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'07 spring practice page
May I have this dance?...
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Corbin Smiter (R), Justin Abt get all tangled up with each other in battle for pass as the Rice defense gave the offense everything it wanted in Saturday's spring game (Mark Anderson photo)


Defense outshines offense
as new staff shows off wares

Three last-gasp sacks tip scales for 'D'

By Bob Reinhold

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Rice running back C. J. Ugokwe powers for yardage in Saturday's spring game (Mark Anderson photo)

HOUSTON (April 15) – Just when it appeared that Chase Clement would lead the offense to another stirring, last second victory, as he did so many times last fall, the Gray defense stepped up with three consecutive sacks to ensure a 26-18 win in the 2007 version of the Rice football Blue-Grey spring game.

This really wasn't a so Blue-Gray game, but rather a contest pitting the offense against the defense. Rice’s first team offense squared off against the starting D, while the second offenses and defenses played against each other.

This game employed a modified scoring system that awarded the defense points for sacks, tackles for loss and turnovers, while the offense could earn point for explosive plays in addition to the traditional methods of touchdowns and placements.

The D had some advantages, as all you had to do was touch the QB (no injuries allowed there), while the offense couldn't run all their plays. But whenever a reverse or other trickery was tried there were defensive players staying at home and making plays.

James Casey, a 6-4, 230 pound defensive end, playing for the first time after spending three years in minor league baseball, looked impressive to the approximately 2,000 onlookers. Owl defenders Robert Calhoun, Terrance Garmon and Vernon James all made plays from their linebacker spots. And Andrew Sendejo, who started as a true freshman last year, looked ready to continue to vie for All-Conference honors.

Rice head coach David Bailiff readily concedes that his team’s deepest position is wide receiver. Owl fans already know what Jarett Dillard can do, but Corbin Smiter and Toren Dixon looked good catching the ball Satruday, as well. . Joel Armstrong is a proven commodity, as is Tommy Henderson. Pierre Beasley is still learning the ropes. Andrew Novak didn’t dent the box score, but he could also be a factor.

As expected, Chase Clement looked to be the team leader, but John Shepherd looks much more mature with a year under his belt. He isn't ready to take Chase's job, but he should be much more refined than what we saw last fall. Clement was 17-27 with one interception, throwing for 188 yarda and a touchdown, while Shep was 5-for-10 for 39 yards.

The game-deciding sacks came on consecutive plays after Chase Clement had driven the Blue offense 46 yards to the Gray 22 in the final two minutes. Chase completed four of five passes on that drive, including three in a row to Joel Armstrong for 39 yards.

Clement led the offense to its lone touchdown midway through the scrimmage. He completed seven of nine passes on the drive, including three for 45 yards to Toren Dixon. He found Corbin Smiter in the end zone for a nine-yard scoring strike to cap the drive.

The Rice offensive line has some injuries and wasn't quite up to par. There were several false starts, and not a lot of holes opened up. Still Marcus Knox was able to rush for a game-leading 68 yards on only five carries, including a beautiful 49 yarder that set up a 19-yard Clark Fangmeier field goal. Knox seems to be the front runner for the starting tailback job, but is being pushed by C.J. Ugokwe and Bio Bilaye-Benibo.

Fang’s chip-shot field goal staked the Blue to a 16-13 lead, but the defense took the lead for good one series later when Robert Calhoun grabbed a deflected Clement pass for an interception, good for four points.

It was a cold, windy day, but the die-hard fans present braved the weather to get a glimpse of the 2007 Owls. THey saw that there's stilll a lot of work left to be done, come two-a-days, and many freshmen will need to come in and add some depth to the ranks. To start compiling a list of ‘if’s’ – IF the Feathered Flock gets some of the injured healed up, and get back a couple of others who missed the spring semester, expectations loom high for an exciting fall for Rice fans.

Lagniappe
By Mark Anderson

Last year, the offense dominated the defense in the Spring Game. Evidently, the defense hadn't forgotten and issued a little payback in this year's version.

The defense was lead by this writer's co-MVPs on defense for the game, Robert Calhoun and Chris Douglass. Calhoun flashed some of that potential all knew he had by intercepting a Chase Clement pass intended for Joel Armstrong, and by leading the way on defense, playing a very physical game.

