2009 Rice Preview - Offense

Posted Jul 29, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Rice Owl Offense

Rice Owls

Preview 2
009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Rice Preview | 2009 Rice Offense
2009 Rice Defense | 2009 Rice Depth Chart
- 2008 Rice Preview | 2007 Rice Preview | 2006 Rice Preview 

What you need to know: QB Chase Clement is the catalyst of an offense that’s broken a slew of school records over the last two seasons. A year ago, he led the Owls in rushing as well as passing, accounting for 3,912 yards and 37 touchdowns, showing a knack for elevating his play late in games. The receiving corps will again give overmatched league secondaries fits. Jarett Dillard was a Biletnikoff Award finalist two years ago, and James Casey is a 23-year old former professional baseball player who debuted with 46 receptions. Bailiff’s quest to run the ball with more authority is a direct challenge to a line that got routinely abused and is revamping the left side.

Returning Leaders
Passing: John Thomas Shepherd
8-15, 78 yds
Rushing: Jeramy Goodson
12 carries, 69 yds
Receiving: Torren Dixon
50 catches, 598 yds, 5 TD

Star of the offense: Senior WR Toren Dixon
Player who has to step up and become a star: The new quarterback—senior John Thomas Shepherd, sophomore Nick Fanuzzi, or redshirt freshman Ryan Lewis
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LT Scott Mitchell
Best pro prospect: Mitchell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dixon, 2) Mitchell, 3) the starting quarterback
Strength of the offense: The passing game, veteran receivers
Weakness of the offense: The running game, line play, uncertainty at quarterback


Projected Starter: Well, you knew the day would come eventually, but that won’t make it any easier to replace Chase Clement, who leaves a legend, with just about every school passing record. The three-way battle to replace him began in March and will continue again in earnest in August. Senior John Thomas Shepherd has the obvious edge in experience, having been the backup the last three years and appearing in 15 games. A weaker facsimile of Clement at 6-1 and 195 pounds, he makes good decisions, but doesn’t have a strong arm and isn’t above average in any one physical area.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Nick Fanuzzi gave up no ground in his battle for the starting job, pulling into a dead heat coming out of spring. A transfer from Alabama, he returns to his home state, where he became a top recruit in the class of 2007. An athletic 6-3, 215-pounder, he shows the kind of dual-threat potential that made Clement so dangerous over the past few years.

While a lack of experience makes 6-3, 205-pound redshirt freshman Ryan Lewis the darkhorse in this race, he’ll have just as much of an opportunity to win the job in the summer as Shepherd and Fanuzzi. Another good athlete at the position, he throws with nice touch on his passes and shows the poise and maturity of a much older player.  

Watch Out For… Fanuzzi’s trajectory. He was the most heralded prep player among the competitors and has the highest ceiling of the three, but can he get the system down pat before the opener back in the state of Alabama? He sure looked good in the spring game, connecting on 6-of-8 passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns.
Strength: Athleticism. Can these quarterbacks move the ball through the air consistently? We’ll see. However, their ability to escape pressure and make things happen outside the pocket is close to a sure-thing. Shepherd is light on his feet, Fanuzzi was a 1,000-yard rusher in high school, and Lewis looks smooth making throws on the move.
Weakness: Game experience. Shepherd may be a fifth-year senior, but he’s thrown just 48 passes and not a single touchdown pass over his entire career. Oh, and he has the most experience of the three contenders…by far.
Outlook: Although it’s a tight battle that might not be decided until late August, you get the feeling Fanuzzi has the inside track as long as he keeps progressing. Shepherd will get the ball if he out performs the other two, but there’s no doubt Rice would prefer kicking off a new era with one of the younger, more upwardly-mobile players.
Rating: 5.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Although Rice doesn’t pretend to be a running team, there might be a greater reliance on the ground game until the passing attack takes flight. Coming out of spring, 5-8, 190-pound sophomore Tyler Smith was atop the depth chart following a terrific offseason. He’s rebounded from major knee surgery to become the team’s most consistent runner, showing a nice burst, good ball security, and the soft hands to also become a threat in the passing.

