Thursday Tidbits

This week: Spring Drills, The Safeties, Owl Baseball

Things have been a little quiet around campus with exams going on but that will change next Monday when the Rice Owl Football team will lace ‘em up and take the field for Spring Drills. Last year's workouts were hampered by a rash of injuries and little depth on the team – as most of you know Rice only had around 55 players going through drills in 2007. One new staff, two new schemes, and one-half a roster didn't add up to much last March – which is certainly not an indictment on the effort of the coaches or players. No denying that familiarity of schemes and (many) more healthy bodies will give the Owls an opportunity to make real strides in the coming weeks. Obviously, a big priority for the team this spring will be to improve the defense. The coaches have been very focused on this and have visited other schools this spring to gain added perspectives. Injuries are always a factor but played a huge role in the unit's struggles last season. The coaches are offering no excuses for last year but do admit that, "staying healthy will be critical." From a personnel standpoint they are replacing a couple of interior linemen but have some exciting options at Safety (more on that below). Having "exciting options at Safety" is a good thing in the 4-2-5. The offense really started to click towards the end of last season so Offensive Coordinator Tom Herman will look to do more refining than rebuilding. Chase and Co. are looking to become more complex as they go through only the second consecutive spring in 3 years with the same offensive scheme and terminology. Though Rice ran the "Spread" offense installed by former OC Major Applewhite, last year's version of the scheme wasn't anywhere near as complex as it could be. Rice offensive coaches also visited other schools this off-season looking to add to its production of a year ago. The exciting thing about this group is that most of the unit will return. The Offensive Line will have much more competition for playing time this year and got a lot better this off-season from a strength standpoint. A handful of freshmen will be seeing their first action after getting red shirts last fall. Kody Emmert will be seeing his first action at TE – a position he earned All-State honors for in high school. At 6-6 261 already, the move may be temporary if he continues to grow. On the line, Jake Hicks was among the strongest bench pressers on the team in recent testing, surpassing 400 pounds. The coaches were very high on Hicks last year and he would have probably played had he not gotten sick in August. Weighing in at over 290 pounds, Hicks will be in the mix to fill a Guard position. Receiver Michael Fuda was injured last August, so the Owls never got to utilize his 4.4 speed last season. As a result, Jarett Dillard saw a lot of double coverage early on as two of Rice's fastest receivers - Fuda and Joel Armstrong - were sidelined. At 6-0 195 Fuda is big and fast, namely fast, which should help change the complexion of the offense somewhat in 2008. With Patrick Randolph, and a slew of very fast young signees coming in, the Owls should be all the more potent come August.

- -As I mentioned improving the defense will be a top priority this season, and that was already being worked on last December. Looking at the Secondary today we focus on a group that was just wrecked with injuries, and as a result youth last year. No other singular event had a bigger impact than Bencil Smith breaking his foot on the first play of the 2007 season. Smith had a great spring and August and was poised to have a great junior season. His injury set off a domino effect through the secondary. Eventually, Andrew Sendejo ended up at Free Safety – but the shuffling continued all year as Rice could never really catch it's breath without injury or freshmen mistakes disrupting a starting unit. Discussing the Safety Positions – Free, Strong, and Weak (Kat). Headed into spring drills it looks like Andrew Sendejo will stay at Free Safety. Coach Craig Naivar told me when it comes to Sendejo they love just about everything about him. "He's big, fast, strong, aggressive, and intelligent." While they feel he is great "in the box" they feel they have other players that will excel near the line of scrimmage as well. Behind Sendejo, sensational walk-on Travis Bradshaw will see his first action this spring. He can play any of the Safety positions and at 6-1 and over 200 pounds, Bradshaw is exceptionally fast and quick. The local (Cy-Fair HS) product is a big hitter to boot. He's the perfect understudy for someone like Andrew Sendejo and will also provide size and speed to the Special Teams unit. An exciting player to watch this spring will be Brent Hotard. After signing with Rice as a QB Hotard is being moved to defense to get his athleticism on the field. Brent is 6-1 222 already so I wouldn't be surprised to see him playing closer to the LOS eventually, maybe even at Linebacker. At the "Kat" position Bencil Smith gets a chance to makeup for last season. Smith had a great off-season and at 5-11 and almost 205 pounds he very solidly built. He is a sure tackler but having started at FS last year has excellent coverage skills. Also in the mix at "Kat" is Randy Kitchens. He was thrown into the fire with several others last year but showed signs of being a heck of a football player, making several big plays when he had a chance. Kitchens is filling out into a very imposing player – he's 6-3 215 now, but hasn't lost any speed, recently being noted as one of the fastest players on the team. At Strong Safety, Willie Garley and Chris Jones will battle for a starting spot. Garley is an explosive hitter and played well in spots last year before getting injured. Jones is another young player that has blossomed in the weight room. At 6-2 201 he brings excellent size and speed to the position. He's shown a real knack for timing in blitz situations. This gives the Owls another great option to utilize in pressuring opposing QBs.Max Anyiam will also bring outstanding size to the position at 6-2 215.

Overall we are getting close to establishing the talent and depth we need to excel in a defense with 3 Safeties. It's taken 3 years but the options we have are big, fast, and aggressive. The combinations of what we can throw at offenses this year are exciting.

- - What's wrong with the Rice Baseball team? Nothing! They've lost four games by one run. The Owls started the season without much firepower but quickly found the "pop" in their bats going 3-0 in the HCC Tourney. Two Rice players from the Klein area are having sensational starts to their careers – Chad Mozingo and Rick Hague. Adam Zornes has shown the power he's capable of. If anything, Rice pitching has yet to find it's groove – but that will happen just as it always does. If anything the Owls could use some time off – they've played 10 games in 13 days.

- - Rice sent out Junior Day invitations last week to over 250 football recruits for the Class of 2009. The Owls have had much more time this year to evaluate and target the recruits they'd like to see, thus the lower number. Last year they sent nearly 600 invites out. One name to remember is Beaumont Ozen Wide Receiver Willie Jefferson. The Golden Triangle star is 6-6 190 and runs 4.5 in the 40. Jefferson is ranked #1 academically in his class at Ozen.

Go Owls!!!


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