Rhode Island: An early look

It's a must win. Army has to beat Rhode Island on Sept. 8. It would make the Black Knights 2-0. Because we're counting on Army to open the season with a win at Akron. If Army can't beat Akron, or even worse, Rhode Island, it could make for a long, long season.

But we're staying positive. Let's take a closer look at the Division I-AA Rhode Island Rams. Rhode Island is coming off three consecutive 4-7 seasons and wrapped up spring drills on April 29. It probably didn't help that the Rams gave up 30 points per game last year.

Like Army, Rhode Island's success should come down to the performances of junior quarterback Derek Cassidy and two-tim All Atlantic-10 running back Joe Casey.

Cassidy threw for 1,060 yards last season and ran for 317. Casey rushed for 874 yards, but was bet up, playing through injuries for most of the season. He sat out Rhode Island's last scrimmage, recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but did participate in several drills during the spring.

Like his counterparts at Army, David Pevoto and Carson Williams, Cassidy is improving. At least, that's what eighth-year Rhode Island coach Tim Stowers said.

"I thought Cassidy had a good scrimmage and showed how much he has improved throwing the ball," Stowers said after Rhode Island's spring game.

Including Cassidy and Casey, Rhode Island return eight starters, including four offensive lineman. Rhode Island finished second in the A-10 in rushing last season.

The Rams' struggling defense loses five starters. Returning players to watch are defensive back Raji El-Amin, a second-team A-10 selection in 2006, who had four interceptions. Linebacker L.T. Brantey and his team-high 82 tackles also return to the Rams.

Stowers does have some transfers that may be able to make an impact on the defensive side of the ball.

Rhode Island and Army have another thing in common. Both are turnover prone. The Rams finished last in the A-10 in turnover ratio (-7) last year and forced only five fumbles. Rhode Island's offense turned the ball over 23 times. Cassidy threw only eight interceptions last season. Rhode Island fumbled 24 times, losing 11 of them.

Looking for another Army-Rhode Island comparison? Stowers reportedly challenges his players to change history. Army is trying to do the same thing, having not put up a winning season since 1996.

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