Preview 2009 - Offense
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2009 Rice Offense
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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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.