David Bailiff is a survivor. He enters his 11th year as Rice head coach on Wednesday as Rice kicks off spring ball. It's been a roller coaster for Bailiff and the Owls, a conference title, bowl wins, ten win seasons, mixed with disastrous campaigns. The only Rice coach with a longer tenure in the modern era was Ken Hatfield. Bailiff is second only to Gary Patterson in longevity among Texas FBS coaches. He'll need to right the ship once again if he once to see a 12th season.
Here's what we'd like to see from the Owls before the April 7th spring game.
A new quarterback
Tyler Stehling is gone and he leaves behind four returning signal callers with various but limited experience. Jackson Tyner is the most likely to get the first nod, he started the last two games after Stehling went down with an injury. The results were mixed with a great start against UTEP and a dud against Stanford.
J.T. Granato, a redshirt freshman in 2016 saw limited action, eight passes in 2016, and Nate German played more wideout that quarterback. When German did play quarterback it was more of a wildcat scheme. The German quarterback experiment may be over, he seems better served to let his athleticism loose as a wideout full time. Sam Glaesman redshirted last season out of Waco Midway.
After last season's 0-6 start we lobbied for Tyner or Granato to finish up the season so neither would be thrown into the fire in 2017. Tyner ended up getting thrown in by default. Rice starts 2017 in Australia against Stanford. That's a tough ask for anyone, let alone a young player with little to no experience.
New quarterback coach Wesley Beschorner might be the most important offensive addition to 2017's roster. He was at Pitt in 2016. Rice needs some new ideas at the quarterback position. Bailiff would like one of the four quarterbacks on campus to become the man this spring, otherwise the Owls may not have the answer at the most important position in 2017.
New Defensive Scheme
Brian Stewart replaces Chris Thurmond at defensive coordinator and more than likely brings a 3-4 scheme to Rice. The Owls defense has been incredibly passive over the past few years, struggling to create turnovers and make plays. In a lot of ways Thurmond was faced with a no win task, if he committed too many men in to get after the quarterback, his defense was picked apart and the track meet was on. Last year's Rice team was the worst in the FBS at allowing explosive plays in the FBS. That was the tip of the ice berg.
The Owls struggled to rush the passer, stop the run, and just about everything else you'd need to do to be good at defense.
The Owls return nine starters including every member of the Owl front four 2-deep, so Stewart has some pieces to work with. Job one will be converting 4-2-5 defensive ends and tackles into 3-4 linebackers ends and nose guards.
Thurmond and crew moved Tabari McGaskey from linebacker to safety last season and the results were pretty good. McGaskey was one of the Owls most disruptive playmakers, at least when compared to the rest of Rice's defensive playmakers. His eleven tackles for loss easily led the team. Bad news is he's gone. Graduated. Probably working for NASA now. Stewart will need get creative to find playmakers for his new scheme.
Rice needs to find several more McGaskey type players this spring. Stewart might start with Destri White who's back after a very productive season at the KAT position in Thurmond's 4-2-5. White was close to ballhawk as Rice had last season. Emmanuel Ellerbee at linebacker led the Owls in tackles last season and was second in CUSA in tackles. Stewart needs to find ways to get players like Ellerbee and White into positions to make plays.
The Owls started five different line combinations in their first seven games before settling in with the same starting five the last four games of 2016. The Owls have the luxury of returning All-Conference performer Calvin Anderson coming back at left tackle. Opposite tackle Sam Pierce played in ten of the twelve Owls games, missing two due to injury. Inside the Owls other three line positions were musical chairs.
Part of the injury bug that struck the Owls last season is that a lot of young players were forced into duty. The Owls line looks like it could be a strength of the offense. They have the size, Bailiff's been able to recruit Power 5 sized people movers the past few years. Almost all of them are back in this season. Rice needs to develop a two-deep line unit this spring and then somehow, unlike 2016, keep that unit healthy in 2017.