Rice fans saw a preview of coming attractions late in 2018 as the Owl offense turned to true freshman Wiley Green and Juma Otoviano to carry a lot of the load at the skill positions. Up front Jake Syptak, Cole Garcia, and Clay Servin played significant minutes. On defense, Prudy Calderon proved to be one of the most dynamic young playmakers in CUSA. Treshawn Chamberlain and Antonio Montero both stepped in at linebacker as well without missing many beats.
Head coach Mike Bloomgren even preserved redshirts for Green and Servin.
We don’t assume a progression, year to year. Often young players plateau or run into the injury bug, or the complement around them changes and stifles production. Still, as Darrell Royal used to say, if they’ll bite as a pup, they’ll bite as a dog, so players who can step into starting roles early have some upside.
For Green, the Rice offense might well be his, presuming he edges out Evan Marshman, Harvard transfer Tom Stewart, Parker Towns, and a couple of newcomers. Marshman is a superior athlete but struggled with consistency at the position overall. Green looked more competent in starts against North Texas and UTEP but struggled in other action.
The signal callers will benefit from the return of Otoviano and Nahshon Ellerbe and Aston Walter at running back. Otoviano exploded late in the season, including a 224-yard performance in the season finale against Old Dominion.
As the Owl offensive line grows up, the quarterback position should benefit as well, and that’s the area we want to watch as much as any other.
Rice’s offensive line added some depth with Stanford transfer and former four-star recruit Brian Chaffin comes to Rice Village as a grad-transfer along with North Carolina Central Thumper Nick Leverett. Leverett moves in at guard while Chaffin played center for the Cardinal.
They fit Bloomgren’s Intellectual Brutality mantra. Garcia might be the poster child for the movement. The sophomore from the metroplex has some nasty to his game and didn’t back down as a first-year player. If Leverett comes in as advertised the guards will both be maulers. Servin and Syptak will fight it out for a tackle spot, and Uzoma Osuji looks like the odds on starter on the other side. Shea Baker is bulked up at center, checking in at 293. The center position could get interesting with Chaffin’s arrival.
On defense, the front seven has real competition because it’s wide open. Elijah Garcia flashed a ton on the interior of the defensive front. He the lone returning member of Rice’s interior rotation from 2018, if he doesn't get help the middle of the Owl defense could turn into a broken screen door, allowing free passage for all. Myles Adams (with a “y” not an “i” like freshman Miles Adams) is back at defensive end, and the other end position is a battle royal of young players who’ll be getting their first significant playing time.
The Owl linebackers are the deepest position on the field. Blaze Alldredge, blonde locks blowing in the wind, ran around with reckless abandon last season. Chamberlain, dreads flowing like a cool calypso breeze, stepped right into the fray as a true freshman. Rice’s linebackers with lesser hair but equal talent are in abundance. Dylan Silcox began 2018 as a starter looks to climb back up the depth chart. Anthony Ekpe is back as well at the rush linebacker position. Antonio Montero started seven of the final nine games as a true freshman and moves to the Mike backer position full time.
If the Owls have issues on defense, and they will, they’ll start in the secondary. Rice spent a lot of time chasing receivers running free. The Owls finished dead last in CUSA in pass defense. Justin Bickham, Houston Robert, Brandon Douglas-Dotson all did a lot of chasing last year, and they’re all gone. Prudy Calderon will need all of his ball-hawkish tendencies, and he’ll need help. Hopefully, the Owls can find some corner help during their fifteen spring outings.
Rice opened spring ball yesterday (March 4th), and they’ll finish up on April 13th with the blue/gray game. Or is it blue/grey?