Chris Douglass, on the other hand, made the defensive play of the day against All-American wide receiver Jarett Dillard. Dillard and Douglass leaped for a pass in the corner, and it was clearly in Dillard's hands.

That was before Douglass' arm came up between Dillard's, popping the ball in the air, and Douglass had the ball in his hands until Dillard returned the favor. Douglass stepped up his game in the absence of Brandon King, and showed that he may well be a force to be reckoned with in September.

Offensively, Chase Clement led the offense to their only score on a pass to Corbin Smiter. Clement Smiter caught one other pass on the day, an acrobatic one-handed catch with Justin Abt covering him like a blanket.

Torren Dixon led all receivers with five catches for 55 yards, while Joel Armstrong had four catches for 41, with at least two of those coming late in the game. Dillard, seeing limited action, caught only one pass for 10 yards.

Clearly, the offense was limited in what it could and could not do on this day, some by design of the coaching staff, and some by design of the defensive players on the other side of the ball.

In last year's spring game, the running backs ran like wild hogs. This year, the defense was so smothering of the running game it seemed like defensive team picture time.

Last year, Bio Benibo (if memory is right) ran for over 150 yards. This year, the new 4-2-5 defense held him to a grand total of 20, and almost brought him down in the end zone for a safety on top of it.

The bright spot in the running game was Marcus Knox, this writer's offensive MVP for the day. Knox had 5 carries for 68 yards, including a 49 yard run that had shades of Tony Dorsett written all over it. He also caught two passes, including a 22 yard pass down the sidelines that was a very difficult catch.

 

'I can't hear you...'
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Rice coaches put the audiometer on Owl defensive 'yell leaders' during Monday's workout (PTH photo)


Focus on fundamentals
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Senior offensive lineman David Perkins works on his blocking technique as the Owls spent extra time on the basics in Wednesday's workout, followed by seven-on-seven drills aimed at the short passing game (PTH photo)

Rush-hour traffic...
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Owl tight end Taylor Wardlaw hauls in pass amid two Rice defenders during Monday's workout (PTH photo)


Owls whoop it up,
staff gears down
in Monday workout

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Tight end Will Schoppa hauls in pass and runs like a Deere in Monday's workout (PTH photo)

HOUSTON (April 9) – The Rice Owls conducted an enthusiastic full-pads workout on the Rice Stadium turf here Monday afternoon, as the team and coaching staff began to gear down for Saturday’s upcoming spring game.

The Owls have their last full-pads practice Tuesday, and then Thursday will work out in shorts and helmets before winding up the 15-session spring regimen with Saturday’s noon kickoff.

"It must be the weather or something, but today was probably our best practice," Rice head coach David Bailiff told us afterwards. "They continue to come out with a good attitude, but with the cool weather today, you saw a lot of personality expressed out there on the field, and you heard a lot of chatter."

The first part of the workout was devoted to making additions to the playbook on both sides of the ball. The Owl receiving corps installed some wrinkles to their downfield blocking schemes – some moves that should please Owl fans when they see them put into effect, come September.

Suffice it to say that the new blocking schemes and short pass routes involve some nifty deception, misdirection, and screening. If the game were basketball, you’d have to whistle the Owls for a moving pick. But this ain’t basketball.

"We’re still continuing to improve; we’re still continuing to add things both offensively and defensively," Coach Bailiff said.   "They’re absorbing them, and coming out on the field and taking in what they’ve learned in the classroom."

"I've got 13"

On the defensive side, Rice assistants exhorted their charges to get vocal. In fact, at one point, Coach Elliot conducted a ‘screaming’ drill. "I want all of you to yell out, just as loud as you can," he said. "And then get louder."

The point was recognition, and then communication. When the offense showed a particular look, the defenders had code words to yell out loud enough so all eleven men on the field could hear it. And then the outside linebackers, or in other cases corners who were cheating up, would have to yell out their man’s number, as in "I’ve got 13!"

When the squad went 11-on-11, the emphasis was on the medium passing game. Suffice it to say the Owl receiving corps, as a unit, is looking sharper than they ever did during the ‘06 season.

