Rice coach David Bailiff was optimistic across the board when describing his football team on Media Day.
But there was one position where his level of optimism wasn’t quite as high as elsewhere on the football field.
“In this day and age of hurry-up offenses, you’ve got to play 10 to 12 defensive linemen to stay in the ballgame,” Bailiff said. “We’ll have to look at freshmen stepping into help us earlier than we’d like.”
Departures – some expected, some surprise – have taken a toll. Christian Covington is attacking quarterbacks and stuffing the run across town in Houston Texans camp. He left Rice with a year of college eligibility remaining.
Defensive end Brian Nordstrom, who last season complied 7.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss (second highest in school history), took a job as a project engineer at an oil and gas company rather than return for his senior season. Bailiff joked he’s got to find a way to keep headhunters off campus.
The situation could have more bleak if not for the return of Stuart Mouchantaf. The 6-4, 290 pound defensive tackle from Katy missed part of the 2013 season and the entire 2014 season with a knee injury. He had 33 tackles and a blocked PAT in 2013. After a week of practice, Bailiff mentioned that Mouchantaf is again starting to be a disruptive force.
“He had more production than Christian did at the time of his injury,” Bailiff said. “I think Stuart is an all-conference player.”
Joining Mouchantaf on the interior will be Ross Winship. The senior nose tackle from the Woodlands has 33 games of collegiate experience. Senior Grant Peterson also returns. He played in all 13 games last season, recording three sacks and 11 tackles.
At end, sophomores Graysen Schantz and Brian Womac sit atop the depth chart. After filling in for an injured Zach Patt, Schantz wound up as a Conference USA all-freshman team selection. He finished with three sacks and two forced fumbles. An injury limited Womac to six games during 2014. He recorded five tackles and had a sack against UTEP.
“The defensive line will be young and have some inexperience,” Bailiff said. “I expect those guys to get reps, practice hard and be prepared when we play Wagner.”
True freshmen defensive linemen being evaluated in camp include Zach Abercrumbia from Dallas, Carl Thompson from Denton, and Blain Padgett and Roe Wilkins, teammates at Hardin Jefferson in Sour Lake. Bailiff told Houston Chronicle reporter Stephanie Kuzydym on Tuesday he’s been impressed with Abercrumbia, Thompson and Padgett and that they will continue to get serious looks.
The Owls also have two redshirt freshmen defensive linemen, Brady Wright and Preston Gordon.
“We’ve recruited well,” Bailiff said. “There are guys on the defensive line that have not played, but they are talented. We will be young there, but we have some experience in the middle. We have to develop in the defensive line.”
The defensive linemen will have a chance to make their case along with the rest of the Owls at Saturday’s scrimmage. It starts at 9 a.m. at Rice Stadium and is open to the public.
Rice opens the season Sept. 5 at home against Wagner.