Spring football practice is often a time to experiment, and one of the projects that began this week for Temple is an attempt to convert redshirt freshman L.J. Holder from wide receiver to linebacker.
Receiver might be the deepest position on Temple’s team. Meanwhile, linebacker is a little thin, especially while redshirt junior Chapelle Russell recovers from knee surgery that ended his season after nine games last year.
Coach Geoff Collins suggested the change to Holder.
“At first, I was skeptical about it, but I think I can’t be selfish when it comes to stuff like this and I wanted to feel like I am a big help to the team,” Holder said Thursday after practice, the eighth of 14 this spring. “Outside linebacker was the perfect position for me because I played it in high school and know a bit of what I am doing. I feel like I am making this team better.”
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Holder played for Manalapan High in New Jersey. He said he played more linebacker as a junior. As a senior, he concentrated more on being a receiver.
What he brings are speed and good hands. He also might have a better chance to see the field at linebacker than at receiver.
“Coach Collins wanted me on the field and receiver, it would have been less time and they didn’t want to waste me on the bench, so he was talking to me about positions like outside linebacker,” Holder said.
Temple often employed at least six linebackers per game in different packages last year, and that could occur this season as well.
In addition to Russell, three juniors saw extensive time last year. Shaun Bradley, one of the defensive leaders, started 12 games, Sam Franklin started in eight, and William Kwenkeu made just one start but saw a lot of time. Kwenkeu recorded 34 tackles and four tackles for loss.
Senior Todd Jones started the last three games, and redshirt sophomore Isaiah Graham-Mobley earned two starts.
Holder’s first day at linebacker was Tuesday. He mostly observed, but received plenty of reps in Thursday’s practice.
“It’s only been a couple of days, but he has shown some flashes,” Temple linebackers coach Larry Knight said. “We are excited about what he does. He has a really good skill set for what we are looking for.”
His speed is an asset, but Knight said another attribute is his hands.
“He has good hand-eye coordination, catching a football,” Knight said. “A lot of the things we are coaching him, how to use his hands taking on blocks and how to use his hands as a pass rusher, he is catching on easy so far.”
Holder is making no predictions about how he will fare at linebacker, but he is intent on making it work.
“I will see where it takes me,” he said. “I don’t know where it will turn out.”