This time around, it isn’t a one-man show.

But that doesn’t mean that that certain ‘one man’ wasn’t putting on a show of his own on the field Monday. All-American wide receiver Jarrett Dillard made a couple catches of the "I don’t believe what I just saw" variety – as acrobatic as any he pulled down against Owl foes last fall.

And that was with Rice’s number one pass defender, Ja’Corey Shepherd, hanging all over him. Ja’Corey and JD are best of buddies off the field, but really go after it one-on-one when it’s time to run pass routes -- as they did Monday.

Joel Armstrong also made one phenominal, twisting touchdown reception that drew hoots and backslaps from his teammates.

Greg’s little brother, no longer

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That blur is Tommy Henderson, going horizontal to catch errant pass while staying inbounds (PTH photo)

Then there was little Tommy Henderson. Except don’t call him ‘little’ anymore. In fact, don’t even call him ‘Tommy.’

Frankly, somebody must be putting something into that boy’s chow – because he’s been an animal out there this spring. Number seven stretched out prone and flew several yards, several feet above the ground, to snag one pass right past the first-down marker that looked totally impossible to haul in.

He’s put on a few pounds, and all of it is muscle. It’s going to be fun to see what he does Saturday when he gets his chances at the ball.

So while the running game is still a bit of a cipher, owing to the lack of numbers at the running back position and the focus, this spring, on fine-tuning the passing game, the Rice receivers appear to be clicking on all cylinders as spring drills wind down.

"They’ve had a great spring," Coach Bailiff said of his receiving corps. "I think we’ve got six really quality receivers – and that’s what it’s going to take."

"It's nice to have the different personnel packages that you can run in with those guys, and it helps us to be multiple."

Defensively, one can simply say that the new, four-man alignment has Owl defenders a lot more relaxed and enthusiastic.

"We’re bringing in the same mentality and same aggressiveness that we had last season, plus more," senior nose tackle George Chukwu said Monday. The ‘plus more’ part he alluded to apparently has to do with the team’s satisfaction over the shift from a three-man to a four-man defensive front.

"Everybody on the team is more comfortable with the 4-2-5," George said. "You don’t have to deal with those big gaps between the ends and the nose guard," he added, which apparently was cause for consternation among not only the big guys but the linebackers and d-backs as well, last year.

As for the kicking game, Clark Fangmeier was regularly banging them across the goal posts from 40 yards -plus Monday, while Luke Juist, currently the team’s number one punter, was getting excellent hang time on his punts, as his coaches worked with him on extending his distance.

'It’s just going to be offense versus defense'

Saturday, Owl fans won’t see two sets of offenses and defense on the field. Rather, with the short numbers, the units won’t split up into two teams.

"It’s just going to be offense versus defense," Coach said. "We’ll be able to keep score on the board, but the defense will score its points by making stops."

"If they get a turnover, four points. If they tackle for loss, it’s one point."

"We don’t have enough numbers to go one versus one and two versus two, so we’ll stay with the units as they are and take some time-outs to keep the guys fresh."

--P.T.H.

It's mano a mano....
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The Rice offensive and defensive fronts go head-to-head during Friday's controlled scrimmage (M.A. photo)

Each unit has its focus
in Friday's scrimmage

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Owl slotback Tommy Henderson eyeballs his defender as running back takes the handle in background (PTH photo)

X

HOUSTON (Mar. 30) – The Rice Owls entered the back stretch of their 2007 spring practice run with a controlled scrimmage in their ninth of 15 allowed workouts on the Rice Stadium turf here Friday afternoon.

On the offense, the focus tended to be toward the intermediate passing game, while on the defensive side, all eyes were on the Owl four-man defensive front, and the comments were uniformly favorable on the DL’s performance. Well, predominantly favorable, anyway.

Co-defensive coordinator Chuck Driesbach labeled Owl defensive overall effort "sometimes good, sometimes bad."

Now, bear in mind that Coach Driesbach is sort of the football-coach version of R. Lee Ermey-as-gunnery sergeant.  But a quick look through his gruff exterior revealed he, in fact, was quite happy with the work of defensive front in Friday's scrimmage.

