Rice football yearns to be a team that pounds the rock and relies on strong offensive line play. It’s taken some time, but the players in the trenches are starting to gel.
The phrase Intellectual Brutality traveled with Mike Bloomgren from Palo Alto to South Main. The practice is still a work in progress, and that’s largely because the Owls are still working to find their identity in the trenches.
The Rice offensive line started the year as a veteran-laden group of starters which has gotten progressively younger as the season has advanced. From left to right Uzoma Osuji, Jack Greene, Shea Baker, Joseph Dill and Sam Pierce started the Owls first six games together. Then some of the Owls’ true freshman pushed themselves into the mix and stayed there. Clay Servin from Richardson, Tx and Cole Garcia from Dallas, Tx each earned their first starts on the road against FIU at left tackle and left guard, respectively, and kept the starting jobs through the Owls’ next game at North Texas.
“I think this offensive line, with the five guys we’ve got right now, is the best five guys we can have on the field,” Mike Bloomgren said excitedly, adding that Pierce is playing at the best level he’s seen him play this year and center Baker continues to develop into a leader of the unit.
To get to this point has been a journey. The message from Bloomgren and his staff has been clear to the entire team from day one, something offensive line coach Joe Ashfield echoed regarding his offensive line, “It’s a true meritocracy,” he confirmed, “It doesn’t matter what age you are or how long you’ve been here.”
As the season has progressed freshman have risen through the ranks of that meritocracy at several positions. This system isn’t easy, but the players that have picked it up the quickest have already made their marks on the program.
Players like Antonio Montero, Prudy Calderon and Treshawn Chamberlain have all risen from backups to starters on defense. Garcia, Servin and starting quarterback Wiley Green fought their way to the top of the depth chart in the same fashion. After weeks of churn, the Owls have found consistency. The next step is turning that familiarity into success.
For many of these young guys, adapting to the speed and tenacity of the college game has proven to be the most challenging learning curve. Understanding the schemes and protections are one thing, but being able to implement them in live action is another.
Left guard Cole Garcia called it “a six-second street brawl every time we’re throwing the ball” while Servin emphasized the need to “put your hand in the dirt and just go.” That instinct and raw talent, refined with careful coaching, should produce fruit that will pay dividends for years to come. Balancing the long-term goals with the immediate needs is one of the challenges this staff is facing right now.
From a practical standpoint, the Owls need a combination on the line that can keep their quarterback upright. The current situation, as Garcia described it, is that the Owls are “really down to [their] last quarterback.” Something Garcia and the rest of the line take very seriously. “I want my quarterback to leave the game with the cleanest jersey on the field and no scuffs on his helmet,” he said with a jovial, yet serious demeanor.
The coaching staff believes they’ve found the right pieces to succeed. Now it’s time to see if those pieces can come together and play as one, protecting their young quarterback and giving this team an opportunity to win again. Bloomgren tasks every player with doing their one-eleventh, but the offensive line has to do their five-elevenths. If they can work as one, the future up front is bright, not just for this season, but for the very ethos of this Intellectual Brutality culture for years to come.