I think to fairly state where we are headed; we have to establish where we are. In my opinion, I don't think our record would be any better right now even if the FOC hadn't left. Here's why…
Offense,: Major Applewhite was leaving regardless of what happened - he grew tired of the FOC's act quickly… so we would have a new OC this year anyway with NEW TERMINOLOGY. Quinton Smith has proven to be hard to replace – C.J. and Marcus have been injured…so our running game is right where it is now regardless. Chase has been harassed in every game except the last one. The offensive line has struggled but had a good game against UH for the most part. If Chance Talbert had been part of the team back in the spring Lute Barber may still be the RT and Talbert the Left. I think Barber is better suited to play RT - instead we're asking him to be a finesse player against the other team's quicker, more agile "Rush" ends. As a result we've had to shuffle players at Right Tackle to find consistency. I'd still like to see what Talbert could do at Left Tackle. Thought: I know he's red shirting but why not use Keyshawn Carrington to block at TE? Bottom line…there's not many Left Tackle options on the team right now, so how can we criticize the play of the offensive line too much? We had a rash of injuries at Wide Receiver before the season even started. Jarett Dillard was destined to see (and has) bracket coverages coming into this season...with only Toren Dixon and Tommy Henderson healthy the Owls struggled to get the ball to JD and his touchdown streak ended in the very first game.
Defense,: Andray Downs, Chad Price, Marcus Rucker, Courtney Gordon, DeJuan Cooper, William Wood…a lot of experienced defensive starters lost to graduation. The Owls switched to David Bailiff's 4-2-5 defensive scheme…with NEW TERMINOLOGY. Injuries have come in bunches, so true freshmen have had to start games…true freshmen make mistakes. Look at Jimmy Clausen at Notre Dame, he was rated by some as the #1 QB Recruit in the country last year. We've had 5 or 6 TRUE freshmen on the field on defense at the same time in games this year. Beating Baylor, Texas Tech, and Texas were long shots. Baylor doesn't look like a good team at all but we were playing our second game…compare the Houston film to the Baylor film.
And the point is…a lot of folks just expected us to pick up where we left off last year. In 2006 we got a lot of turnovers, won a lot of games where we made just one more play than the other team. We weren't loaded with a roster that dominated people last year. We've only recruited 2 classes since Hatfield was here! That's only 2 classes for the Spread Offense; and only 2 classes for a 5 defensive back defensive scheme! Look we overachieved last year, which is the way we have to do it. It's the Rice way: taking the road that is challenging but at the same time - the most rewarding. That takes nothing away from the players because they did what was needed, they found a way to win. But to just look at the record from last year and expect to do the same this year is just unrealistic. We'll be a young team for a while folks…
The Future is Bright
Back to the question: Where are we headed? I think we've got an outstanding group of young talented players. They are getting a healthy dose of experience, be it out of necessity. It would be nice to red shirt them all but the positive is that they won't be young next year, they'll be game tested and a year stronger and faster.
Quarterback – Chase Clement will be back. James Casey will be back. John Thomas Shepherd and Brent Hotard looked really good in August. Ryan Lewis from Baton Rouge Catholic is a 6-3 205 lefty that gave David Bailiff his commitment to sign with the Owls in February.
Running Back – Justin Hill has gone to the head of the class in this group for now but Marcus Knox and C.J. Ogokwe have both looked good running the ball. Tyler Smith is fast and shifty. Taylor Dupree gives the Owls a good power option at 6-1 220.
Wide Receiver/Tight end – everyone but Joel Armstrong returns next year. Add red shirt Michael Fuda and impressive walk-on Jaimin Shah and the position gets even deeper. Rice has a commit from an exciting Dallas area player too – Roddy Maginot – who brings speed and an explosive return game. The Owls will likely take two receivers in the 2008 recruiting class. Taylor Wardlow returns next year as a junior and will likely weigh in around 240-245. Wil Norris will be just a sophomore and gives the Owls another receiving threat. The Owls have a commitment from Jared Williams of Huntsville, who could possibly play defensive end too.