Projected Top Reserves: The favorite to be No. 2 is senior Jeramy Goodson, who’ll be looking for more snaps in his second season since moving over from wide receiver. While just 5-9 and 185 pounds, he displays the acceleration and open-field wiggle that this running game has been missing for years. A versatile athlete, he ran 12 times for 69 yards, caught seven balls for 44 yards, and completed two passes for 39 yards and a score.

Veteran depth and a little more punch will be provided by 5-10, 198-pound senior Marcus Knox. The captain of the special teams and a three-time letterwinner, he’s appeared in 32 career games, earning 15 carries for 46 yards and a touchdown a year ago.  

Watch Out For… the health of Smith’s knee. He showed some potential and big-play ability in the spring, but the staff will hold its collective breath until he shows he can endure regular punishment. That knee injury cost him the 2008 season and took two separate surgeries to get it right.
Strength: Shiftiness. While undersized to be feature backs, Smith and Goodson have the stop-and-start moves in space to make defenders miss. Oh, and don’t be fooled by their diminutive stature. Both backs will bounce off tacklers and drive for extra yards.
Weakness: Production. While C.J. Ugokwe wasn’t exactly all-star-caliber, he wasn’t a useless part either, rushing for 809 yards and almost five yards a carry. This backfield will be hard-pressed to match that kind of production, especially since the passing game won’t be getting as much respect as last year.
Outlook: Is Smith the answer for an Owl running game that’s aiming for a larger slice of the offensive pie? He might be, but it’s a precarious situation when the projected feature runner has had as many knee surgeries as carries over the last two seasons.
Rating: 4


Projected Starters: Not only does the passing attack lose record-setting QB Chase Clement, but last year’s top two receivers are gone as well. Jarett Dillard and James Casey combined for 198 receptions in 2008 and are currently on NFL teams. Picking up some of the slack will be 6-2, 212-pound senior Toren Dixon, the team’s “X” receiver and leading returning receiver. Coming off his best season as an Owl, he had 50 catches for 598 yards and five touchdowns, moving into eighth place on the school’s career list for receptions. Big and physical, he’s proven to have some of the best hands on the team.

At “Z” receiver will be 5-11, 170-pound junior Patrick Randolph, a converted defensive back making a smooth transition to offense. An eight-game starter before injuring his ankle, he was overshadowed by the big guns and only managed 16 catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns. That’s about to change. He has some of the best wheels on the team and has the potential to become a poor-man’s Dillard on the outside.

At one of the inside slots, 6-2, 210-pound Corbin Smiter has padlocked “F” receiver. A steady veteran of 25 games and 11 starts, he hauled in a career-best 30 receptions for 487 yards and three scores a year ago. A smart receiver, who runs tight routes and catches everything near him, he also showed a knack for picking up yards after the catch last season.

Replacing Casey at the “Y”, sort of an H-back position, is 6-6, 236-pound Taylor Wardlow. A part-time starter over the last three seasons, he’ll finally be getting a chance to show off the long frame, sticky hands, and good speed that’s been somewhat hidden in Houston. After catching nine balls for 93 yards and three touchdowns, he’s poised for a breakout year that could attract some NFL attention.     

Projected Top Reserves: The Owls’ top reserve off the bench will be 6-3, 221-pound junior Pierre Beasley, Dixon’s caddy at “X” receiver. He, too, is a thick, physical pass-catcher, who’ll use his body to shield defenders and achieve proper positioning. Although he’s only had five catches the last two years and needs to eliminate the drops, he’s too big and athletic to be buried for another season.

Sophomore Roddy Maginot was pressed into action last fall and wound up catching three passes for 44 yards and lettering unexpectedly. The backup to Randolph at “Z” receiver, he’s only 5-10 and 160 pounds, but has explosive speed and the quickness to turn a short hitch into instant offense.

