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'09 spring practice page
Vote Courtney Hall, Tobin Rote for Chargers' all-time team

You can vote for Courtney Hall ’90, who double majored in economics and managerial studies at Rice, to be one of the 50 greatest San Diego Chargers of all time.  Courtney entered Rice at age 16, graduated at age 20, and promptly became the starting center for San Diego from 1989 to 1997 and, as captain, he helped lead the Chargers to the 1995 Super Bowl.  After his playing days were over, he obtained a JD/MBA from the University of Chicago in 2003.

Fan voting is underway through September.  Click here to vote and be sure to scroll through to the centers to vote for Courtney. 

Also, another Rice star, Tobin Rote '50 is on the list of nominated Charger quarterbacks, and you can vote for him as well.   Tobin quarterbacked that  great Rice '49 team previously chronicled here by our columnist, Froggie Williams. 

Rote was the only man to quarterback teams to championships in both the NFL and the American Football League. He is also one of seven NFL quarterbacks to rush for at least 3,000 yards during a career, and one of only two QB's (Fran Tarkenton is the other) to top 300 yards rushing in a season seven times.

Tobin led the 1957 Detroit Lions to a championship, then followed that six years later with the Chargers, who defeated the Boston Patriots to win the 1963 championship.

--PTH

Michigan's loss is Rice's gain -- next year, anyway
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Michigan transfer Sam McGuffie quickly shows what all the hubbub's about as he surges around end before cutting back for a 30-yard gain in Saturday's spring game action (PTH photo)

Defense prevails, but offense impressive in spring game


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DL Brian Stacey shows surprising quickness as he harasses Owl quarterback Ryan Lewis in Saturday spring game action (PTH photo)

HOUSTON (Mar. 28) – The day went to the defense, but the most significant developments derived from Rice’s annual football Spring Game here Saturday arose on the offensive side of the ball.

The Owl defense outscored the offense, 48-44, under a scoring system that awards the defense points for big plays, before a crowd that pushed the 1,000 mark, counting the 300 high school football players who were present for the coaching staff’s second annual Junior Day.

Rice head coach David Bailiff was ebullient with the overall results of the day, as his charges put on quite a show for the potential recruits and diehard Owl fans assembled.

"Today was the defense's day, but we saw a lot of big plays out there by the offense, too," he told us afterwards. "It's clear that Nick Fanuzzi had a good day out there today, but John Thomas also played well, and we saw some good moments from Ryan Lewis."

"What we’re looking for, of course, is to begin to get some separation to start occurring there, because you'd really like to concentrate on getting one of those guys a little more reps."

It was clear that Fanuzzi, the Alabama transfer, looked the most comfortable in his role, Coach noted. In fact, Nick completed six of eight passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns, including a 75-yard bomb to Toren Dixon and a seven yarder and a 13-yard strike to a resurgent Roddy Maginot.

But it was Corbin Smiter who had the longest reception of the day, and 84-yard pitch and catch down the east sideline that carried from his own 14 yard line to the opponent’s 3.

Two plays later, Shane Turner took the ball in from the two – which turned out the be the only rushing touchdown on the day.

The general consensus -- Fanuzzi's the man to beat

09springgameo2runs37tklvx.jpg (156341 bytes)
Owl quarterback Nick Fanuzzi gets ready to apply the jake brakes and make a quick turn around the corner during Saturday's game (PTH photo)

The general consensus among football-knowledgeable onlookers was that Nick Fanuzzi rose to the head of the quarterback class with his effort Saturday.  At times,  Fanuzzi looked like a man among boys out there, but the real scope of his running and scrambling ability was mostly negated by the short leash Rice coaches and officials had on the defense’s rushing of the quarterback.

Once a defender got within a couple of yards of a Man in Yellow, the gendarmes whistled the play dead, so as to minimize the possibility of injury. On at least a couple of occasions, one involving Nick Fanuzzi, and the other involving J T Shepherd, it appeared the quarterback might have scrambled for big yardage downfield, had he been given the full green light.

In fact, John Thomas was virtually as efficient as Fanuzzi, completing 10 of 15 passes, also for 136 yards, and one touchdown, a five-yard crossing route to Patrick Randolph.

Ryan Lewis was not without his moments as well, going nine out of 18 for 112 yards, including one interception.

Fanuzzi, by contrast, threw no interceptions, delivering the ball right on the money virtually every time, including the 75-yard strike to Dixon. However, Nick did suffer one ‘excuse-me’ turnover when he mishandled a handoff in the backfield.

In summary, Coach Bailiff diplomatically remarked, "All three of (the quarterbacks) are still learning the offense– but I’m really proud of how each of them led the team out there today."

Tyler Smith appears to have successfully shaken off injury

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Rice WR Patrick Randolph says 'come to papa' as he lines up his sights on pass reception from John Thomas Shepherd (PTH photo)

In the running back position, Tyler Smith appeared to dispel the concern that so many had over his severe knee injury suffered late in the ‘07 season. After running well all spring and showing a good capability in turning the corner to the outside, he led all rushers Saturday with six carries for 62 yards.

"I am just so pleased with the effort Tyler  made out there today, in fact all spring, especially after having suffered such a bad injury," Coach Bailiff said. "We weren’t sure whether he’d be able to come back at all, but he’s shown that he’s healthy and ready to contribute."

But the story of the Rice rushing game would not be complete without mention of a couple of carries by ineligible redshirt transfer Sam McGuffie – you know, the guy who’s famous on YouTube for leaping tall defenders in a single bound; the only freshman ever to have started at running back for the University of Michigan.

Even though Sam can’t put on a game jersey until 2010, Coach Bailiff said he wanted to be sure McGuffie felt he was part of the mix, serving him up four carries for 40 yards, including a 30-yard cutback that had fans in the stands oohing and ahhing.

On the defensive side, most of the noise was made by the front four, as Scott Solomon roamed the offensive backfield like a wild man, garnering at least four sacks by our count, and being in on the play every time the quarterback tried to set up in the pocket.

Part of that is attributable to the lack of reps undertaken thus far by the Rice offensive line, which is long on talent but short on experience after mass depletions via graduation.

But beyond that, Scott appears bigger, stronger and fast than ever, and showed he will assume a clear leadership role this fall among the eight (or nine) returning starters from the Rice defensive unit.

"That was a fine day out there today, and it felt good," Solly told us. "The defense had a good spring, and we showed with our performance today, I think, that those days of 56 to 48 losses are over."

"The DL played with a lot of fire and enthuusiasm today," Coach Bailiff said. "With the injuries we’d suffered , we knew that there was a chance this spring for some of the younger guys on the defensive line to show what they could do – and they did."

A quiet spring for LBs, but Terrance Garmon says no worries, mate

The linebackers were fairly quiet on the day, but one who managed to score some points for the defense was Matt Nordstrom, a 5-10, 195-pound redshirt sophomore who made an alert pickoff of a Ryan Lewis pass late in the contest.

"That was my first career interception, sure was," Matt told us when approached with the inevitable ‘did that feel good?’ question. "I guess I was in the right position, and I just reacted."

Another Owl ‘backer, this one with quite a bit of experience, Terrance Garmon, told us not to fret about the play of the linebackers. "We've got some experienced players who are ready to come along and step up for us," he said. "I believe we can only improve going into next season, and I expect to see a lot better results on the field."

Co-Defensive coordinator Chuck Driesbach, who plays to the hilt the part of the gruff Marine- instructor-type coach with a hidden heart of gold, allowed that he was far from happy with the results of the day, despite the enthusiastic play of his defenders.

"Well, the defense made some big plays today, but there were also some serious breakdowns," he said afterwards. "We've come a long way this spring, but we've still got a lot of work to do ahead of us. We've seen some good individual results, but we need to be able to play together better as a unit."

Perhaps the Marine-instructor analogy – and Coach Driesbach’s sanguine attitude – are appropriate, considering Rice's first three games this fall line up akin to hitting the beaches at Normandy, with consecutive road contests at UAB, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.

The Owls conclude spring drills this coming week with three straight workouts Monday through Wednesday, culminating with a Wednesday scrimmage. But the feeling emanating from the head coach was that Saturday’s game was the capper to what can only be termed a gratifyingly successful spring campaign.

"It was a great afternoon and I hope it was a lot of fun for the fans and for our guest coaches," Coach B concluded.

--PTH

Rice Spring Game Statistics

Passing:

Nick Fanuzzi 6-8-0 136 yards 3 TDs
John Thomas Shepherd 10-15-1 136 yards 1 TD
Ryan Lewis 9-18-1 112 yards
Brent Hotard 2-4-1 16 yards

Rushing

Tyler Smith 6-62, Sam McGuffie 4-40, Jeramy Goodson 6-23, Shane Turner 7-15 1 TD, Marcus Knox 3-1, Brent Hotard 2-7, John Thomas Shepherd 9- (-6), Ryan Lewis 9-(-9), Nick Fanuzzi 4-(-20).

Receiving

Roddy Maginot 5-50 2 TDs, Tyler Smith 5-31, Corbin Smiter 3-116, Toren Dixon 3-90 1 TD, Taylor Wardlow 2-32, Shane Turner 2-23, Patrick Randolph 2-18, Derek Clark 2-6, Wil Norris 1-17; Pierre Beasley 1-13, Denzel Wells 1-11.

Touchdown plays

Toren Dixon, 75-yard pass from Nick Fanuzzi
Roddy Magninot, 13-yard pass from Fanuzzi
Shane Turner, 2-yard run
Patrick Randolph, 5-yard pass from John Thomas Shepherd
Maginot, 7-yard pass from Fanuzzi

Prepping for spring game, Owls
engage in 'spirited' Tuesday drill

Tonguing for that extra yardage
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Owl running back Tyler Smith gets that tongue set just right as he surges for the sideline, attempting to elude the grasp of Cheta Ozougwu (PTH photo)

HOUSTON (Mar. 24) -- As Rice head coach David Bailiff walked off the practice field after Tuesday's workout, one of his assistants halfway turned toward him and remarked, "Spirited, wasn't it?"

Spirited, it was, as a relatively cool temperature and overcast skies were conducive to some old-fashioned leather popping on both sides of the ball.  It didn't hurt matters that the annual spring game is looming only four days hence.  Both offensive and defensive players thus were striving to impress, jockeying for position and playing time on Saturday.

But beyond that, a relatively settled and ready-to-go defensive first unit, combined with wide-open competition among quarterbacks on the offensive side, made for some big plays and big hits.

More than before, Tuesday’s 11 on 11 game focused on situational drills, combined with substitution routines, getting offensive and defensive units on and off the field -- things conducive to the management of a crisp spring game.

Saturday's event will look like something between a scrimmage and a game, however.  In fact, the scoring will be conducted, just like it was last year, with the defense earning its own points for stops, turnovers, sacks, and so-on.

"We've got just enough players for two units on offense and two units on defense," Coach Bailiff said afterwards.  “That means we don't have enough depth to be able to maintain two complete sets of offenses and defenses -- so we'll go about it the same way we did in last year's spring game."

Some of the particular situations focused on in this Tuesday's workout included working the running game inside the red zone, setting up and running the fade route, one and two-minute drills, and, on the other hand, just starting at the 20, running the offense, and taking it wherever it went.  The running game got a fair amount of emphasis.   And on the defensive side, coaches appeared to be focusing somewhat more on secondary and linebacker play than on the DL.

Among less-experienced players striving for more playing time, defensive backs Max Anyiam (33), Xavier Webb (14)   and David Falgout (25) all had good workouts Tuesday, each of them getting at least one solid breakup and generally making some noise in the middle of the Rice defensive secondary.

Among the running back candidates, Marcus Knox ran especially hard Tuesday, knocking over some people down field after he'd broken through stamp holes in the line.

Coach Bailiff naturally declined to rank his quarterbacks in any order of preference, saying that each of them had had   their good moments -- and their not so good ones -- in the past two weeks.  To the unpolished observer, it appeared that Ryan Lewis held a slight edge when it came to setting up in the pocket, and the overall quality of his throws.  Nick Fanuzzi looked to have the advantage in the running game, and also when it came time to scramble and try to make something out of nothing.  John Thomas Shepherd still held the balance when it came to comfort zone and familiarity in the position.

It's a rather wild guess, but one interpretation might say that, divvying up a  hundred points among the top three candidates, Fanuzzi might rate a 35, Lewis a 34, and Shepherd, a 31.  But that was Tuesday.

Among the receivers, the following noteworthy events were observed:

--Taylor Wardlow generally playing tougher and stronger than before, in one case catching a pass in the flat amid heavy traffic, and cutting to the sideline, taking several defenders with him.

--Corbin Snyder, running the fade route and making a circus catch of a ball thrown by Fanuzzii in the corner of the end zone that JD would've been proud of.  (Owl defenders claimed he pushed off. Hey, good!)

--Shane Turner catching the ball coming out of the backfield, keeping his head up and avoiding defenders for extra yardage.

--The diminutive Will Allday, at 5-8 and 160, making a sharp catch out of the flat and picking up extra yardage with a broken-field run down the sideline.

Generally, the offense appeared to be seeking its own level, the right set of combinations, whereas on the defense, the top 11 seems to closer to being set, so that only individual depth chart challenges comprise any great order of uncertainty.

The most impressive play of the day appeared to be the very last one of the workout, as tight end Wil Norris executed a nifty move down and across the middle, hauling in a pass double-covered and then taking out three defenders as he bulled downfield for about 15 more yards than he might've gotten with a routine effort.   That play highlighted the competition which is going on among TE candidates -- a turn of events that might make for an added dimension to the Rice passing game come this fall.

--P.T.H.

Los 4 Amigos
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All four of Rice's quarterback candidates (from left to right, Ryan Lewis, Nick Fanuzzi, Brent
Hotard, and John Thomas Shepherd) hung around after Tuesday's first scrimmage of the spring to
visit with us a bit (PTH photo)

On the horns of a dilemma
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Rice wide receiver Michael Patterson appears to reflect the position of his Owl team in general,
at the beginning a spring drills-- there's more than one quarterback out there and they're all airing
out the ball; here, John Thomas Shepherd (L) and Ryan Lewis  take their turns (PTH photo)

New offensive coaches greet QB hopefuls in first workout

HOUSTON (Mar. 10) – The 2009 edition of the Rice Owls opened spring drills with a spirited workout in shorts and helmets on the Rice Stadium floor here Monday afternoon, and by all accounts from the Head Man, things have gotten off to a rip-roaring start. 

"I'm so proud of the new coaches and this football team," Rice head coach David Bailiff said afterwards. "They did a lot of work learning the Rice offense, learning the language. Both this staff and these seniors – they want to learn, they want to achieve, and I thought today was a great start to the next season."

Virtually an entire new slate of offensive coaches greeted the team Monday afternoon – and that was after having undertaken a crash course in Rice offensive theory. Thus, Coach Bailiff noted, there’ll be familiarity, but no favoritism, among the Rice offensive brain trust as they prepare to evaluate three potential starting quarterback hopefuls.

"MK and I talked about that earlier," Coach told us, "how it’s really unique that they all come in there’s no preconceived ideas on who can play and who can’t; so it’s truly a wide open race, and the best of play."

Four young men wore the quarterback’s yellow jersey Monday, as Brent Hotard, originally recruited as a quarterback, moved back to that position to take snaps this spring along with Alabama transfer Nick Fanuzzi, senior John Thomas Shepherd, and redshirt freshman Ryan Lewis.

It was a bit strange to see Ryan Lewis wearing the familiar number 12 jersey formerly occupied by James Casey, but he filled out his jersey in good order, having obviously spent time in the weight room during the off season.

All quarterback hopefuls appears to have plenty of arm strength, but beyond that, it’s just too early to tell how the field general derby will pan out this spring. 

"Ed (new Rice offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher) has got a chart set up which will ensure that each of the quarterbacks their fair share of reps," Coach said.

Having nine returning starters on defense is a boon to the development potential of the would-be signal callers, he added, noting that, what with the way the defense played in the last two games of the ‘08 season, each quarterback candidate will be going against first-class competion.

That was apparent, already, on Monday, as, for instance, Andrew Sendejo, even though dressed only in shorts and helment, played much the head-hunter in the defensive backfield during passing drills. David Falgout also had an acrobatic interception that raised whoops and hollers near the end of he workout.

At the single running back position, Justin Hill, Shane Turner, Jeramy Goodson and Marcus Knox all were taking turns, along with as-yet ineligible transfer Sam McGuffie. With the lack of contact, it was impossible to draw early conclusions, but all appeared to be in top physical condition.

A big question mark is DB Joseph Leary, who apparently reinjured the same foot that hobbled him last season. He’s jogging on the sideline but will be held out of contact for the spring, as likely will potential go-to receiver Toren Dixon, who nevertheless was suited out for the practice.  If Dixon stays on the sideline, that will give Pierre Beasley an extra set of reps and additional opportunity to prove himself as a big-money pass-catcher.

Meanwhile, Pat Randolph and Corbin Smiter appeared to show up for drills in mid-season form, Corbin turning heads on a couple of occasions with acrobatic catches.

Conspicuous in their absence during the play reps were DLs Michael Smith and Chance Talbert, but both are expected back for August two-a-days. Scott Solomon, however, looked ready and raring to go.

The Owls continue their four-times-weekly routine with workouts on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of this week.   Thursday will be the first day for full-pads work, and the first scrimmage will take place Tuesday, March 17. A spring game-condition scrimmage will be held on Mar. 28.

--PTH

 

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