Scrimmage No. 1: What To Watch

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The reaction is the same from those who were previously familiar with the program and have taken in one of the Owls' five practices thus far this spring. The energy on offense is palpable, and the renewed vigor with which the Owls participate is obvious. Whether it's David Beaty or John Reagan or David Sloan or Chase Clement, things just feel differently on the offensive side, and for a unit that lacked enthusiasm as 2009 mercifully drew to a close, change is good.

But to an extent intangibles won't cut it. The Owls must improve statistically as well as psychologically on offense, a chore that will be made easier when a starting quarterback is revealed, the depth at tailback is sorted, leaders are established at receiver, and a rotation on the line is determined. David Bailiff will begin to solve some of those pressing issues on Tuesday when the Owls don pads for the fourth time this spring and conduct their initial scrimmage. The pre-scrimmage depth chart is not etched in stone, but roles will be shaped by performances at HRS, with the incremental development of depth enabling Bailiff to hold accountable veterans who were elevated up the depth chart despite their persistent lethargy.

The signal callers - Jr. Nick Fanuzzi, RS So. Taylor Cook and RS Fr. Taylor McHargue - will generate the most attention, and rightfully so. Fanuzzi has approached this spring with a vets' swagger and an enhanced since of commitment, but 'The Taylors' are pushing him hard. Both Cook and McHargue have improved their accuracy and understanding of the offense, and are providing Fanuzzi with the pressure he quite honestly needs to maintain a sharpened focus.

The three proven commodities at tailback - Jr. Tyler Smith, So. Charles Ross and RS So. Sam McGuffie - have been bolstered by the surprising Turner Petersen, whose size (6-2, 210) belies his breakaway speed. No player has been more eye catching on offense thus far, and Petersen might have the most to gain with another exceptional performance in the scrimmage.

With So. TE Luke Willson and Sr. WR Patrick Randolph out with injuries, Bailiff is looking for several receivers to break free from the cluster. Fifth-year Sr. Corbin Smiter has the inside track if he wants it, while Sr. Pierre Beasley and Jr. Randy Kitchens are intriguing options. So. TE Vance McDonald seems sure to excel while RS Fr. WR Donte Moore has the speed to thrive. Can RS Fr. WR Andre Gautreaux force his way into the mix? Will RS So. WR Denzel Wells pick up where he left off last preseason before being sidelined by a shoulder injury? 

Settling on a tight rotation of receivers will advance the stated goal of playing at a hastened pace on offense. Bailiff spoke of working at a speed that no defense would want to match, a process facilitated by the quarterbacks quickly uncovering a set of trustworthy receivers. Whoever meets expectations will maintain previously earned spots on the depth chart or will swipe what's available. The competition should be fiercer than any time in recent memory.

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Haven't made it to practice yet but in talking to others that have seen some of the workouts their comments are practically the same as yours although I hadn't heard the glowing remarks about Petersen.

While I have faith in the new staff getting the O back on track the D still remains a concern. Any reaction to the weakest spot that of LB? Is our Idaho transfer as good as advertised? I do think that our DB's will be solid especially helped out by Leary's return and though thin our D line looks good...leaving the LB as the focal point. One thing we haven't had at Rice is a pool of quality at the LB position in years.

Tiki Owl: Don't know how your spies have missed Petersen; he's been mighty impressive. As for the LBs, I'm holding out hope that improvement will come by way of experience. Hill and Briggs have been running with the first team, and physically they look the part. As for Justin Allen, he's working with the third team. I'm trying not to worry about that given how much I was blowing him up just last week. - MK

Yeah, definitely most attention will be focused on the offense, as that's the group that should perform much, much better than in 2009.

Petersen has been quite a revelation. I liked what I saw of him as a safety in fall workouts last year, so no surprise that his ability is pushing him into a role somewhere.

We're certainly hearing the right things about a change in attitude/tempo.

MK, who is running with the 2nd team at LB's?

Thank You

Rich: Aaron Williams and Matt Nordstrom. - MK

I'm giddy with excitement.

Strength and conditioning has always been given a lot of credit for our successes. How do we look physically? Do you ever observe the Owls during routine workouts? Do we have the same intesity with the new head strength coach that we did with the former?

v-eight: Coach K does a great job, IMHO, as several of the younger players returned this spring looking sturdier than before. The Owls work on max weight training on the winter and dynamic weight training in the summer, and the workouts are pretty intense. Aside from the players who had offseason surgeries, everyone looks bigger, stronger, faster. - MK

Would you please comment on how the offensive and defensive lines are looking? There is where football begins. Defensive end should be strong end defensive tackle hopefully will be improving in quality and depth. What is the extent of the injury to Bauer? Also, what about the offensive line which I believe was a 2009 disappointment.

SamOwl: Bauer will be out for the remainder of the spring, but he'll be back well before the start of preseaon camp. The O-line has looked slightly better than the D-line at this stage, but the substitutions on the D-line have been quite liberal. Once everyone on that side returns to health, I expect the D-line to perform better. With a handful of guys on the O-line looking more powerful, one can only hope that that fact plus the experience gained last season equals improvement up front. - MK

How cognizant is the staff of the need to name a starter at QB by early Fall camp given last season's bungling indecision?

Talon: I think that goes without saying, right? - MK

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