"It is exciting isn't it? It's almost time for that first game, an opportunity to play the Texas Longhorns. One of the premiere programs, every year in the country. We're excited about it. The whole football team is and the University. We've had a great camp. We get to see how much we've improved over last season. I wish it was tomorrow. We're ready to go. We're ready to play. The only bad news we have had is with Scott Solomon. He broke his fifth meta-tarsal and will probably be out six to eight weeks. Other than that we have had great chemistry, positive attitudes, and the players are ready to go."
Coach, as you transition from camp to the first game of the season, what are some of the remaining questions that you may have that you want to see answered on the field on Saturday?
"I'm really excited about the growth of this football team. I'll start offensively. The line being a year older and having the five starters returning and nine guys who played last year we've been able to create some space by getting push with those guys, but that's still a question mark. I don't know when you go against Texas if we're going to have that answered. They're really big and good up front. I think we've really improved there.
I'm interested in our defensive front. We're going have some opportunity for some our youth to play. We have some pretty good front line people with Michael Smith and John Gioffre. Hosam Shahin has proved to be very athletic in this camp, but we will need to see him on a Saturday. We need to be more explosive offensively. In camp, we have had a lot of yards after catch that we need to continue. That's what it's all about, yards after catch. We were able to tackle in space there in camp. That was something we struggled with last season. We need a football game to really get a benchmark at where we are."
Given Texas' depth and talent up front defensively, is it fair to use this Saturday as a gauge for your offensive line?
"That's what I just said. Earlier I called Gary Kubiak (Houston Texans Head Coach) to see if we could get a scrimmage last week but they were busy. That's about the same type of people the Longhorns have. I think they have a bunch of future Hall of Famers. There a good football team. Is it a gauge? I don't know, but I would sure like to see some improvement."
Could you talk about the pros and cons of having this game first since this is probably the best team you'll see all season?
"There's no doubt. They're a great football team. If you go back to the National Championship game, Gilbert did a great job. He wasn't Colt, but he didn't look like a freshman coming in to the National Championship game. They have three or four starters back on the offensive line. They've got a lot of running backs that are big play people. They have very skilled receivers. I think they're secondary and linebackers are probably one of the best in the country and two great big defensive ends. The only weakness that you read they have is they talk about the interior. That's probably not a weakness either but they can't say their strong everywhere."
"With Ball and Allen, that's either or. Ball is starting right now, but Allen started a lot of games for us last year. With Frazier and Webb, they both of them had really great camps."
Can you go over your quarterback situation?
"I think we have three really great quarterbacks. Each of them has a different skill set. They know what we're doing. We know what we're doing. It will go down to game time before we announce our starter. We are going to try to play that one as close to the vest as we can."
Can you talk about inspiring the team after the loss of Solomon?
"Well, that's where young players get an opportunity to play. All of sudden Nico Carlson's reps have changed. You hope to leave Kramer Lucio where he is starting at defensive end, have some of the others like Shahin or Carlson step up and play. If we can't do that, we'll have to move Lucio inside and move Cody Bauer in. We think they're young and talented."
Back to your initial statement about the offensive line, in particular you list Ball and Allen there. Do you get a sense from those guys that they're more confident coming into the season?
"Yeah, they're a lot more. They're 20 pounds heavier. They know what they're doing. You know most of those guys last year were starting as sophomores in a program that built them. Offensive linemen are usually lucky to start when they're juniors and seniors. They went to the school of hard knocks last year. That led I think to a great offseason program. They trained with a chip on their shoulder to prove they are worthy and a lot better each year that they play."
Is there anything that you shared with your wisdom and your experience in terms of how they were able to overcome the hardships that they had?
"That's just part of maturing. The beautiful thing about football is you learn in the seventh grade that you better be resilient, that you're going to get knocked down, and you better get back up. Those are life lessons that carried over. There wasn't a time last year that they quit. Some of them were playing before their time and I think this year they'll be ready to go."
I know in different games you have different speeches, what do you say to these guys getting them ready for a game like this?
"This is a game that you don't have to talk much about. They want to play. They're excited it is televised. They're excited it is the Longhorns. We will give it our best. That's what young guys do. Every Saturday they're ready to go."
You mentioned they've done a better job up front creating space and opening holes for the running game. How concerned about seeing this game played out in terms of maybe being a little more run oriented opposed to years past?
"We do. We have five very talented running backs. I'll tell you what; in my entire time here we have needed them. We haven't gotten through a season yet where 2 or 3 of them haven't been missing so it is great to be able to carry that many going into the season. We're comfortable with giving each and everyone of them the football. And same thing, we think they each offer something different. There are some good change-ups in there. We have Sam McGuffie and his speed and then you can run in Charles Ross who is up to 225, that is a pretty big tailback for us. Tyler Smith had a great camp. He is a total package back. Shane Turner is healthy again, really for the first time since he's been at Rice. First year he had a shoulder surgery and last year he had the ankle that was hurt. He had a great camp."
Have you seen the offensive linemen able to make that transition from pass to run blockers?
"They've been able to move some people out and create some space. Those guys get better each and every year. That's why in the NFL, some of those offensive lineman are 35-40 years old. They continue improve with reps."
Are you optimistic about the program now, you went from a great year to a year that tested you in a lot of ways?
"I have never questioned our vision here. I think every year we are recruiting players that are bigger, faster, stronger, and that have the minds that can handle the academics at Rice. I know that everything we are doing here is right and we are building a great program. Even during the hard times I didn't question that."
You have a bunch of guys that have transferred to Rice that play a significant role, such as McGuffie and Taylor Cook, can you talk about the impact of guys like that?
"The beautiful thing about that is these guys get recruited and go off to far from home, and they don't realize they can't make it back. They want to see their friends and family. Everybody wants to come home. When you're born in this great state, if you leave it you want to get back as soon as you can. A lot of Texans have made that mistake. I did once, couldn't wait to get back home. That's what Texas does to you. It has so many great people and great football. We are thrilled that McGuffie chose Rice through the process. He's a difference maker in the program. He's a lot like all the great ones. He's the first one here and the last to leave. He loves the game of football. He loves everything in the world about football except the media. The way he talks to you guys he gets nervous. He has a lot of personality until you put a camera on him. He's a very hard working personal young man. Cook is the same way. He's everything you want in a quarterback."