March 19, 2014
Chris Thurmond is heading into his third season as the Owls'defensive Coordinator. He shared an overview of the Rice defense as spring drills ramp up.
Goals for Spring: We had 30 takeaways last year 43 led the nation. We left a lot of takeaways on the field and need to do a better job of picking up that loose change. We're going to really talk a lot about creating takeaways and emphasize some drills in order to get more of them this year. We're going to talk about being confident and aggressive.
One of our key words for the spring is going to be "Trigger", meaning just go, don't worry or hesitate. We've made progress in that area but we want to continue to improve so we can play fast. We've been really good on third down for the last year and a half. What we want to work on this spring is to create more negative yardage plays. We'll try to be more aggressive by blitzing more and playing more single high in order to try and expand on some of the things we've been doing on third down.
Cornerback: "We're replacing a guy (Phillip Gaines) who has been a four year starter who played 85% or more of the snaps but we've got some good young guys to look in Anthony Canady, J.T. Blasingame and Ryan Pollard. Michael Warren isn't be practicing with us this spring, but he is someone else we will count on next fall. We've got some young guys there that we've got to get some reps and see which one comes out of that mix. They're all good players. We can expand the role of Bryce this year. He will take over some of the things we have done in the Dime package with Phillip where we match him up with certain people."
Safety: "We've got some talented guys to compete for Paul Porras' spot. The key is for them to get enough reps this spring to get there where they are comfortable in that role and be able to handle all the checks that go with playing that position. We've got good depth at safety and we've got good flexibility. The way we coach those these guys we have listed at the safety spots is that any of them can step in and play any one of those three positions. We've done some things with the defense so that the Strong Safety and the Kat are more of a mirrored position which also allows us to create a little more depth because of the flexibility it allows. You don't have to move them from one side to the other. If you know how to play the strong, you know how to play Kat. It's almost like a left and right concept. We're not completely that way, but we are evolving in that direction.
Linebacker: "We've got James Radcliffe coming back, and he's basically started most of the last two years and then a lot of young guys who can really run. Alex Lyons got a lot of snaps last year. Nick Elder got enough snaps to get a comfort level there. Tabari McGaskey has got great speed and talent, but he got hurt last year just when he was starting to get comfortable. He got a really good upside because he can run the passer, but also drop in to coverage. Nick Uretsky has really got good speed. We're going to be able to have some real speed at linebacker. We lose some experience, but we gain some speed. That's the tradeoff. We're going to be able to put more speed on the field, but not have as much experience.
Defensive Line: "Christian Covington is a special talent and you saw that in the way he continued to fight and be disruptive even when he was only able to grab with one hand after he hurt his thumb late in the year. It was a lot of fun as a coach last year to watch the way he and Mooch (Stuart Mouchantaf) were controlling the middle last year before Stuart hurt his knee. We won't have him back yet this spring, but that allows our other linemen to pick up where they left off at the end of the year."Ross Winship and Cody Henessee stepped up when needed them last year and they will continue to get a lot of work this spring. We'll be able to work on a lot of different packages. Brad Luvender will have a great chance to get a lot of quality reps right away, which might not have been the case in the fall. The one thing about our spring practices is that guys will never have to worry about not getting enough reps. "
"We have to replace both our ends. Graysen Schantz is someone that people didn't get a chance to see much since he was hurt in the opener, but he really is someone who has incredible speed and really plays hard. It will be fun to see him in the mix this spring. We have Zach Patt, who has a lot of experience as does Brian Nordstrom, who really stepped up when we need him last year. We also have Grant Peterson healthy and we now have Derek Brown full time as a defensive end. It's no longer a good athlete coming over as an experiment. We'll expand our package with four down, where Derek might be down or he might drop back and be involved in some coverage. With him in the game, we can do some of our dime concepts with our base people in the game, which will give us some greater flexibility."