Rice football proved they’re on the right track, closing out the 2018 season with a win. What questions remain entering a long offseason for the Owls?
1. Can the coaching staff produce back to back stud recruiting classes?
Mike Bloomgren couldn’t stop raving about the freshman class during fall camp prior to the season. He said the hit rate on these guys was tremendous and he wasn’t wrong. Wiley Green, Juma Otoviano, Cole Garcia, Antonio Montero, Prudy Calderon, Tyrae Thornton and several others played significant roles for this team in their first years of college ball.
The trajectory of this program will be set by how well Bloomgren and his staff build on that first successful class. If they can find a few more gems in the 2019 group they’ll take the talent level at Rice through a step change. More talent creates more competition which leads to better players and better results. The recruiting formula starts with talent.
Don’t mistake the need for a second strong class with a search for stars. Just because a signee or recruit doesn’t have the best grades on 247 or Rivals doesn’t mean he’s not the right fit for this system and this scheme. Trust the process. Through one abbreviated cycle the staff has proven they can find the guys they need.
2. What will the offensive line look like in Year 2 under Mike Bloomgren?
It took the Rice offensive line much longer to gel than anyone on the staff would have hoped. The constant flurry of changing parts and shaky play prompted the insertion of young players down the line, eventually solidifying into a starting five of Uzoma Osuji, Cole Garcia, Shea Baker, Joseph Dill and Sam Pierce.
Pierce and Dill won’t return next year and Osuji will see competition at the left tackle position from freshman Clay Servin who started while Osuji was out with injury. That leaves Garcia and Baker as two relatively sure-things in another mix of players and combinations.
The inconsistency of the offensive line was a major inhibitor to the offense in 2018. The way this unit gels in the spring and continues to develop this fall will be an important barometer for how quickly the offense can continue to progress in Year 2.
3. Who will be the playmakers on offense in 2019?
Entering the 2018 season Emmanuel Esukpa and Aaron Cephus were tabbed by most as the most likely playmakers on the offense. Both had their moments and were instrumental in the development of the offense throughout the year, but by the end of the season, there were different faces carrying the load.
Wiley Green, Austin Walter, Austin Trammell and Juma Otoviano became fixtures and various points of the season, ending the year as go-to players to a much greater degree than even some of the coaching staff might have expected.
Who steps up in 2019? It could be some of those same leaders. Green and Otoviano will both be sophomore and Trammell will be back for his junior season, too. But there are also players like Brendan Harmon, August Pitre and D’Angelo Ellis who saw their roles severely limited by injury as well as incoming recruits like running back Jawan King and wide receiver Zane Knipe. There are a lot of options. It will be interesting to see who emerges to move this offense forward.
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