The 2019 Rice Football signed 17 players during the early signing period including nine on defense. Here’s a further breakdown of the defensive signees.
Cornerback (1) – Josh Landrum
Rice needed to find impact players at this position, fast. By the time November rolled around the Owls were starting Collin Whitaker, a convert running back, at corner. He had a strong season and played well, but the mere fact the team had to reach into the skill position players on the other side of the ball to fill an immediate need is concerning.
Given the lack of depth in front of him, Josh Landrum’s path to playing time could be easier than some of the other guys in this class. Standing at 6-foot, 165 pounds, he’ll be one of the tallest corners on the roster. He’s lanky, but the ability is there. Look for the Owls to add at least one more corner before this class is complete.
Safety (4) – Hunter Henry, Kirk Lockhart, Naeem Smith, Jake Bailey
This position might be the best haul of the 2019 class, especially given the premium role the safety position plays in this defense. Each of these four guys brings a little something different to the position and a few of them could see work at a few positions.
Naeem Smith has the athleticism to play corner in a pinch and Jake Bailey has enough talent to run with an opposing pass catcher at any spot in the secondary. Hunter Henry will deliver the boom at the line of scrimmage and Kirk Lockhart has a knack for making big plays.
The versatility is something defensive coordinator Brian Smith said was no accident. “One of the things we wanted to do is get some guys with position flexibility… we wanted to get guys who can play in space, tackle and make plays one on one in the open field. The more guys you can get like that in this defense the better you are.”
Linebacker (3) – Garrett Braden, Adrian Bickham, Josh Pearcy
Garrett Braden is a tackler. It might not be the flashiest superlative, but it’s something this program needs. Allowing opponents to escape in the open field crushed the Rice defense in 2018, making young players like Antonio Montero stars simply because they didn’t miss tackles.
The Rice defense doesn’t need many true linebackers with their tendency to trust other hybrid positions. Adrian Bickham is an edge rusher who could stand up or put his hands in the dirt. His motor is impressive and his ability to get the quarterback is something Rice desperately needs.
Josh Pearcy could play a variety of roles in the Rice defense in the near future. A pass rusher by trade, Pearcy is as athletic as they come. The departure of Graysen Schantz could open up more playing time for someone like him or Anthony Ekpe, and for the time being, he might be that explosive piece that the staff inserts on third down for a big play.
Defensive Tackle (1) – Izeya Floyd
The trio of Zach Abercrumbia, Roe Wilkins and Izeya Floyd up the middle are going to be special. A powerlifter who squats 700 pounds, Floyd was described as Bloomgren as “the strongest person we have in our program from the moment he steps on campus.”
Beyond pure strength, coach Smith said he’s nearly unblockable. Floyd excelled at the Owls’ camp this summer and continues to be an impressive addition. Having his 6-foot-2, 305-pound frame up the middle should terrifying opposing offenses.