jensen: D-linemen key for Temple to stop Navy's triple-option

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Temple defensive lineman Averee Robinson goes after USF's Quinton Flowers.

Sometimes you eat the bear, Temple Owls defensive tackle Averee Robinson mentioned Tuesday after practice, and sometimes that bear eats you.

His point, from the front lines of a football field, is that everybody loses some reps. The difference on Saturday against Navy in the American Athletic Conference title game, Robinson believes, is that any loss in a personal battle, on any single play, can mean touchdown, Navy.

"They're a machine," Robinson said.

There's a subplot here, not a trivial one. Army-Navy usually comes with the hyphen in between. For the Temple Owls, there's been a whole season in between, a chance to truly judge progress made in 2016.

A season that opened with what Owls coach Matt Rhule described as "panic" when the Owls fell behind Army and failed to recover, heads now to Annapolis, a title on the line.

For Temple's defensive tackles, the game is a microcosm of all that, a chance to show progress made by a unit that had frequent difficulty dealing with Army's fullback dive but has been a huge key to the six-game winning streak that carried the 9-3 Owls to this game. Army and Navy run the triple-option. Not the same way, Temple players point out. Blocking angles are different. Still, the issues are similar.

"Early on, we didn't stop the run very well at all," Rhule said, then he noted the quick progress. "They've really, really made a step. They've figured out how to play defensive line. They've figured out how to play defensive line against traditional offenses, not this. Since then, we've had as good a defensive line as anybody in the conference. I'm really pleased with where we are."

Then Rhule added, "This, like for many of our guys, will be the ultimate test."

These guys aren't the ones with their names in lights.

"Some things are fun, some things are the job," Temple defensive line coach Elijah Robinson said after he came in from Tuesday's rain. "They do the job for us."

Starter Michael Dogbe put on about 35 pounds after his freshman season, when he was asked to move from defensive end to tackle. Inside, he found his speed could be his advantage.

"I had to get used to double teams, as opposed to taking on one man," Dogbe said, noting that taking on a double team with bad technique, "that's like taking on 600 pounds."

Matt Ioannidis, drafted this year by Washington and on the Redskins practice squad, had made the same move from defensive end, and had been a huge force inside last season for Temple. Dogbe said Ioannidis really helped him make the move.

"He was kind of like my mentor last year," Dogbe said. "He just helped me focus on pad level, how pad level could help me get, just keying on the tip of the shoulder pad."

From the start of this season, "we got a lot, lot better," Dogbe said of the defensive tackles as a group, noting how Rhule also paid close attention to the group early in the season.

It isn't just Robinson and Dogbe out there. Freddie Booth-Lloyd got some early starts. Greg Webb and freshman Karamo Dioubate are out there. That's another reason to look at Temple's front-line grunts right now. They've all had to climb the ladder over their careers, from getting a few plays to a backup role to part-time starter. It hasn't been a "show up and play" deal, even for big-time recruit Karamo Dioubate, a rotation guy as a freshman.

"To be honest, all five of our D-tackles could really be starters," Dogbe said.

He noted the rotation keeps everyone fresh - sometimes it's four plays and a new guy is in. "Fresh legs," Dogbe said. "They play just as fast or faster than the starters. We don't miss a beat."

Elijah Robinson, the line coach, said, "They're taking double teams for each other, they're pushing the pocket up. Not just our starters . . . We ask those guys to do some tough things and they're all in."

Averee Robinson actually led Temple in tackles against Army, but in his mind it's simply a loss, he said. He could have done a lot more.

"I don't think I played my blocks as well," Robinson said of the 28-13 loss in the opener. "Some of the times I was letting the blocks destroy me a little, to be completely honest. I'm not going to be allowed to do that against Navy."

He wasn't predicting that outcome. It turns out getting eaten by a bear can be a learning experience.

mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus