Scrimmage No. 1: McGuffie Is Appointment Viewing

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A word to the wise: When the Owls hold their Spring Game on March 27, attend. The only thing more exhilarating than the threat of So. RB Sam McGuffie breaking loose into the secondary is McGuffie actually breaking loose into the secondary. His speed is breathtaking, but his wiggle is vastly underrated. An uncanny ability to maintain an advantageous angle on a defender was revealed on Tuesday, yet another facet of his athleticism worthy of admiration.

While it was refreshing to watch McGuffie work with the knowledge that he will be available to the Owls this fall, his flash of talent wasn't surprising. Of greater intrigue for the Owls and their aspirations for an improved product on offense was the continued emergence of RS Fr. RB Turner Petersen and the steady development of 'The Taylors' - QBs Taylor Cook and Taylor McHargue. The Owls have a glut at both tailback and quarterback, meaning scrimmages offer observers the opportunity to produce evaluations of those contending for starting positions.

"I was very pleased with our quarterbacks. I was very pleased with our running backs. It was a shame Charles Ross has a virus and couldn't play," Owls coach David Bailiff said. "I was very pleased with the offensive line; I thought they competed very well. We used different combinations at times and we're going to find the five best. We've got great competition."

The offensive line wasn't impressive in the early stages of the scrimmage, for the unit struggled to provide adequate protection for the quarterbacks to get the ball downfield. But as the snaps accumulated the line tightened and kept Scott Solomon, Cheta Ozougwu, Jared Williams and Hosam Shahin at bay. With a clean pocket the quarterbacks repeatedly worked the ball to the talibacks and So. TE Vance McDonald, another indication that a definitive leader at receiver has yet to emerge. Bailiff opened the scrimmage with Corbin Smiter, Derek Clark and Randy Kitchens packaged together, but substitutions were sweeping and frequent.

Bailiff was rather displeased by the erratic performance of his defense, particularly the veterans guilty of misalignments and blown assignments. McDonald snared a scoring pass from Nick Fanuzzi while back peddling into a vacant spot in the back of the end zone, and the tailbacks were repeatedly left unchecked coming out of the backfield. The defense played without Jr. FS Travis Bradshaw, but that fact didn't excuse the miscues that irked Bailiff.

"We've got to get a toughness over there," Bailiff said of the defensive side of the football.

Breakout performances on defense were tough to come by, but one player who remained active to the point of garnering attention was Williams, who seems to have settled in at end. After being toggled back and forth between end and linebacker, Williams appears to have found his niche as a rush end in passing situations. His growth allows the Owls to further maximize their depth at the position, with roles for contributors coming into clearer focus.

For Williams, that means bulking up a little while accepting the fact that he won't be a 260-pound defensive end and embracing the techniques of being a speed rusher off the edge.

"I was feeling comfortable last spring, but then we made the move (to linebacker temporarily) and there were a lot of moves from there," Williams said. "All offseason I've been working at D-end, so I'm feeling more comfortable.

"I'm just focusing on D-end right now. If any (position) changes come, that'll come."

Change has already come for Cook, whose transition from the scout team to the competition for the starting job is complicated by the Owls' turnover in offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach from Ed Zaunbrecher to David Beaty, and their philosophical shift to a faster tempo. Cook participated in spring football with Miami, Fla., last year but this experience at Rice comes following his transfer and a full season of inactivity and watching from the sideline.

As was to be expected, Cook needed a few practices to settle in. His consistency was lacking last week, but those moments where he darts passes to open receivers showcase his arm strength and accuracy, and they legitimize his candidacy as the Owls' quarterback for 2010.

"The offense I came into I wasn't around much except for a few meetings because I was on scout team," Cook said. "The tempo is a lot more fun. The very last drive we had the tempo was fast, and I think that's going to be good. And then Coach Beaty's enthusiasm is good.

"I started off kind of slow the first week and then I picked it up (Monday) and got it going (in Tuesday's scrimmage). A lot of it is just getting comfortable with the system, which I am now."

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I think the only bright spot I saw from the video highlights was McGuffie, who is electric.

Otherwise I saw blown coverage by the safeties, the offensive line struggling to protect, and no downfield passing attack.

Thankfully it's early, but let's hope we see improvement.

Did Allen make an impression? Porras? Is it going to take Baker, Callahan, and Jackson matriculating to get our safety situation figured out?

At Ease: Allen and Porras were in on some plays, but nothing spectacular. One would hope that with all the veteran safeties on this roster that the incoming freshmen wouldn't be needed right away. One would hope that is the case. - MK

I feel like there is some analogy between the football's defense and baseball's pitchers. Both offenses are very dynamic (or supposed to be!) and going against such good competition in intrasquads and practice will hopefully better prepare them for games against good teams. I have to imagine our pitchers benefit some by having faced Rendon, et al. before the season. I feel the same about our defense going against McGuffie, Taylor Fanuzzi, et al.

I could be wrong, but that is what I tell myself.

mrbig: Nothing wrong with daily affirmation. Just ask Stuart Smalley. - MK

Great to hear about McGuffie, as well as the depth we're building at RB.

Even before your comments, my biggest worry is the O-line. If they can't provide protection, we're going to have the same poor QB play that we saw last year. I just hope that one of the QBs can rise above the pack so we can have a clear #1 QB. What happened last year turned out to be a complete mess at that position.

Considering the returning players + additions at QB and RB, do you think it is fair to say we have 3 QB better than any we had last year and 3 RB better than any we had last year? This assumes that the returning guys like Fanuzzi and Ross improve. I think you could make the same argument at a few other positions too, just thinking about it makes me hopeful.

mrbig: Well, here is the comparison. Fanuzzi a year wiser vs. Fanuzzi fresh off a transfer. Taylor Cook vs. JT Shepherd. Taylor McHargue vs. Ryan Lewis. I'd take all three 2010 QBs over the 2009 QBs. As for the tailbacks, I don't see how anyone in C-USA can claim a better foursome than McGuffie-Ross-Smith-Petersen. - MK

MK Thanks for the report. Your usual great stuff. The wiggle comment made me smile.

Looking forward to the spring game.

So, does it appear that Coach Beaty shares our vision for the use of the wildcat in 2010? Too early to tell?

Talon: Too early to tell, but I do plan on having a sit-down with him to discuss coaching philosophy in the coming days. However, I was excited about the two-back stuff I saw on Tuesday, especially if the quarterbacks are given the freedom to run. - MK

Since Turner was recruited as a wideout, he should be another good option out of the backfield. Did the running backs get any passes their way?

Owl 75: Plenty of passes. In fact, the tailbacks were the focal point of the aerial attack in part because the D-line dominated in spurts, which didn't give the quarterbacks time to go down the field, and also because the receivers remain underwhelming. - MK

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