Offensive Line – Austin Wilkinson, Jimmy Miller, Preston Thompson and Charlie Wiebusch all return next year. We may've been a bit overmatched at times this year but that could change in the years to come. The one position we haven't taken red shirts from is the offensive line. David Bailiff, with Yancy Thigpen's help, is committed to building this position for the future. Canadian Scott Mitchell was a really good find. He's played more and more in recent weeks after starting the season as a red shirt. He returns next year as a sophomore and a likely starter, at around 6-5 290. Kody Emmert has all the tools for the left tackle position – Scott Mitchell may beat him to it though. All Emmert needs is weight, strength and experience. Emmert had a shoulder injury in August but should check in next year around 6-7 275. Tyler Parrish is another good looking line prospect who's spending a lot of quality time with Yancy in the weight room. He'll come in around 6-5 305 next year and looks good at Right Tackle. Davon Parish is a prototype Guard, he's about 6-3 315 and held his own against the upperclassmen in August drills. Jake Hicks reported late after battling illness, losing a lot of weight in the process. He's working hard and gives the Owls the versatility to play any of the line positions. Rice has commitments from 2 outstanding interior linemen – Clay Hebert is a guard from Klein HS and will be around 6-3 300 pounds when he gets to Rice; as will Center Eric Ball from #1 ranked 5A powerhouse Katy Tigers.
Defensive Line – The Owls will be very young here next year, but will have some talent. George Chukwu and Jonathan Cary will graduate and take a bunch of starts with them. Chris Ptaszek, Todd Mohr, and Will Moss will return next year. Both Mohr and Moss have struggled with injuries though. Cameron Thompson is seeing extensive playing time. Victor Brooks has played both end and tackle this year. He's likely to move inside next year and could use some bulk. Brian Stacey was a standout lineman in high school, he's red shirting and will check in around 6-1 285 next year. Rice has commitments from 2 Houston area linemen: John Gioffre of Cinco Ranch and Mike Smith from Bay City. Smith's late brother played QB at North Texas. Both are around 6-1 280. Rice returns a talented group of defensive ends next year. Scott Solomon has played well beyond his years this year as a true freshman, as has Cheta Ozougwu. Each will be around 255-260 next year. Will Shoppa has looked good in the minutes he's had this year, logging an interception and nice return against Southern Miss. Shoppa needs some weight but will be a regular in the rotation. Kramer Lucio has battled injury this year but will be called upon to step into the rotation with Dietrich Davis being forced to give up football. Lucio will fill out to 6-4 265 before he's done at Rice. The Owls will likely take 2 defensive ends in the 2008 class and at least one more interior defensive lineman.
Linebackers – all of Rice's linebackers return next year. Brian Raines, Terrance Garmon, Vernon James and Robert Calhoun are as good a starting unit as the Owls have when healthy. However, only James has avoided the injury bug this year. Waiting in the wings is Tanner Shuck who had to have surgery in August or would have played this year. Also back is big and fast Aaron Williams, who will fill out to 6-3 230 as a sophomore. Jonathan Arceneaux will attempt to comeback from a devastating knee injury suffered last year in 2006 against Texas. He re-injured the knee last summer in a freak non contact accident. At 6-0 230 with 4.5 speed, Arceneaux would give this already strong unit another punishing weapon in its arsenal.
Secondary – Justin Abt, Gary Anderson, Jr. and Aubrey White are all seniors this year. The season isn't over and already they've all made big plays. Andrew Sendejo is unquestionably the leader of the secondary. It's hard to believe he will already be a junior next year. Free Safety Bencil Smith will return from a season ending foot injury suffered on the second play of the opener. Willie Garley is a big hitter who returns at Strong Safety. Carl Taylor returns at Weak Safety. Christopher Douglas, Brandon King and Brandon Shepherd all return at cornerback. The Owls have played all their freshmen in the secondary this year. Chris Jones and Joseph Leary have seen extensive playing time. Leary is battling injuries now but both will have the chance to start next year. Randy Kitchens played a heck of a game against Houston. He brings ideal size to the safety position at 6-3 205 pounds. The Owls have a commit from a dynamite athlete likely to join the secondary, Xavier Webb. Playing QB he's rushed for almost 1,000 yards already. Rice will likely sign 4 defensive backs, with 2 of those being cornerbacks. They are in heated battles with BCS conference schools for cornerbacks at the moment and have placed a high importance on signing talent at the position.
If I'm a recruit looking at Rice this year I'd be real excited about where this team is headed. On top of that Rice offers an education second to none – on a beautifully serene campus – while being right in the middle of one of the nation's largest cities. What matters most to a lot of recruits is playing time though – hey, you've got that too.
The second half of the season starts Saturday against Memphis - who knows the Owls may not lose again. Regardless, the foundation looks good for the Owls to build a winning program.