Two weeks of Rice football spring practice are in the books. We’ve got standouts on both sides of the ball and updates on the quarterback battle in this week’s notes.
The first scrimmage of spring ball is in the books. Rice football head coach Mike Bloomgren liked what he saw. “I think we’re probably a little bit ahead in both systems. And I guess we should be,” Bloomgren said, “Offensively right now, from an assignment standpoint, we’re probably a little bit better [than last spring]. We’re doing things better.”
The offense finished with a handful of touchdowns drives. No field goals were kicked, all units went for it on fourth down. When adding in for those additional scoring opportunities, the defense edged the offense by a factor of roughly 2-to-1.
Like last year, the defense was clearly the more formidable unit. But this time the offense was able to celebrate touchdowns and explosive plays somewhat regularly — it wasn’t a “once in a blue moon” kind of success. That’s not to say the offense has grown by leaps and bounds. At this point, even baby steps has to be taken with some eagerness.
Bloomgren credits the wins on both sides of the ball, at least in part, to the understanding of the scheme and familiarity with what the coaching staff is asking players to do. “I think that I now have more than my 10 assistant coaches,” he surmised. “I’ve got old heads that have played a lot of football in this system that are coaching younger guys, because they’re so willing to and they so want to help and they just want to make our football team better.”
How the quarterbacks perform will continue to be the focal point of the spring. As of now, there appears to be a slight bit of separation occurring. Mike Collins took the majority of the reps with the first team offense during the scrimmage. JoVoni Johnson also saw action with the starters, too, albeit less time with the ones than Collins.
TJ McMahon and Wiley Green were mostly in charge of second and third team duties behind the aforementioned Collins and Johnson. Those two have the leg up in terms of experience, both at the D1 level and, in Johnson’s case, running the Owls’ offense.
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Collins flashed early on in the scrimmage. There was a sequence where he took a keeper around the left side of the line, sprinting 30 yards up the sideline for a first down. He then followed that by hitting a receiver in the flat who caught a block and raced another 30 yards up the field. Rice has 18 plays of 30 yards or more in 12 games last season. Stringing two such plays together in succession was eye-popping.
Johnson had his moments too. Although it’s probably fair to say the offense looked marginally more fluid under Collins, it was Johnson who led the only touchdown drive with the first team offense. He drove the team the length of the field, setting up a fourth-and-goal touchdown run.
Both have struggled with accuracy, particularly on throws down the field. Their advantages come through their legs. Collins is surprisingly mobile for such a big frame and what Johnson is capable of doing on the ground has been well documented on the field already.
Bloomgren’s evaluation remained level. “There was some good and bad with all of them,” he said. Translation: there’s no announcement on a definitive QB1 in the works any time soon.
Competition on the offensive line
This is the first spring during Bloomgren’s tenure that the Owls have had a surplus of players along the offensive line. Rice football is running with a full two-deep, plus some during spring. Only center/guard Shea Baker is pulling double duty, primarily because of his versatility rather than a lack of options.
Here’s roughly what the first team (bold) and second team looked like during the first scrimmage
Left Tackle – Clay Servin | Derek Ferraro
Left Guard – Cole Garcia | Adam Sheriff
Center – Isaac Klarkowski | Shea Baker
Right Guard – Shea Baker | Izeya Floyd
Right Tackle – Brandt Peterson | Jovaun Woolford
The most notable shift is at the right tackle spot where Brandt Peterson is getting an extended look. Bloomgren praised his efforts this spring, saying Peterson is playing “the best football he’s ever played since I’ve been here.” That’s high praise from a man who cut his teeth coaching the offensive line.
Jovaun Woolford is having a great spring as well, so how the starting line shakes out is still very much so a work in progress. Woolford seems to be transitioning well. He said he feels as if he hasn’t missed a beat. “It’s a lot like Colgate, a lot of ground and pound which I like to do.” He’s shuffled back and forth with the first and second team so far.
At left guard, a few guys have been in the mix. Cole Garcia, Adam Sheriff and Regan Riddle have all been seen some reps. That spot is TBD as well. Meanwhile, the shift to the offensive side of the ball is going well for Izeya Floyd. He’s already cracked the two-deep and is running with the second-team as a guard.
Explosive plays came at a premium for Rice football in 2019. The defense is still ahead, but there have been a few breaks in their aura of superiority. Several of the offense’s best moments came on singular plays.
- Cam Montgomery broke two 50+ yard touchdowns, one on the ground and the other via a screen pass. He’s fast, and his acceleration is incredible. Fully healthy with a thinned out depth chart ahead of him, he could see more run if he continues to protect the football
- Jawan King ripped off a 50-yard touchdown run of his own.
- Jack Bradley hauled in a 40+ yard reception on a beautifully thrown ball by Wiley Green. He went up over the defender and snatched the ball with his hands. His development will be one to follow in a crowded tight end room.
Standouts on defense
There was some concern on the defensive line with Floyd moving to offense. The young guys on defense are doing just fine. Beyond the usual suspects on the first team, Kebreyun Page has been wreaking havoc off the edge.
The linebacking corps are going to be special. Blaze Alldredge and Antonio Montero are as good as advertised, but Myron Morrison is coming on strong as well. Garrett Grammer is as steady as ever, giving Rice football plenty of options in the middle of the field.
In the secondary, Kirk Lockhart and Jason White have caught my eye on multiple occasions. Lockhart plays tough and has delivered some jarring blows from the safety spot. White constantly outplays his smaller stature, making plays on the ball against receivers who have the height advantage over him. He’s a guy I could see sticking as a slot corner.
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