The Rice football offense trudged through a slow spring, leaving plenty of questions after a dismal showing at the Blue and Gray Spring Game.
The defense was two steps ahead of the offense on the first day of spring practices in early March. By the time Rice finished the spring game in mid-April it looked like they’d gained another 10 steps, if not more. That set up the coaching staff with a predicament. Is the defense truly elite? Is the offense that bad? Or is the truth somewhere in between?
Head coach Mike Bloomgren was all smiles when he talked about the defensive side of the ball following the Spring Game, which the defense won 48-14. As he transitioned to discussing the offense, he offered a clarifying statement:
It’s hard to build something when the individual contributors aren’t on the same page. That’s what we saw during the spring game. Quarterbacks were missing their receivers. Receivers were failing to haul in catchable passes. The offensive line looked disoriented.
Senior running back Aston Walter described the situation as one in where, rather than acting instinctively, “too many people are thinking about what they should do.” That sluggishness off the ball was why the offense as a whole only drove the length of the field for a touchdown twice, one of which was a 60+ yard bomb from quarterback Wiley Green to receiver Aaron Cephus.
Bloomgren said there are “no magic pills” to transition from the offensive struggles into a fully functioning unit, but he remains optimistic things will get sorted out by the fall. This doesn’t seem to be purely a talent issue. With the possible exception of an unproven stable of young running backs, the talent level across the offense is better this year than it was last spring. The issue is getting all that talent to work together.
Consistency, making plays and understanding the scheme will be the marching orders for this unit from now until the fall. That goes hand and hand with how Walter assessed the summation of the spring. “We’re just not confident,” he said, “not where coach [Bloomgren] wants us to be… We gotta keep working.”
More than once the coaching staff has stressed the team is significantly ahead of where they were at this time last year in terms of understanding the scheme and knowing the playbook. That hasn’t produced positive results yet, but there’s still plenty of time before Rice plays their first game against Army in August.
If the spring struggles truly stem from mental setbacks, a summer studying combined with a strong fall camp should be enough to work through the offensive woes. No, they’re not where they want to be, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get there.
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