2008 Rice Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Rice Owl Defense
Preview 2008 - Defense
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What you need to know:
lose little on defense, but that’s not necessarily cause for
optimism. Rice finished near the bottom of the country in many
statistical categories, allowing 43 points a game and finishing
dead last in pass defense. Although the staff spent the past few
months hammering home the importance of fundamentals and sound
tackling, there’s no easy solution for a squad that lacks the
basics, like size, speed, and depth. On a positive note, Rice
does return a proven, fringe all-league player at each unit. DE
Scott Solomon led the Owls in sacks as a freshman and was a
monster in the spring. Although Brian Raines isn’t very big,
he’s been a two-year tackling machine at linebacker. The best is
yet to come for FS Andrew Sendejo, who led the team with 107
tackles in his sophomore year. It’s a start.
Scott Solomon, 4.5
Interceptions: Andrew Sendejo, 5
Star of the defense:
Junior FS Andrew Sendejo
Player who has to step up and become a star:
Junior DT Chance Talbert
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore DE Scott Solomon
Best pro prospect:
Senior LB Brian Raines
three all-star candidates:
1) Raines 2) Sendejo 3) Solomon
Strength of the defense:
Weakness of the defense:
Pass defense, interior linemen, third down defense
Projected Starters: In a sea of
mediocrity on the line, 6-3, 250-pound sophomore end
Scott Solomon has really begun to stand out.
On the heels of debuting with 49 tackles, 11 tackles
for loss, and 4.5 sacks, he enjoyed a dominating
spring session. A relentless worker who’ll fight
through blocks, he’s ready to be the best thing to
happen to the Owl defense since John Syptak
graduated three years.
In order to prevent Solomon from getting doubled,
the defense needs more big plays from the other end,
6-2, 240-pound sophomore Cheta Ozougwu. Like
Solomon, he enjoyed a solid first year, making 43
tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. However, he can’t
be held without a sack again this fall, or else
Solomon will pay the price.
The nation’s 100th-ranked run defense
will be looking to replace both of last year’s
starting tackles. Uh-oh. While it’s subject to
change, coming out of spring, the starters at
defensive tackle and nose tackle were junior
Chance Talbert and senior Chris Ptaszek,
respectively. The 6-5, 290-pound Talbert looked like
a different athlete in the spring after doing time
with the Owl basketball team. A former tight end
who’s done little for the program, he showed the
quickness and flexibility that turned the heads of
the coaching staff.
Although Ptaszek looks the part at 6-5 and 302
pounds, he’s yet to have a breakout year for the
program. He has tremendous upper body strength and
three letters on his resume, but topped out a year
ago with nine tackles and a tackle behind the line
in a reserve role.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore
tackle Cameron Thompson had 10 tackles in
eight games, impressing in his first season on
campus. At 6-0 and 285 pounds, he’s quick off the
snap and uses his leverage and squatty build as an
advantage in one-on-one match ups. He’s pushing
Talbert for playing time.
Sophomore Aaron Williams is the best of a
very lean group of backup ends. A part-time player
on defense and special teams, he’s a long and lean
6-3, 218-pounder with the speed to get pressure
coming off the edge.
Watch Out For… Solomon to explode into
a Conference USA star. He performed exceedingly well
for such a young player, backing that up by getting
even better in the offseason.
Strength: The ends. In Solomon,
Ozougwu, and Williams, the Owls boast three frenetic
sophomores who move with the speed and fluidity of
Weakness: The tackles. Now that
veterans George Chukwu and Jonathan Cary are gone,
Rice has a big void in the middle of the line that
needs to filled. If Talbert and Ptaszek aren’t
immediate and effective stop-gaps up front, the run
defense will again be a weekly sieve.
Outlook: After Solomon, the situation
along the defensive line looks as bleak as it did a
year ago. Barring career years from the new starters
at tackle, Rice will get run on at will, laboring to
improve on last year, when almost 200 yards a game
were yielded on the ground.
Projected Starters: In the Owls’ 4-2-5
set, they can take comfort in the return of both
starting linebackers, seniors Brian Raines
and Vernon James at strongside and weakside,
respectively. The 6-1, 222-pound Raines was second
on the team in tackles, making 81 stops, 10 tackles
for loss, and three sacks. Although his size is less
than ideal, he plays the game hard and with
outstanding sideline-to-sideline speed. Just don’t
match him up in pass coverage with tall receivers,
or else he’ll get exposed.
James is a very similar type of player, a 6-1,
220-pounder who plays with the quickness and
ferocity of a strong safety. He has two years of
starting experience, peaking as a junior with 74
tackles, five tackles for loss, and a sack. He fills
lanes quickly and rarely misses tackles, supporting
a run defense that needs all the help it can get.
Projected Top Reserves: Both backups
begin the season battle-tested and ready to start if
called upon. Behind Raines is 6-2, 220-pound junior
Terrance Garmon, an athletic, bigger option
at strongside who has played extensively over the
last two seasons. As a sophomore, he pitched in 26
tackles, three tackles for loss, and a pair of
sacks, rarely missing in the open field.
James’ apprentice for the second straight year will
be 6-1, 210-pound junior Robert Calhoun. He
has tremendous upside with the program, earning
letters in each of his first two seasons out of high
school. The Owls’ most consistent backup a year ago,
he actually started four games and delivered 31
tackles and four stops behind the line.
