The most unique positions on the Owls’ depth chart belongs to Treshawn Chamberlain. The starting viper is the Rice Football Defensive Player of the Year.
You won’t find “viper” etched on most college depth charts. Not only does Rice football employ the versatile position, but they’ve also found the perfect man for the job. 2019 Rice Football Defensive Player of the Year Treshawn Chamberlain excelled at the spot this season.
Rice defensive coordinator Brian Smith adapted the Viper position after working under Don Brown at Michigan. At its core, the position solves a problem that has been forced upon defenses in the modern era of spread offenses. How do you prepare for the pass and stop the run at the same time? Short answer: find a guy who can do both. Players like that don’t grow on trees, making finding someone with that skillset a challenge in itself.
In his role, Chamberlain has to wear multiple hats. Like the linebackers, he has to feel comfortable playing near to the line of scrimmage. At the same time, he must be prepared to drop back and cover a pass catcher. Given where he lines up on the field, that requires the speed to keep up with shifty players in the slot. Whereas some players have similar responsibilities from down to down, Chamberlain’s assignments might yo-yo back and forth within the span of a single possession.
That’s a tall order, but the expectations were clear from the start. “He brings a physical presence to the defense and [we’re] looking for some big things from him,” Smith said of Chamberlain prior to the beginning of the season. Smith knew the secondary wasn’t going to be able to make the jump it needed to without improved play across the board. Chamberlain was to serve as the linchpin, bridging the gap between the secondary and the front seven.
The specialized position came with a learning curve. Chamberlain didn’t start his first game until midway through the 2018 season. Once he did, he became a mainstay in the defensive depth chart. He registered a career-best 10 tackles at Tiger Stadium against LSU last season, paving the way for his highly anticipated 2019 campaign.
From the hit heard ’round South Main to his 64-tackle year, Chamberlain delivered every outing of 2019. He tied Defensive Newcomer of the Year Naeem Smith for the team lead in interceptions (two) and was second on the team in passes defended (five). He was everywhere on the field at once, making plays throughout the secondary and at the line of scrimmage. Chamberlain was an enforcer.
Even with those impressive numbers, it’s hard to quantify the impact a player like Chamerblain had on this defense. The energy he brought to the defense this season went far beyond the x’s and o’s. Some players stay emotionally level from start to finish. Chamberlain is a guy that embraces the intensity of the game, playing with a passion, a swagger that gives him an edge.
“It’s what the game is all about, having fun,” he said, following arguably the biggest hit of his career in the Owls’ win over North Texas. The smile Chamberlain had on that day was reflective of the journey he’d taken to get to this point.
Prior to his commitment to Rice, Chamberlain was an under the radar defender tucked away in South Carolina only hoping for the chance to play division one football. He was a member of Mike Bloomgren’s inaugural signing class. That got his foot in the door. The rest has been up to him and the results have been tremendous.
Call him a safety. Call him a linebacker. List his name anywhere you want to on the depth chart. Chamberlain is a difference-maker. Rice football wouldn’t be the same without him.
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