"I was very, very pleased with our ‘one’s (defensive tackles)," he said. "I thought they came out with a lot of purpose, and played with a lot of enthusiasm and passion. And for the most part, other than the very first play of the scrimmage, I thought the defense has been as good as it’s been since we’ve gotten here."

Rice head coach David Bailiff explained that in his system, at least in the spring, everybody who plays in front of the linebackers is a ‘one.’ "We rolled them on through," he noted. "It’s not really a ‘one’ and a ‘two’ – everybody’s a ‘one.’"

Coach B was particularly pleased with performance of Rice defendsive end Dietrich Davis.   DD missed the first six practices of the spring, still rehabbing from his season-ending injury last year, but came on strong this week, and showed little sign of having missed a beat at all in Friday’s scrimmage, Coach said.

"It’s been nice to get Dietrich back," he noted. "He’s a very explosive football player."

The Owls, too, have the services of former minor league baseball player James Casey, the 6-4, 245- pounder from Azle. James transferred in, in the spring, and will be 23 his next birthday but is still a freshman for eligibility purposes.

Rice defensive line coach Darin Elliot admitted it’s been a rather steep learning curve for Ol’ Case, but added that there’s great potential in the 22-year-old, not to mention some added maturity.

"He has improved tremendously; he's gotten better with every practice," Coach Elliot said.  "He has a bright future here."

The Rice staff is mighty glad to have the big guy out on the field, owing to the move from a three-man front to a four-man defensive line, positing the need for additional personnel.

One indirect benefit from the scant numbers is that the guys who are on the field can get more action in, during the limited, 15-practice spring schedule, Coach Elliot said.

"They’re getting better," he quipped, referring to his DLs overall. "Our numbers are kind of low, but on the other hand that means we’re able to get a lot of reps in practice. And we’re seeing improvement in every practice."

Another ‘first’ for Friday’s workout was the initial opportunity for quarterback-turned-wideout Pierre Beasley to be able to show his stuff on the receiving end.

"It feels good right now," Pierre told us afterwards, "but I’m still really trying the learn the position, to learn more about the little things that are going to make me a better receiver."

"I’ve played on the offensive side since Little League, and it’s good just to be able to get out there and handle the ball."

That, apparently, and the little matter of downfield blocking, which was a big focus during Friday’s scrimmage as well.

"We’re doing some good things, but we still are going to have to do a much better job with our blocking," wide receivers coach David Beaty said afterwards, "and that’s one of the biggest focuses we have in this offseason – to become better blockers."

Among the running backs, Marcus Knox took advantage of some that that downfield blocking, turning  some heads with both deft moves and exhibitions of tough running.

But if one had to award a ‘win’ to one side or the other this day, it probably had to go to the defense, but Coach Bailiff said the respective performances of the two units were basically a wash.

"It was a scrimmage where we got better; you saw that the offense had some big plays and then you’d see the defense bow their necks," he noted. "They’re still learning our offense and learning our defense but each unit is making strides."

--P.T.H., M.A.

Ready, set, go....
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Members of the Rice offensive line work on agility drills in spring practice action last week (M.A. photo)

Owls get into physical
in first full-pads outing

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The action gets hot and heavy downfield as the Owls continued to hone their skills in full pads last week (M. A. photo)

By Mark Anderson

HOUSTON (Mar. 19) -- The Rice Owls hit the practice field on Saturday afternoon, strapping on the pads for the first time this year. As practice was about to start, Offensive Coordinator Tom Hermann reminded the Owls of one word at the bottom of their workout schedule: physical. "We're going to set the tone of the season today," he told the team.

The Owls did exactly that-- they got physical.

Ask Andrew Novak, who took what might have been the hardest hit of the day, or Bio Benibo, who was separated from the ball on a clean hit by Terrance Garmon. Ask the running backs who lined up in a one-on-one blocking drill, with the goal of bringing them down. Sometimes they got through but sometimes they didn't. And usually when they didn't, it was due to a hard lick laid on them by the defender.

