Rice football was effective in their efforts to get to the quarterback last season but they’ll need to find new faces to continue the charge in 2018.
One of the most encouraging traits of the Rice football defense in 2017 was their ability to get to the quarterback. The 28 sacks tallied by the Owls’ defense was fifth best in Conference USA. They finished tied for 41st in the nation with a rate of 2.33 sacks per game, better than several imposing defenses like Georgia, Florida, Michigan State and South Carolina.
The Owls were led by defensive end Brian Womac who registered 10 sacks and defensive tackle Roe Wilkins, who picked up 6.5 sacks. Wilkins is back, but Womac now plays for the Los Angeles Rams. That leaves a void that must be addressed.
Regression in the sack department is certainly possible for the Owls if they can’t find someone to step up and fill Womac’s shoes. Nose tackle Zack Abercrumbia (two sacks) is the only other returning player who registered multiple sacks last season. Also missing from the 2018 squad are Emmanuel Ellerbee, Graysen Schantz, Blain Padgett each of which picked up 1.5 sacks in 2017.
The assignment falls to the aforementioned Wilkins and Abercrumbia as well as sixth-year edge rusher Graysen Schantz. Back for one final ride after an injury-plagued career, Schantz will slot in at rush end. Through 26 career games, he’s picked up 71 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks. He’s only played one complete season (2016) and appeared in just six games last season for the Owls.
After Schantz, the depth chart gets murky, fast. Opposite Schantz will be some combination of sophomore Anthony Ekpe and 2018 signee Antonio Montero. The highest rated linebacker recruit in the Owls’ class, Montero finds himself in position to see meaningful snaps early in the season. How much playing time he gets moving forward will be up to him.