The 2009 Rice Owl Football team took to the Rice Stadium field turf just before 7:00 p.m. Saturday night, with Special Teams players coming out about 20 minutes prior.
I'm not sure Rice fans have ever been so excited about a workout in just shorts and helmets. But fresh off a 10-3 season including a Texas Bowl blowout victory, spirits are understandably high.
Coach Bailiff might have been the happiest guy on the field. He was just beaming as he shared this comment early in the practice, "You hear that? It's the sound of football. The sound of pads popping, of coaches teaching...of guys grunting and working. That's just a great sound isn't it?!?"
Just the shear numbers at each position group were a stark contrast to Bailiff's first practices with the team in the spring of 2007. The fruits of 3 outstanding recruiting classes are really a measure of the work Bailiff has, and is, doing with this team.
Bailiff added, "This is starting to look like a big time program. Look at the athletes out there - aren't they impressive?"
You can't blame Bailiff for admiring the group. In the 20 years this Rice fan has been watching Owl Football, I'm not sure there's ever been a finer group of Rice athletes on the field at once. The job isn't finished, but the work in progress is a beautiful sight.
Now for some highlights...
- As expected, several recruits were on hand to take in the Owls' first practice. We spoke to all of them, and these were the guys who attended: Eli Dickerson (commit), Ian Gray (commit), James Radcliffe (commit), Cameron Nwosu (commit), Klein Oak CB Trey Payne, Lamarque WR Logan Hutton, Kingwood TE Andrew Kinsella, and Tomball TE Matt Marfisi.
Several fans commented on the size of the two O-Line commits - at 6-7 and 6-8 respectively, they are make for a formidable pair to say the least.
- Offense~ overall the Offense had its ups and downs on Day 1. They completed a couple of deep balls, but the QB's failed to hit open receivers at other times. And speaking of, last night none of the 3 separated themselves. It's hard to expect the Offense to have its timing down right off the bat, so don't read too much into this. They also looked very explosive at times.
- Defense~ the Defense looks like it really has a chance to be solid this year. There's more depth in the Secondary than ever. The trio of Sendejo, Jones, and Bradshaw are as good a group as C-USA has to offer. It's hard to tell much about the Defensive Line in non-contact drills, but we keyed on John Gioffre last night after Scott Solomon said he had made big strides. We agree. Gioffre was making plays sideline to sideline last night.
- Special Teams~ this might be the most improved area of the team in 2009 if last night was any indication. Punter Kyle Martens spent time with kicking guru Chris Sailer this summer working on his technique, and it shows. The 6-6 205 pound sophomore was absolutely booming his punts last night. Add to that the return of kicker Clark Fangmeier from what was thought to be a career ending hip ailment, and the Owls look to be in solid shape for 2009.
- Freshmen~ with so many of them it would be impossible to point out all of them. A few that we noticed last night were Phillip Gaines running stride for stride with one of the fastest Owls Patrick Randolph; Hosam Shahin's quickness off the ball; Turner Petersen had a nice pass breakup; Alex Francis made a nice read on a running play, playing off his block perfectly; Andre Gautreaux made a nice catch and run; Taylor McHargue made some nice throws (he looks a lot like Chase in his mannerisms).
- Notes~ Paul Porras has been moved to Wide Receiver. I spoke to him after practice and the 6-2 185 freshman was excited about the move. "I went to the Safety position meeting and Coach Naivar told me to go see Coach Bailiff. I knew something was up. Coach (Bailiff) asked me if I would want to switch to WR? I said sure, I played there my entire high school career so it's no big deal. If it helps the team I'm all for it - hey wherever I can get on the field. I'm pumped."
The Owls practice again tonight at 7:00 p.m.
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