The Rice Football receiving corps is one of the biggest unknowns the Owls face entering 2019. Can the new faces rise to the challenge?
Nebulous might be the most appropriate word to describe the Rice football receiving corps entering the 2019 season.
There are a few things we do know. Austin Trammell will once again be the leader in the room and contend for the team leading in receptions. There will be a quarterback to get them the football.
But for every certainty, there are more questions. Who will fill the void left by Austin Walter and Aaron Cephus? Can the offense stretch the field and utilize the deep ball? How many players are trustworthy enough to be regular members of the rotation?
The answers to all of those questions lay in a collection of pass catchers who, outside of Trammell, have yet to play meaningful Division 1 football. Bradley Rozner, August Pitre III and Zane Knipe have practiced primarily with the first team during fall camp. That trio has combined for zero catches at Rice.
**Chart taken from 2019 Rice Football Season Preview**
But, and there’s a rather significant but, the lack of proven production doesn’t mean the outlook for 2019 is dismal, just uncertain.
Rozner led all Junior College players last season with 13 touchdown receptions. August Pitre might have the best vertical reach on the team, something Rice will utilize heavily in the redzone. As for Knipe, Bloomgren himself said the freshman “moves at a different speed than most humans.” Unproven, but intriguing.
Getting on the same page
Despite the growing pains the offense experienced during the spring and into fall camp, quarterback Wiley Green says he isn’t concerned with the wide receiver room at all. “You can just go across the board in the receiver room, and everybody stepped up,” Green relayed, “From a quarterback standpoint makes it really easy for us. We can spread the ball out wherever we want to.”
Green didn’t emerge as the starter until late last fall, meaning that unless a player was on the scout team last August, they had little time to work with Green and develop that rhythm. Pitre and Rozner were both with the team during the spring, gaining meaningful reps with Green prior to camp.
Rozner has benefited from that extra time as much, if not more so, than anyone else. When he left the JUCO ranks to come to Rice he was handed the additional challenge of learning a new offense. The Owls’ scheme is complex, with plenty of verbiage that at times sounds like a foreign language. Several months into his studies, things are beginning to come together.
“As an offense, we definitely improved from the spring,” Rozner expressed. “I think it’s easy to see that we’re definitely more physical up front and moving the ball down the field.”
Not so secret weapons
The emergence of two talented freshmen has driven the uptick in offensive production. Jake Bailey was a highly regarded member of the 2019 recruiting class, the highest ranked player according to 247 Sports who had signed with Rice during the Mike Bloomgren era.
Zane Knipe might have had fewer accolades, but this high school track star was highly regarded by the staff during the recruiting process. Once he got to campus, those expectations were realized quickly.
Knipe started working with the first team on the very first day of fall camp. Bailey was mixed in over the next two weeks. Both players have speed and athleticism and the ability to kick things into an extra gear, turning 5-yard gains into big plays.
Rozner, who’s assumed one of the starting jobs on the outside, can’t believe how impactful the young duo has been thus far. “[Bailey is] so quick, the way he can get in and out of cuts and Zane [Knipe], he can just fly down the field so fast. They’re both insane.”
Then there are guys like Rhett Cardwell and Chris Boudreaux who have had their moments during camp. Each should be a reliable depth piece for the Owls in 2019.
None of those preseason reps will matter as much as the snaps each of these receivers will take this fall. For now, everyone will do their best to refine their craft and increase their understanding of the offense. Rice has options, but they’ll need answers when the time comes to take on Army on August 30.