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Rice cooks in first Spring Scrimmage

By NATE GRIFFIN, Sportsradio 610
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Rice Football/Bailiff/Courtesy Rice Athletics
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HOUSTON (CBS Houston)– The Houston Texans are starting anew after Reliant Stadium on Kirby Drive was just recently renamed NRG Stadium. Add to that the trade of quarterback Matt Schaub to the Oakland Raiders on Friday, and change is in the air. There’s also an air of excitement as the NFL Draft quickly approaches. There’s more on the trade in another article on this same website. 

Meanwhile, one street south, and roughly 5 to 10 miles due east, there’s also excitement among the masses about the Owls of Rice University on South Main. Just in case you didn’t know, they are the reigning Conference USA Champion.

They held their first spring scrimmage on Saturday after starting spring drills on March 11. There was a nice crowd on hand that got to see the first big play from scrimmage when six-foot-six redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyler Stehling hit wide receiver Zach Wright in stride on a 62-yard deep post play for six. That play got Head Coach David Bailiff’s attention.

“You’re seeing some guys that we need to step up, step up! Tyler Stehling’s first pass was the long touchdown. You can see (that) we’re trying to throw some deep balls today. We’ve worked on that hard. I think that paid some dividends for us today.”

“Tyler Stehling is a tremendous talent,” said newly named Co-offensive Coordinator and wide receivers Coach, Billy Lynch. “He’s just got to get the mental side of it. You saw his first play today what he can do with his arm.”

BIG PLAYS WITH FOCUS ON TEMPO

That was just one of many big plays made on both sides of the ball. But, making big plays wasn’t the sole focus. The eight-year Rice Head Coach zoned in more acutely on the execution and tempo with which plays were being run.

“I was amazed at the offensive tempo and how fast we got to 70 plays; really pleased with the tempo part. I thought it was a really clean first scrimmage procedurally. I thought it was clean from a penalty standpoint. We had a couple of extra-curricular penalties, but not a lot of procedural penalties.”

Rice finished the 2013-14 season with 74 penalties which put them in a middle-of-the-pack-tie with Stanford. So, a minimum of penalties combined with good work all around on Saturday showed promise.

“For the first time, offensively and defensively, I’m walking off this field really feeling good just from the effort that they put in and the passion. We haven’t done a lot of live tackling. You saw that as we got a little fatigued. We had some missed tackles and some missed assignments offensively. But, the tempo and the passion we played with today, I’m excited about the future.

COVINGTON AND THE PREYING DEFENSE

The future is now for the defense coached by soon-to-be third-year defensive coordinator Chris Thurman who has done wonders with a defense that finished No. 111 nationally following the 2011-12 season.

One-eleventh of the starting defense for the last two seasons is 6-foot-3, 295-pound redshirt defensive tackle Christian Covington who has been nothing short of special during his playing time on South Main.

He garnered First-team All C-USA honors by league coaches in 2013 as he led the team with a career and season high 11.5 tackles for loss among 59 stops. Covington also tallied four sacks and was impressive on Saturday getting to and sacking elusive junior quarterback Driphus Jackson on back-to-back plays.

“That’s just my job,” says the unassuming but physically imposing Covington. “Hopefully, that allows him to get better. He’s making me better every day. He’s making the whole defense better. So, hopefully, I’ll just be able to do my part.”

Covington and the entire defense appear to have done their part to this point. They have shown dominance during the spring. But, the progress made during the last two seasons really tells the story.

Following the 2012-13 season, the Owls finished the season ranked 38th. They got even better in 2013-14 and finished as the No. 30th ranked defense in the nation. Seniors Phillip Gaines, Paul Porras, Corey Frazier, Cody Bauer, and Tanner Leland are done. However, the defense returns 20 lettermen which helps to keep continuity.

“Coach Thurman and the defensive coaches, Coach Patterson, Coach Hoefer, and Coach Slayton, they’ve made the emphasis that we don’t really want to have to start up again,” said Covington. “We want to be able to get back and go on all full cylinders. So that was the main emphasis for us. We want to be able to hit the ground running and I’m proud to say that we’ve been doing a pretty good job so far this spring of doing that.”

OFFENSE GIVES GOOD LOOKS

The defense has demonstrated intense effort during the spring due to the big-play capability of the offense. In fact, following Stehling’s touchdown toss to Zach Wright, running back Luke Turner and tight-end Robby Wells were on the receiving end of touchdown passes from Driphus Jackson who engineered 4 scoring drives.

“Driphus is everything you’re looking for in a quarterback,” said Lynch, “from a demeanor standpoint, from a leadership standpoint, from a hard-work standpoint, and all that stuff. There are certainly some things that he can clean up that Coach (Larry) Edmondson is working really hard with him on, and he’s continuing to get better and better.”

Also getting better is running back Darik Dillard who scored on a 4-yard touch-and-go after an athletic mid-air 41-yard grab by wide receiver Dennis Parks from Jackson. Dillard also showed nice cut-back ability and speed on a 51-yard run which five plays later led to a Brandon Hamilton 2-yard touchdown run.

Spring drills for the Owls resume on Monday.

Follow me on twitter for the latest @coloranalyst.

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