The wide receivers seemed to have an exceptional day. While the coverage was often very good, the receivers, led by Jarett Dillard, ran clean, crisp, routes. Those crisp routes gave them just enough room to make the catch in many cases.

One player who changed positions (again) is Gary Anderson. He is playing cornerback, and the one thing he brings to it is speed to burn. "I ran a 4.28 on the track field earlier this year," Garry told us. While he's still working on technique, he stayed with many of the receivers in coverage.

Another player to switch positions is senior Bubba Heard. Bubba lined up as a tailback on Saturday, and did a good job both running and receiving. Bio was simply outstanding at tailback, both running and receiving. Marcus Knox also pleased his coaches in both areas on Saturday as well.

Offensive coordinator Tom Hermann said he was pleased with the first practice in pads. "Well, I think for day one in pads, we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish," Hermann said after practice. "We had the mentality that we were going to come out on day one in pads and be physical, and we were going to set the tempo for the '07 season today, and have a physical offense, and I think we did that."

Hermann was very happy about one aspect of practice. "We've got a lot of polishing to do," he said, "but the big things I think we took care of today, like being physical, protecting the football, and adjusting to the first day in pads pretty well."

Coach Baliff also appeared pleased. "You know what, let's watch the video, but it looked like we've got pretty good team speed," Coach Baliff said after practice. "You saw them run around some, guys took great angles to the football, and the linemen sustained some blocks."


Up close and personal...
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Owls face off and pop pads in Friday scrimmage (Mark Anderson photo)

A matter of priorities
Establish order, then forge program

11th-hour entrance not the first time for new Rice head man

By Mark Anderson

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New Rice coach David Bailiff readily accepted challenges presented by small, academically elite school (PTH photo)

HOUSTON (Mar. 11) —When David Bailiff took the head coaching job at Rice in late January, he walked into a situation that had gone through considerable up- heaval the week before he arrived. All of the former coaching staff, with three exceptions, had taken jobs at Tulsa. Because of that, recruiting was up in the air. It seemed to present a difficult ordeal for anyone who came to Rice as the head coach.

That was the situation when Rice Athletic Director Chris DelConte stepped to the microphone and introduced David Bailiff as the new head coach on January 19. Our publication’s headline at the time, proclaimed "Order in the Court." It turned out there was more truth to that headline than we could have realized that day.

Coach Bailiff indeed came to Rice to establish order—in recruiting, among the players, and by establishing a program. One thing you can take to the bank with you about David Bailiff is this—he did not come here to lose. He came to establishing a winning program—in fact, in time, a top 25 program. We’ll get to that later in the story.

However, there’s something that needs to be pointed out about Bailiff’s hiring at Rice and his hiring at Texas State University. There are some very common threads in both stories.

In fact, it’s almost "deja vu all over again" for Bailiff.

David Bailiff’s ascent to the head coaching job at Rice has an interesting parallel—his being named head coach at Texas State University on February 5, 2004. Bailiff’s predecessor, Manny Matsakis, and the athletic director, Greg LeFluer, were abruptly fired one week before national signing day by Texas State president Denise Trauth. After Bailiff was hired, a great majority of the recruiting class stood by Texas State, and Bailiff went on to established a winning program.

Now he’s looking to do the same thing on South Main.

So how did he do it in San Marcos?

New head man not one to make predictions

Let’s start by talking about what he didn’t do—he didn’t make predictions. And he won’t make predictions about the 2007 season, either. His coach while he played at Southwest Texas State was Jim Wacker. "I’ll tell you one of the great things Coach Wacker did teach me", Bailiff told us Thursday. "I was sitting in a press conference, and they were trying to get him to predict the future. He told that sports reporter, ‘I’ve noticed that those who predict the future live in crappy houses.’ Bailiff added, "For some reason, that made an impression on me."

This doesn’t mean Coach Bailiff does not have a vision for Rice, both this year and in the future. Clearly, he does. "But I know we’re going to put a product out on the field that is going to work hard, be passionate about Rice, and do all the right things," he said. "We’re going to build on last year’s successes."

