Rice football enters the offseason with momentum on the recruiting trail and plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future.
Q: How badly did our season damage recruiting?
Honestly, not much at all. Nobody likes to lose, but the poor record is a selling point in itself. Mike Bloomgren and the coaching staff aren’t selling the same thing Nick Saban is selling at Alabama. The Owls’ pitch centers moreso on playing time and building the program from the ground up. It’s messy, sure, but it puts the onus on the player to be the difference maker and the Owls are after a lot of difference-making type players.
Just take a look back at the UTEP game. Rice lost what was expected to be their best chance at a conference win and fell to 1-9 on the season. Josh Landrum and Kirk Lockhart committed that weekend. Hunter Henry called and committed a few days later.
You’d be hard pressed to find a lower point of the 2018 season and Rice landed three recruits, one of which had never set foot on campus. If that’s not a testament to the caliber of recruiters Bloomgren has assembled on this staff, I don’t know what is.
Now the interesting part comes with the 2019 season. If this staff can recruit at a high level with two wins what will they be able to do with more? Building upon the groundwork laid in 2018 is going to be huge. The results next season will play a far greater role than this season, which was essentially year zero for Bloomgren and his staff.
Q: What 2019 recruit are you most excited about?
Can I pick more than one? Yes? Alright. On offense, I’m going to go with one of the newest additions — receiver Bradley Rozner. He led JUCO in receiving touchdowns last season with 13 scores in 9 games. Rice pass catchers tallied 13 receiving touchdowns in 13 games last season. He’s not a burner, but he should provide a complimentary piece on the outside and his sure hands will help the Owls a lot on third down.
On defense, I’m excited to see linebacker Garrett Braden in action. He’s not the biggest guy, but he just makes tackles. Tackling in space was an issue for the defense at times this season. That’s why you saw a guy like Antonio Montero, all 6-foot of him, crack the starting lineup and stay there. Braden is slightly taller than Montero at 6-foot-2 and plays with the same “no-quit” motor.
Q: Are the players transferring out being forced out by Bloomgren or are they transferring out on their own accord?
I talked with coaches and players and from everything I can see the partings have been peaceable. It’s no secret this team is in the midst of a youth movement. Four upperclassmen started the Owls’ regular season finale against Old Dominion: Sam Pierce, Graysen Schantz, Roe Wilkins and Zach Abercrumbia. The remainder of the starters were young guys who rose above their junior and senior counterparts on the depth chart last season.
Jackson Tyner, Emmanuel Esukpa, Justin Bickham and Houston Robert are the four grad transfers that have been announced. I wouldn’t have expected any of those four to be starters next season, and depending on the play of the incoming 2019 recruiting class, a few of them might not have cracked the two-deep by midseason. Given those circumstances, it seems to make the most sense for everyone to move on. They get the chance to play and Rice gets more room to bring in new talent.
Bloomgren never minced words during the season. He mentioned on multiple occasions the senior class and the freshman class was the strongest classes on this team. These early transfers are in line with that assessment.
Q: Do you think Wiley Green will have any competition at QB heading into the offseason?
Mike Bloomgren saw enough between Jackson Tyner and Shawn Stankavage during fall camp to have a pretty solid idea who was going to be his starter entering the year. It took him less than a half of live game exposure for him to solidify this decision, but he still let the competition play out. I don’t think you see much different of an approach in 2019.
The starting job figures to come down to either Wiley Green or Evan Marshman. Both guys had some good moments this season and while Green has the higher upside as a passer, he probably didn’t do enough in four appearances this season to lock the job down entering fall camp.
Marshman and Green will battle it out this spring and into the fall, but unlike last year, Bloomgren will have enough exposure with his passers to have a decision in place before the start of the year. Competition is a good thing, and it will make both guys better. That’s especially true with younger players, but don’t be surprised if Bloomgren calls it an open competition at any point this offseason.
If I were projecting right now, Wiley Green is your QB1 with Marshman as the backup.