Temple's Jager Gardner working himself back into RB rotation

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Temple's Jager Gardner on the end of a long TD reception in an earlier spring practice. He has made a strong return from injury.

The progress has been steady this spring for Temple running back Jager Gardner, which is all the redshirt junior could ask for.

Gardner isn’t looking to be 100 percent back this spring but feels he will be there by the fall. Even if he is not all the way back from a knee injury that caused him to sit out last season, Gardner is showing some of his old form.

Early in spring practice, he scored on a long touchdown pass, showing his receiving skills and the ability to turn on the jets after the catch.

“We threw him a swing screen and he was able to do what he does,” Temple running backs coach Tony Lucas said.

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What the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Gardner does best is run by linebackers and run over defensive backs. This spring, he is enjoying running, period.

Gardner suffered a season-ending knee injury in his third game and the Owls’ fourth contest, a 43-7 loss at South Florida. He was able to earn a redshirt season.

This spring he has been working his way back and the Owls are taking a cautious approach, giving him needed rest.

“I feel great,” Gardner said Tuesday after practice, the 10th of 14 scheduled this spring. “I am glad to be back around my teammates, getting better, pick up up where I left off.”

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Gardner only had 12 carries for 37 yards last season. Temple suffered injuries at the running back position and was down to two scholarship players by the end of the season. A healthy Gardner would add needed depth behind starter Ryquell Armstead.

Gardner can be a major receiving threat out of the backfield. “He creates a physical mismatch and is bigger than other backs,” Lucas said. “He has natural ball skills, so if you put him out in the slot, out of the backfield, he creates matchup problems.”

And he can add more than just receiving skills. “Over the course of a game, nobody wants to hit a 220-pound back for four quarters,” Lucas said.

As a freshman he had a school record 94-yard touchdown run, the longest rushing play in school history. He was a primary kickoff returner as a freshman, but likely won’t be returning kicks now.

The key is just getting him back into the regular running back rotation.

Gardner says he feels so much better since the first spring practice on March 13. “It’s like night and day,” he said.

“I have to be patient,” Gardner said. “I had a little groin issue earlier in camp and I am trying to take care of that and make sure I can play every single practice.”

More important, he is looking to be ready for the season, when the Owls, who went 7-6 last year, will need more depth at running back in order to improve.