Another part of that vision is to transform the Rice football program into a top 25 program. For many, if not most, that may seem like a pipe dream. But don’t try and tell Bailiff this team cannot become a top 25 team. "I think if we all do this together, we can turn this into a top 25 program," Coach Bailiff said. "We need to continue to do things the Rice way." One way Bailiff pointed to that could bring this about was "let these young men know what a Rice diploma can do for them for the next 50 years." Don’t accuse Bailiff of not having vision.

That vision began taking shape the day he signed with Rice. The first thing Coach Bailiff did after signing his name on the dotted line was to go through orientation. That very night, he met with many of the recruits. And he shared some things about Rice that he had learned to share with them. When Bailiff was hired, he had already learned one thing about Rice—everything cooked in campus was made from scratch by chefs. He pointed out that was a great selling point for Rice football, because it meant the players would be fed well.

The second thing Bailiff did was go on a fact-finding mission. When the recruits had left campus, Bailiff called a staff meeting. It wasn’t a short one that Sunday—it was a ten hour meeting, attended by all the coaches, as well as AD Chris DelConte.

They started sifting through some important information that day. One of those pieces of important information was which recruits were still out there. The biggest help that day, according to Bailiff, was none other than DelConte. He burned a path in the carpet that afternoon between the staff meeting room and his office to gather information for Coach Bailiff, Coach revealed. That information became crucial as Bailiff and the coaches worked tirelessly to recruit young men who fit the Rice profile.

The third thing Coach Bailiff did was begin sitting down with the players left in the wake of what had just happened to them. "They were hurt," Bailiff said.

Cell phone a godsend when time's at a premium

He met with the players position by position first. He then sat down with each player individually. His cell phone has also been put to a lot of use—and will be in even greater use this week, he said. "So far, all the coaches have called the parents," Bailiff said. "This week, I’m going to call their parents at night."

"We want the parents involved. I didn’t get the opportunity to sit in their house and recruit them, but I want them to know their son is important to me."

Bailiff understood what needed to happen in his first days at Rice—and he made it happen quickly.

When you see Coach Bailiff on the sidelines this coming season, you will no doubt see a game plan with him. But a closer look at Coach Bailiff shows he has a game plan for every day. He is organized, and every detail is important to him. When he coached at New Mexico State, he did so under Coach Dennis Franchione. It was Coach Fran who taught Bailiff the importance of being detail-oriented, the Rice mentor said. "Fran taught you how to be extremely detail-oriented in everything you do," recalled Bailiff. "There is no such thing as a small detail." While each of those small details may seem insignificant to the casual observer, Bailiff understands that just as Rome was built brick-by-brick, so also is a program.

With David Bailiff, there is one thing that sticks out: he does bring order and organization into this situation. He’s done it before. Now, he has the opportunity to do it at Rice, and establish more than a winning season—he’s here to establish a winning program. He’s going to build on the momentum of last season and get all Rice alums and fans on board to move forward with him to create a winner at Rice.

Can history repeat itself in Coach Bailiff’s career? There’s ample reason to believe it can.


Putting sweat in the bank....
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Senior Owl defensive lineman George Chukwu shows his stuff in agility drill as he pivots around blocking dummy in Monday's action (PTH photo)

Owls go through basics,
run pass routes in spirited
first workout of season

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Rice first-team All-American WR Jarett Dillard (R) is so smooth he can fake a man out with his eyes, as seen here during Monday's workout (PTH photo)

HOUSTON (Mar. 12) -- The Rice coaching tenure of David Bailiff began in earnest here Monday afternoon as his  Rice Owls opened spring drills in anticipation of next fall's football campaign. The Feathered Flock was methodical but enthusiastic as the group began the day with the most basic of conditioning exercises but ended their two-hour workout with a spirited seven-on-seven passing drill.

Some 53 players were dressed out and ready to play, but several other Owls are currently nursing injuries and will not be practicing, at least for the opening workouts of the spring regimen.

The new Rice head man cautioned Owl fans not to sweat it about the low total of upperclassmen strapping on the pads for spring practice.

"Really, we’re fine," Coach Bailiff told us afterwards. "We picked up three guys from track, so we’re up to 53. We’re fine, really. They’re good, hard-working guys – and we’re going to just practice smart and make sure everybody gets through all 15 practices."