Watch Out For… Calhoun. It’s James’
job at weakside, but that hasn’t stopped Calhoun
from clawing for more playing time and improving
each offseason. He’s an outstanding athlete, making
it difficult to keep him on the bench.
Strength: Speed and athleticism. Rice
has four athletic, undersized linebackers, who are
basically safeties to everyone else. Collectively,
they have outstanding range, a must when playing a
level behind the Owl D-line.
Weakness: Size. Even if you believe
what’s listed in the press guides, this is an
undersized unit that can get manhandled by linemen
and overmatched by taller receivers. The linebackers
are small and fast by design, but it will backfire
against physical opponents that move well.
Outlook: Arguably the most consistent
unit on the battered defense, Raines and James give
the Owls a couple of playmakers who can clean up
many of the messes that begin up front. They have
limitations, but with solid backups in the rear view
mirror, this is an overall solid and deep group of
Projected Starters: In the Owls’ 4-2-5
set, the five defensive backs are comprised of three
safeties and a pair of cornerbacks. The best of the
group is junior 6-1, 213-pound FS Andrew Sendejo,
who arrived in his second season as a starter,
leading the defense with 107 tackles and five
interceptions. Part safety and part linebacker, he’s
made strides in pass coverage without sacrificing
any of his aggressive, hard-hitting tendencies.
Returning to KAT safety, essentially a
centerfielder, after missing 2007 with a foot injury
is 5-11, 200-pound senior Bencil Smith. More
than anything, his leadership and experience were
missed after he went on the shelf. A part-time
starter throughout his career, he’ll have no issues
sliding into a permanent role in the secondary.
Rounding out the group at strong safety is 5-11,
195-pound sophomore Willie Garley. More of a
top athlete than a true thumper, he began
distinguishing himself a year ago, working his way
into the lineup and chipping in 33 tackles as he
learned on the job.
Rice’s top cover guy at field corner is 5-9,
182-pound senior Brandon King. He plays with
a swagger and isn’t afraid to take chances, but can
get burned downfield on a regular basis, especially
by bigger receivers. He had 46 tackles, but was most
valuable as a pass defender, picking off three
passes and breaking up a team-high 16.
At boundary corner will be 5-11, 180-pound sophomore
Joseph Leary. One of just six true freshmen
to play a year ago, he played in 10 games and
started three, finishing with 28 tackles and a
couple of fumble recoveries. Although his future is
bright, he’s still going to get picked on plenty by
Projected Top Reserves: Although
senior Ja’Corey Shepherd has been upstaged by
Leary, he still represents a valuable reserve at
boundary corner. At 5-11 and 190 pounds, he’s a
terrific athlete with 22 career starts and five
interceptions, but is soft in coverage and prone to
getting exposed too often.
After mostly playing on special teams, the coaching
staff is banking on sophomore Max Anyiam to
provide depth and a physical presence behind Garley
at strong safety. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, he has
outstanding size and good quickness, the right
combination for a defense that wants to attack
Watch Out For… more of the same. The
Owls were absolutely embarrassed in pass defense
last season, a trend that shows no signs of ending
unless the pass rush suddenly morphs into a beast.
Strength: Tackling. Across the board,
the Owls do a good job of wrapping up and preventing
yards after contact. Unfortunately for the defense,
the defensive backs get plenty of practice making
Weakness: Pass defense. Although it’s
a group effort when a secondary allows 37 touchdown
passes and 312 yards a game, there’s no debate that
the defensive backs are dreadful in coverage and
permit way too many big plays.
Outlook: Although the Owls have more
depth and talent than in recent years, it’s unlikely
to make a profound impact on the field this fall.
Rice will once again struggle badly to slow down
opposing quarterbacks who won’t be bashful about
attacking the defense’s throbbing Achilles’ heel.
Projected Starters: By every
imaginable measurement, Rice ranked among the
nation’s worst special teams units. On a positive
note, the only way is up in 2008. Junior walk-on
Clark Fangmeier is back to do the kicking,
looking to improve on last year’s weak 7-of-12
performance on field goals. Although his leg
strength is adequate, he needs to work on his
accuracy and consistency.
A new punter is being sought to replace Luke Juist,
who exhausted his eligibility. The top contender
coming out of spring was redshirt freshman Mark
Brundage, a walk-on who’ll also challenge
Fangmeier at placekicker.
Senior Ja’Corey Shepherd will be the
centerpiece of the return game, but needs to get
much better after averaging just 5.5 yards on punts
and 17.5 yards on kickoffs. If the staff looks
elsewhere for a spark, sophomore Tyler Smith
and senior Brandon King are no strangers to
handling the ball on special teams.
Watch Out For… the new punter. More
than just an integral part of the special teams
unit, Brundage will also impact a defense that needs
every advantage it can get from special teams and
field position. If he’s no better than Juist, the
Owl D will pay the stiffest price.
Strength: King. He was a weapon for
the return game two years ago, a role he must
reprise in order to give a jolt to a sagging and
Weakness: The return game. If King
doesn’t come through and Shepherd is the primary
returner, it’s doubtful Rice will make a quantum
leap from last season’s 109th and 115th
place finishes in punt returns and kickoff returns,
Outlook: It doesn’t get a lot of
attention, but the special teams unit is one of the
dirty little secrets that have hampered the Owls the
past few years. While there are too many problems to
address in one season, the group will make progress
if Fangmeier grows from his debut and Brundage holds
up marginally well as the new punter.