Rice Football starting corner Tyrae Thornton has entered the Transfer Portal. How will his absence impact the Owls in 2020 and beyond?
It’s been an unusual offseason in more ways than one for Rice football, but unexpected attrition has not been a problem for the Owls so far. Rice lost linebacker Anthony Ekpe to transfer, but his starting job had already been overtaken by Kenneth Orji. Like there is with every team, the roster went through a bit more churn, but on the whole, Rice wasn’t losing anyone they hadn’t previously anticipated losing.
Then starting corner Tyrae Thornton entered the Transfer Portal this week. Prior to Thornton’s decision, the most notable departure of the summer was the loss of scout team quarterback Parker Towns. He was omitted from the preseason roster released in early August. Thornton was expected to line up opposite Tre’shon Devones. Now Rice will have to adjust.
The Depth Chart Impact
Corner and the interior of the defensive line were thin spots on the roster prior to Thornton’s announcement. Planning for a two-deep without him is doable, but the margin for error (or injury) beyond that is dicey.
Andrew Bird stands to benefit with the largest increase in playing time right away. His size (6-foot-1, 181 pounds) sets him apart from the rest of the unit. He also has the benefit of being one of the more experienced returners.
I also think Jason White is going to get some more time on the outside. He started against Southern Miss last year and held his own. Don’t let his smaller stature (5-foot-8, 158 pounds) fool you. He’ll be in the mix and could have a slight edge in coverage over Bird. This would be an excellent battle to watch in fall camp had Rice started it yet.
Being able to utilize Blaze Alldredge more in coverage will be another added wrinkle to keep an eye on. Beyond those more seasoned commodities, Rice could turn to a freshman for key minutes.
Devones proved he was the most talented man for the job and won a starting job midway through last season. I wouldn’t bet against the younger contingent with guys like Sean Fresch, Lamont Narcisse and Jordan Dunbar. We’ll learn a lot about how this position will play out if/when fall camp begins.
The Roster Impact
The continuity Rice football had built this season cannot be understated. Southern Miss saw five players opt out of the 2020 season this week. Defensive end Jacques Turner, linebacker Racheem Boothe and receiver Jaylond Adams will all not play this season. Turner and Boothe have entered the Transfer Portal.
FAU, Western Kentucky, Marshall have all lost expected starting quarterback during the offseason. A slew of other programs have seen marquee players leave for one reason or another.
It’s foolish to write off the departure of Thornton as “no big deal”. Losing a starting-caliber player at any position this close to the start of the season is a tough pill to swallow.
For better or worse, it sets Rice up to hit the restart at the position a year in advance. A redshirt junior, Thornton wasn’t going to be in the long term plans for this defense. He very well might have kept the starting job had he returned next season as well, but there’s no promises he would have held off the wave of incoming players.
At best, Thornton’s absence allows for an early transition and Rice is forced only to deal with the growing pains of a younger player. At worst, the Owls’ secondary will be exposed from a weak link uncovered in the final weeks before the games begin. I lean closer toward the former.
The loss is real, but Rice is going to be okay in the long run, particularly if the season is delayed or canceled and Thronton’s replacements get an extended audition and practice in the scheme with the first team.