"We had a lot of fun today. The first 30 minutes was all about getting on the same page, but it was a lot of great work, a lot of enthusiasm, and a lot of passion," Coach Bailiff also told us. "We came out here today with the edge, and we wanted to get better – and I think that’s what we did."

The Rice staff had two players with yellow quarterback jerseys on, Chase Clement and Pierre Beasley, but a third man-under, John Thomas Shepherd, had the day off in sick bay. "We’ve got a bug going on, so Shep is – tragically – in the dormitory today," Coach said with a wink. "The doctors sent him home. But we expect him to be back Wednesday."

The running back spot was a bit on the thin side as well, as Bio Benibo, who’s expected to see significant action next season, will be sitting out the first couple of weeks of drills completing his comeback from an injury. Marcus Knox took most of the play reps at running back during the seven-on-seven, but this first day was not about anything dealing with the running game.

On the other hand, the Rice staff immediately had the receivers and slotbacks jump right in and start working on their pass routes – with defensive backs covering.

"You saw how we ran the last three periods of practice, how we wanted rapid-rep, high-intensity," Coach Bailiff said.

Those two terms aptly described at least three of the Owls’ receiving weapons. The first one – well, no need even to mention his name. Number 81 was cruising the Rice Stadium turf Monday as if he owned it. And of course he does, still.

But Joel Armstrong, now sporting number 1, and Tommy Henderson both looked as slick as greyhounds as they ran their routes Monday,  Tommy short and Joel mostly deep. Both appear to be in the best playing conditions of their careers.

And Chase Clement was accurately zipping the ball with authority, showing no ill effects from his season-ending cracked collarbone last November.

Among the linebackers, Brian Raines was dressed out but did not participate in drills, instead sporting a clipboard and acting as yet another coach on the fyield, aligning his younger defensive cohorts and shouting instruction and encouragement.

The offensive and defensive lines spent virtually the whole practice on blocking dummy variations, in each case emphasizing quickness and the ability to shift direction and cover ground quickly, rather than brute force.

Among the DLs, Chris Ptaszek and George Chukwu both were noteworthy in their ability to move their ample avoirdupois and shift and change direction with relative ease.

As for further reports on line play, Coach Bailiff said we’ll all need to wait and see how they perform in pads before much can be said of their progress.

"Once again, you’ve just got to be smart," he said, alluding again to the relatively depleted numbers. "We’ll be able to put everything in. It won’t slow us down at all."

"I really feel good walking off this field today," he added. "It’s really fun when you see the hard work of the coaches and players starting to come together."

After all, Monday was the first time the Rice brain trust got to see any of their charges handle a football. "It was the first time, really, that we got to see Jarett catch a ball and Chase throw the the football and Pierre throw the ball," Coach emphasized.

"That’s fun to watch for an old coach, you know. And it will get better in three days when we’re able to put the full pads on."

The Rice staff did not plan on installing any scheme on Monday. Rather, it was a day for evaluation. "First we want to make sure we know where everybody’s the best fit," the former Texas State coach said.  "We’re implementing what some of the standards are to these players right now."

"We’re going to break them into classes and talk to each class; that’s one of the ways we’re going to break things down," Coach Bailiff concluded.

The Owls work out again in shorts and helmets on Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. – and Owl fans are invited to come out and view the proceedings.

--P.T.H.     Owls hoot, Coach talks it over,  after first workout of spring....wavsymbol.jpg (416 bytes)new.gif (908 bytes)

Bailiff era begins next Monday
as Owls report for spring drills

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"I’ve never gone through spring training with 50 players before"

 

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"Competition’s what makes you great. Everyone out there – they’re all important pieces of the puzzle. Everybody’s just a different-sized piece"

 

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"We are going to install a totally new defense, in the 4-3, and there’ll be a learning curve there"

HOUSTON (March 8) – The Rice Owl gridders are all set to strap on the pads for yet another season, once again with a new helmsman at the tiller for the second year in a row. The Owls’ first day of spring drills is Monday, March 12, and that will begin an important evaluation process for new Rice head coach David Bailiff and his staff.

