45 different players registered at least one tackle for Rice football in 2017. Who will step up for the Owls this coming season?
One of the glaring deficiencies of the Rice football team in 2017 was a top-heavy defense. After you got past Emmanuel Ellerbee, who led the team in tackles with 95, the Owls got thin, fast. Not only is Ellerbee out of eligibility, so too are the Owl’s four leading tacklers from last season. That leaves a lot of questions that need to be addressed going forward.
In addition to Ellerbee, Rice will have to replace Brian Womac, Destri White, D.J. Green and J.T. Ibe. Those five players combined for 282 tackles, 30 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks. All told, that’s 55.6 percent of the team’s tackles out the door. That leaves a gaping hole in the defense and plenty of opportunity for some moderately experienced players to step up.
Even with those big departures, the Owls won’t be left empty-handed. After the top four, the Owls return the vast majority of their defensive starters and a few key depth pieces. Senior linebacker Nick Uretsky is the only one that saw any semblance of meaningful time in 2017 that won’t be back next season. That leaves coach Mike Bloomgren with a new challenge: development.
Returning starters are a nice idea, but improvements in record will only go as far as the improvements in talent on the field. The talent profile should continue to climb under the new coaching staff — Bloomgren has already begun to bring his own recruits in — but only a handful of them will be expected to make sizable contributions this season. If Rice is going to take a step forward, someone on the defensive side of the ball (or two) is going to have to make major strides in 2018.