2009 Rice Preview - Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Rice Owl Defense
Preview 2009 - Defense
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What you need to know:
Is this the year that Rice finally starts
turning the corner toward becoming a respectable D? It has to be
because the offense will take time to adjust to so many changes.
The Owls have been garroted for years, but cause for optimism
comes in the form of nine returning starters and a whopping 26
returning lettermen. Progress was creeping in toward the second
half of 2008, as three of the last six opponents were held below
20 points. The run defense, in particular, began to stiffen,
forcing teams into more third-and-long situations. With three
starting defensive linemen back, including budding DE Scott
Solomon, there’s hope that trend can continue in 2009. Still,
Rice needs to do a much better job defending the pass in a
league loaded with high-powered aerial attacks. There are
quality, young athletes everywhere, led by FS Andrew Sendejo,
but if you can’t stop the pass in Conference USA, you’ll
constantly be playing catch up.
Interceptions: Andrew Sendejo, Chris Douglas, 3
Star of the
defense: Senior FS Andrew Sendejo
Player who has to step up and
become a star:
Sophomore CB Chris Jammer
Unsung star on the rise:
Sophomore S Travis Bradshaw
Best pro prospect:
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Sendejo, 2) Junior DE Scott Solomon, 3) Senior DT
Strength of the defense:
The defensive line, the safeties, creating turnovers
Weakness of the defense:
Pass defense, run defense, third-down defense, red
Projected Starters: With three starters
back, there’s cautious optimism that this will be
Rice’s best defensive line in years. It all begins
with 6-3, 263-pound junior end
who’s on the brink of becoming one of Conference
USA’s top pass rushers. He had 40 tackles, nine
tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks last season, playing
his best football over the last month of the season.
A tireless worker, with a great first step, he spent
much of the offseason toyi9ng with the Owl offensive
Solomon’s tag-team partner is once
again expected to be 6-2, 250-pound junior
an underrated run defender despite his modest size.
He was constantly around the ball last season,
fighting through the blocks to make 40 tackles, six
tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. With the other side
expected to see more attention, he’ll be asked to
contribute even more to the pass rush.
best player on the inside will be 6-5, 283-pound
Talbert, a veteran of three letters for his work
on both sides of the ball. He made a successful
transition to the defensive line, turning 28
tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks into
honorable mention all-league recognition. A terrific
athlete, who’s also lettered on the basketball team,
he has the quickness to really break out in his
final season of eligibility.
member of the starting unit is 6-0, 293-pound
John Gioffre, who played in nine games, made six
stops, and logged a start versus North Texas. He’s
tough at the point of contact and plays with good
pad level, lending hope that he can clog some
running lanes and help a defense that sorely needs
it up front.
Top Reserves: The top defensive end in the
rotation figures to be 6-4, 235-pound sophomore
Gason-Nadon, who earned Freshman All-Conference
USA honors with 11 tackles and a pick. More of a
situational player on the outside, he’s quick off
the snap, plays with a great motor, and shows the
potential to be a viable pass rusher.
Battling Gioffre for the starting job at nose guard
will be 6-1, 307-pound sophomore
He showed promise before a knee injury prematurely
ended his season, starting against Southern Miss and
making six stops in seven games. Although not the
type of player, who’ll wreak havoc on the inside, he
does have the size and strength to eat up space and
For… Solomon to moonlight at defensive
tackle. Provided Gason-Nadon makes it possible by
filling in ably at defensive end, he’ll be able to
slide inside, where’s there’s a greater need and
where he’s had some success during practice. While
it won’t be a full-time gig, it’s a shift that could
get the school’s four best linemen on the field at
the same time.
The ends. Relatively speaking, this is a solid group
that will easily go two-deep with productive
players. In Solomon and Ozougwu, the Owls boast a
pair of juniors, with the experience and the pass
rushing skills to be real nuisances for opposing
Weakness: The interior. It’s an on-going
problem that shows no signs of going away. Rice
simply doesn’t have enough big, strong bodies on the
inside, who are capable of gumming up running lanes
and allowing the ends and linebackers to swoop in to
make plays. It wasn’t the only reason, but certainly
one of the biggest why the Owls were 99th
nationally against the run.
While the Owls are surely headed in the right
direction with Solomon, Ozougwu, and Talbert, there
are still plenty of concerns that need to be
resolved. In particular, they’ve got to do a better
job of holding the line of scrimmage and preventing
other teams from running the ball right down the
heart of the D.
Projected Starters: In the Owls’ 4-2-5 set,
the program is looking at a half-empty glass at
linebacker. All-star Brian Raines is gone, but 6-2,
Terrance Garmon is prepared to become the new pilot of the group. A
veteran of 34 career games and 15 starts, he’s
coming off the best season of his career,
highlighted by 66 tackles, seven tackles for loss,
and 2.5 sacks. The type of athlete Rice seeks at
weakside, he plays with enough range to make stops
from sideline to sideline and contribute in pass
One of the surprises of the
offseason has been the play of 5-10, 210-pound
Tanner Shuck, the surprise frontrunner at
strongside. After quietly making 15 tackles in seven
games as a rookie, he has zoomed up the depth chart
to surpass far more experienced teammates. He has
outstanding speed and instincts that belie his
minimal experience at this level.
Top Reserves: Senior
Calhoun is actually the most experienced of the
linebackers, but he’s also the guy, who’s been
lapped by Shuck at strongside for the time being.
The 6-1, 233-pounder had 35 tackles and three
tackles for loss last season, and doesn’t plan to go
away without a fight this summer.
successor to Garmon at weakside is 6-3, 213-pound
Williams, who logged three starts and had 20
tackles last season. A speedy and versatile athlete,
he’s also played some defensive end in Houston,
making him a natural to be used in blitz packages.
