As mentioned in Part I of the Rice preview, the Owls run a 4-2-5 defense that has the ability to force a lot of turnovers. Last year, Rice forced 27 turnovers, ranking them 28th in the country (UCLA was 64th with 21). It's a good thing they forced so many turnovers, because the defense was otherwise a disaster. They ranked 111th in total defense, 112th in passing defense, 88th in rushing defense, and 98th in scoring defense. Rice let go of defensive coordinator Chuck Driesbach and replaced him with Chris Thurmond. Thurmond has a history in coaching the secondary, and purports to bring a sense of aggressiveness to the defense.
The Owls lose three of their four starting linemen from last year's squad, leaving Sr. DE Jared Williams (6'2 250 lbs.) as the only returning starter. Williams will really need to step up his production from a year ago, where he only registered 1 sack and 6 tackles for loss. Williams plays weakside end and brings much more athleticism to the table to strength.
The good news for the rest of the line is that they're not really replacing much production outside of departed Scott Solomon at DE who registered 8.5 of the team's 21 total sacks. Opposite Williams is Jr. Cody Bauer (6'4 255 lbs.) who missed last season due to a knee injury. It's unlikely that he'll be able to match Solomon's sack total, but Rice really needs some production from him.
Inside, RS Fr. Christian Covington (6'3 285 lbs.) will likely start at nose tackle with Sr. Jameel Thomas (6'0 270 lbs.) and So. Nico Carlson (6'3 270 lbs.) battling for the other spot. Rice also has a pair of defensive tackles returning from injury in Jr. Dylan Klare (6'2 270 lbs.) and Jr. Hosam Shahin (6'3 290 lbs.).
The most dynamic player on the defensive side of the ball is arguably Jr. Cameron Nwosu (5'10 235 lbs.). He led the team with 108 tackles last year and scored twice on fumble recoveries. He's a very good athlete and was honorable mention for All-Conference in his starting debut. Nwosu is backed up by Jr. Trey Briggs (6'1 235 lbs.) who has battled injuries for most of the past two seasons.
At the other linebacker spot, Rice will start either Sr. Kyle Prater (6'1 230 lbs.) or So. James Radcliffe (6'2 210 lbs.). Prater is a transfer from LSU and former 4* recruit. Neither are very big. Neither had much production last year (Prater had 19 tackles, Radcliffe had 2).
If Nwosu isn't the most dynamic player on Rice's defense, So. CB Bryce Callahan (5'10 180 lbs.) is. Callahan led the team with 6 interceptions last year. He also led the team in pass deflections with 9. Despite Callahan's talent, Rice gave up 32 touchdown passes and ranked 112 in pass defense.
Opposite Callahan, Sr. Phillip Gaines (6'1 185 lbs.) will start at the other corner spot. He only played in 3 games last year due to injury, but his size is a good asset for the defense. The backup cornerbacks are So. Malcolm Hill (5'11 185 lbs.) and Jr. Alex Francis (5'9 190 lbs.).
At FS, Sr. Corey Frazier (6'1 210 lbs.) returns and hopes to regain his 2010 form after a subpar 2011 season. Frazier is the son of Leslie Frazier, so I'd expect his football acumen to be high, but he managed only 1 interception and 46 tackles last year after gathering 83 tackles in 2010. The SS position will be manned by either former walk-on Jr. Tanner Leland (6'2 220) or So. Gabe Baker (6'1 200 lbs.). Baker is the better athlete, but he only played 4 games last year due to injury. Leland played in all 12 games last season and had 42 tackles.
The rover or KAT position will be manned by Jr. Paul Porras (6'1 190 lbs.). The position is essentially a hybrid LB/S, and Porras was third on the team with 91 tackles last season. He also grabbed 2 interceptions, forced to 2 fumbles, and had 8 pass deflections. He's played in every game since he's been at Rice, and his name will probably come up a lot on Thursday night.
Rice lost P Kyle Martens to graduation, and Jr. Chris Boswell may be handling the place kicking and punting this year. Boswell is a solid kicker, making 17/21 field goals last year and 31/32 XP's. Incoming Fr. Cameron Decall is battling with Boswell for punting duties, but either way, it will be hard to replace Martens who held opponents to just over 6 yards per punt return last year.
Rice hasn't returned a kickoff for a TD since 1984. Jeremy Eddington is the primary kickoff return man, and he'll try to end that drought this year. So. Mario Hull will handle punt return duties, and he had a solid but unspectacular 10 yard per return average last year.
That concludes the Rice Owls preview. Fire away with any additional thoughts and