Once you count out the red-cross players, Coach Bailiff said he expects only slightly north of 50 healthy bodies out there on the practice field, come Monday. That’s an almost unprecedentedly small group for a Division 1A program.

"I’ve never gone through spring training with 50 players before," Coach Bailiff told us Thursday. "And so we’re going to have to alter a lot of what we like doing, as far as heavy contact and drill days are concerned," he added.

With the roster size being more akin to an NFL team that an enormous college squad, the new Rice head man consulted a friend of his who works a couple of miles down South Main.

"We’ve actually talked to Gary Kubiak about dealing with our numbers," Coach said. "We got some good help from him; he mainly emphasized the importance of keeping players healthy while still getting in the necessary amount of work.."

Owl fans who visit the spring workouts – and they will be open to the public, Coach Bailiff emphasizes – may see some truncated activity going on, out on the Rice Stadium turf.

"We’re going to have to do a lot more half-line, a lot more – I guess three and a half--three and a half, instead of seven-on-seven," Coach quipped. "Not to run the receivers and defensive backs to pegs. So it’s going to be short bursts of intensive effort. Because the most important thing is to get these young men through all 15 practices healthy."

"There’s a lot of talent and a lot of speed, but we’re just short in numbers, so we’ve got to continue the growth of the numbers in this program," Coach added.

The short numbers doesn’t mean there won’t be a battle for positions. Basically, every job is on the line, the new Rice mentor said.

"Everything will be open," he emphasized. "Competition’s what makes you great. Everyone out there – they’re all important pieces of the puzzle. Everybody’s just a different-sized piece."

The first few days of the regimen will focus on installations, especially on the defensive side, Coach Bailiff said.

"We are going to install a totally new defense, in the 4-2, and there’ll be a learning curve there," Coach Bailiff said. "It’s language, and the guys are going to have to learn our language; once they get that, it gets better."

The Rice staff expects to have three controlled, but what Coach Bailiff called "get-after-it" scrimmages, with officials, before capping of the spring workouts with the annual Blue-Grey Spring Game at noon on Saturday, April 14th.

That will be a big day for Rice football, as the 2007 Spring Junior Owl Clinic will be held Saturday morning at Rice Stadium prior to the Game. The Junior Owl Clinic will open to kids of all ages; it will start at 10:00 am and will run until 11:00. Following the clinic there will be an autograph session with the players and an ice cream social. The Junior Owls will be encouraged to stay for the Spring Game which will begin at 12:00 noon. Parents of prospective Junior Owls can call the football office at 713-348-6900 with any questions about participation in the proceedings..

After the game on Saturday night the staff will be hosting the Annual Football Banquet to cap off spring formalities. The Owl seniors will be honored at the event, to which the public is invited. Tickets are available online at RiceOwls.com, and there will be a silent auction starting at 6:00 p.m. wherein Rice football memorabilia and related items will be up for grabs by the attendees.

We’ll report regularly on the goings-on from Rice Stadium between now and April 14, with twice-a-week brief interviews with Coach Bailiff, assistant coaches and players. We’ll get photos of the proceedings a couple of times a week as well, and generally try and keep Owl fans apprised of the progress this year’s team is making under its new tutelage.

So stay tuned.

--P.T.H.

07sprdbmug1.jpg (17123 bytes) Head Man on spring drills...wavsymbol.jpg (416 bytes)
'Every one of those guys out there is going to be an important piece of the puzzle...'
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"Misalignments, missed assignments get you beat faster than mismatches..."
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07sprDBtn3.jpg (18225 bytes) Part 3:wavsymbol.jpg (416 bytes)
''We're going to have a blue-collar work ethic out there..."
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Oh, no, ya don't....07sprgame81defends464.jpg (113009 bytes)
Rice wide receiver Jarrett Dillard breaks up what looked like a sure interception in the hands of defender Chris Douglass a mere split-second earlier in spring game action -- guess that's why JD's been named to at least one pre-season first-string All-American team (Mark Anderson photo)  Click here for more Spring Game coverage...

All tied up at the moment....   
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Rice  defender Justin Abt and Owl receiver Corbin Smiter fight for the ball in this scene from April's spring game (Mark Anderson photo)

 

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