Watch Out For… the tight ends to look a little more like tight ends this year. New coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher plans to reintroduce the position to the offense in an effort to support the ground game, meaning Wardlow and freshman Vance McDonald will spend time working on their blocking skills this summer. 
Strength: Experience. For a team that lost its top two receivers from 2008, this is still a pretty cagey bunch, with a comfortable knowledge of the system. Projected to be in the starting lineup will be three seniors and a junior, all of whom logged significant playing time.
Weakness: Proven go-to guy. Dixon is a nice receiver, but he was certainly aided in the past by the attention given to Dillard and Casey. Now that those two defender magnets have left the campus, the senior must prove he can be the kind of receiver who makes life easier for the rest of his teammates.
Outlook: Discounting the fact that there’s going to be an inevitable drop-off from the last few seasons, this is not a bad receiving corps. Dixon will have a chance to be a 75-catch guy, and now that there are more balls to go around, don’t be shocked if Randolph, Smiter, and Wardlow wind up being uncovered gems.
Rating: 5.5

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Consistent with the rest of the offense, the offensive line will have a new look after the graduation of three of last year’s starters. The new anchor up front will be 6-4, 290-pound junior Scott Mitchell, who has started 18 consecutive games at left tackle. He’s steadily added muscle since arriving, yet hasn’t lost the quickness or athletic ability that has helped make him one of the league’s budding pass protectors.

Next to Mitchell at left guard will be 6-3, 283-pound sophomore Jake Hicks, a 10-game starter at right tackle last season. Although he held up well in his debut in the lineup, the staff sensed he was better suited for an inside job, moving him to a new position and a new side of the line.

While 6-3, 265-pound sophomore Keshawn Carrington has no relevant game reps and could use a bigger bubble, he played well enough in the spring to win the starting center job. A terrific athlete, who gets out of his stance in a hurry, he shows plenty of promise at the position once he starts getting more snaps.

The anchor on the right side will be 6-4, 280-pound sophomore Tyler Parish, who played in every game last season and started three of them. One of the school’s top recruits from 2007, he’s made nice progress since arriving, improving his strength and getting better with his fundamentals as a pass blocker.

Leading the way at right guard will be untested sophomore Davon Allen. He was used as an extra tight end in short yardage situations, but has very little experience here as a traditional offensive lineman. At 6-2 and 322 pounds, he has a powerful base and is extremely difficult to move off his base. As the Owls try to install a little more of a power running game, he’s the type of mauler, who can fit into that style.  

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Travis Mason has not gotten a ton of playing time in his career, but he’s a nice veteran to have on the second unit behind Allen at right guard. A 6-4, 294-pound former defensive tackle, he’s earned three letters and can also play some tackle in a pinch.

Sophomore Kody Emmert is being groomed to Mitchell’s replacement some day. For now, he’ll be his caddy, learning how to use his hands better and bend at the knees more often. At 6-5 and 265 pounds, he needs to add more weight, but has excellent feet and is the type of athlete this coaching staff is trying to attract.

Watch Out For… Mitchell to make a drive toward becoming one of Conference USA’s best tackles. He’s on the brink of becoming really good after two successful seasons as the starter. And now he’s being asked to become the leader of a young and formidable group.
Strength: The left side. With Mitchell and Hicks to the left of center, the Owls have a pair of returning starters, who’ll entice the offense to run the majority of plays behind them. Mitchell is headed for a spot on the all-star and Hicks isn’t far behind.  
Weakness: Run blocking. Yeah, pass protection hasn’t been especially crisp either, but the Owls were actually worse in run blocking a year ago, rarely giving the backs much daylight or room to make plays. If the quarterback wasn’t breaking containment, Rice was not making much happen on the ground.                 
Outlook: At best, this is a marginal offensive line that’s going to get bullied by bigger, more physical defensive fronts. The left side of the line will be in good shape, but what about the other side? The center and right guard haven’t played many snaps, and the right guard still has work to do.
Rating: 4