Watch Out For… Shuck to continue holding off
Calhoun. He was a little raw at the beginning of
spring, but the staff couldn’t stop raving about his
speed and his lateral quickness. If the game
continues to slow down for the sophomore, he’ll be
impossible to keep off the field in September.
Strength: Speed and athleticism. Rice has a
slew of athletic, undersized linebackers, who are
basically safeties to everyone other school.
Collectively, they have outstanding range, a must
when playing one level behind the Owl D-line.
Size. Even if you buy what’s listed in the media
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 and get to the second line
of defense in a hurry.
Although there are some good athletes here, it’s
going to be difficult to replace Raines, one of the
program’s best defensive players this decade. The
onus falls on Shuck to continue developing because
if Calhoun remains on the bench, quality depth and
experience will not be problems.
Projected Starters: There are plenty of
familiar faces in the Owl secondary, but history
shows that doesn’t necessarily mean better
production. The best of the unit, by far, is 6-1,
Andrew Sendejo, who’s been honorable mention
All-Conference USA in back-to-back years. Tough,
physical, and athletic, he possesses all of the
characteristics coaches want in a free safety. A
fourth-year starter and team captain, he’s always
around the action, making a team-high 94 stops last
season to go along with three picks and three fumble
recoveries. He’s one of the hidden gems of this
is back at strong safety after floating to a
couple of different positions last season. He broke
into the lineup midway through the season and never
left, finishing fourth on the team with 59 tackles,
two tackles for loss, and five pass breakups. He can
also play some weak safety, a testament to his
The third in the Owls’
three-safety set is talented 6-1, 200-pound
Travis Bradshaw, a former walk-on and borderline
all-star after just one season. Sure, he can improve
in pass defense, but he’s a terrific wrap-up tackler
and run defender, finishing second on the team with
89 tackles and forcing a couple of fumbles.
The most experienced of the cornerbacks is 6-1,
who started six games in his debut and had 40
tackles, two tackles for loss, and a game-winning
69-yard interception return for a score. He has good
size and speed, but just needs to spend more time
working on the finer points of pass coverage.
Arguably the most dynamic of the defensive backs
is the field corner, 5-10, 171-pound sophomore
Although he played sparingly a year ago and had just
seven tackles, his raw athleticism and closing speed
portend a very bright future with the Owls. The way
he breaks on the ball and moves his hips, he’s going
to surprise a bunch of quarterbacks, who think they
can pick on the youngster without paying a price.
Projected Top Reserves: Two-time
Max Anyiam will once again bring reliable depth
and intensity to strong safety. The 6-2, 210-pound
junior is one of the hardest hitters on the defense,
finishing with a career-high 18 stops, almost half
of which were KO tackles.
The heir apparent
to Sendejo at free safety looks to be 5-11,
who has come a long way in a short period of time.
He had eight tackles in his first season as a
reserve and a special teamer, showing the pop and
tenacity that could garner him a starting assignment
For… the health of junior
He’s had problems with his hamstrings going back to
last year, a recurring issue that limited him to
half a season in 2008. When healthy, he’s one of the
program’s top cover corners, which is why there’s
such a sense of urgency to get him back on the
Strength: The safeties. Unquestionably one
of the team strengths, the Owl safeties bring a
combination of size, speed, and ferocity that makes
them the MVPs of this defense. They get asked to do
a lot and usually deliver with a resounding
exclamation point at the end of a punishing hit.
Pass defense. Although strides were certainly made
from 2007, the Owls still allowed 34 touchdown
passes and were 110th nationally in yards
allowed. With the offense less likely to bail it out
this fall, the secondary needs to tighten up in
coverage and start making more timely stops,
especially in the red zone.
Strides are being made, even if you have to look
real hard to spot them. Rice continues to do a nice
job of recruiting athletes and trying to coach them
up into quality defensive backs. It’s worked with a
player like Sendejo, but in order to keep
progressing, similar results will be needed from the
likes of Jammer and Ben.
Projected Starters: Both primary specialists
return, looking to improve on last year’s results.
Fangmeier doesn’t get many opportunities for
anything other than extra points, but has shown
decent accuracy and good leg drive, especially now
that he’s completely healthy. He connected on
6-of-10 field goals and all 73 of his extra point
The Owls’ punter is back as well,
but that might not necessarily be a good thing.
Kyle Martens struggled in his debut, averaging
just 38.3 yards and rarely providing much help for a
defense that needed it. At 6-6 and 196 pounds, he
does have the long frame to blossom once he hones
The departures of James Casey
and Ja’Corey Shepherd mean Rice will be looking for
two new players to spark a moribund return game.
Based on prior experience, seniors
Goodson, and sophomore
will get long looks.
For… the arrival of true freshman
One of the nation’s premier prep kickers a year ago,
he has razor accuracy and is already good enough to
challenge for the job if Fangmeier leaves an
Strength: The coverage units. Despite all
of the problems on special teams the last few years,
Rice actually did a commendable job limiting damage
on returns. In fact, the Owls were 14th
nationally covering punts and 68th
covering kicks. In relative terms, it’s a strength.
The return game. For such an explosive team, you’d
think the Owls could generate a little splash here.
You’d be wrong. For the second straight year, the
program was feeble in this area, finishing 88th
nationally in punt returns and 81st on
Outlook: Without the luxury of an
unstoppable offense, Rice will need to get better in
other areas in order to maintain the momentum.
Special teams, for instance. If nothing else, the
kickers should be improved. Fangmeier is healthy,
Boswell has arrived to push him, and Martens will
benefit from that first season of experience.