Rice football is ready to take the field against Middle Tennessee in Week 12. Here are some notes on who’s in, who’s out and the plan at quarterback.
Rice football has three games remaining in the 2019 season. There’s a potential for younger players to see action and questions at the quarterback position ?. Amidst all of those variables, the coaching staff is tightening up their focus.
Entering the bye, the message from the top was clear. “This week, stuff has to be proven in practice,” Mike Bloomgren said. “We gotta fix things in practice. It’s gotta look good in practice or we can’t call them in a game.” He noted that standard applies to everything from formations to individual players. The tolerance for errors was already low and it’s continuing to shrink.
“You either win or you learn,” Bloomgren said, “and we’ve learned a lot.”
On the final Thursday walkthrough before traveling on Friday, it was Tom Stewart who took the first-team reps. JoVoni Johnson is currently listed as a game time decision and will make the trip to Murfreesboro. Whether or not he’s healthy enough to go, and be mobile while he’s out there, remains to be seen. My expectation is that Stewart will start against Middle Tennessee.
As for Stewart, Bloomgren was encouraged by what he saw during the bye week from his veteran passer. “He made the most of his reps,” Bloomgren said. “I think it’s been really good, what he’s done this week.”
Stewart seems to be back to his normal self following a back injury which kept him off the field for the majority of the Marshall contest. The medical staff has done everything they can to get him back to health as quickly as possible and early returns are promising.
Since Stewart went down, the Owls offense has changed. It’s less complex and geared more towards helping Johnson command the offense comfortably. We’ll still see that slimmed down offense against Middle Tennessee. Stewart noted that’s probably a good thing, regardless of who is lined up under center.
“It’s helped everyone,” Stewart said. “Let’s do we do well, let’s play fast. And I think that’s kind of been a trend, we haven’t played as fast as we want to. So, I think the tempo and how fast we’re able to process everything has really improved.”
There’s at least a chance Rice will get some combination of Andrew Bird, Anthony Ekpe and Brian Chaffin back after the bye week. All three have returned to practice, at least in a limited fashion, with the hope they will be progressively eased back into the flow of things over the next week.
Chaffin still retains his No. 1 spot at center on the depth chart, but spent the majority of the week at guard. It looks like the Owls will move last year’s starter Shea Baker back to center and keep Chaffin next to him, at least for this week.
Neither Ekpe or Bird were listed on the depth chart released on Tuesday. That doesn’t rule them out against Middle Tennessee, but their outlook to return seems a bit more tenuous. It’s a situation we’ll continue to monitor. Of the two, Bird is more likely to play while Ekpe remains a somewhat hazy game-time decision. Like we mentioned on Ep. 17 of The Roost Podcast this week, don’t be surprised if he’s held out one more week.
With three games remaining, expect to see freshman and others who haven’t participated much this season to get a few looks down the stretch. The coaching staff won’t put young players on the field just to do it, but those who have earned opportunities through the year will get a shot, whether that’s on special teams or as part of a rotation on offense or defense.
Jawan King saw his first action of the season against Marshall. In addition to him, two names jump out at the moment: linebacker Myron Morrison and safety Chike Anigbogu. Morrison was elevated to the No. 2 spot behind at linebacker behind Blaze Alldredge, filling in for veteran Dylan Silcox who will miss the rest of the season after suffering an injury against Marshall.
Anigobgu has drawn rave reviews for his effort and intensity during practice for several months. Bloomgren said he’s a guy who is “working his butt off and earning out trust.” He’s played in two games to this point and will be a guy who gets in two more in the coming weeks.
Other names that flashed during the past week include corner Josh Landrum, wide receiver Jake Bailey, safety Hunter Henry and safety Kirk Lockhart.
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