This week will mark the beginning of a new era for Rice football: Head coach Mike Bloomgren will lead his first practice as a collegiate head coach on Thursday when the football team begins its spring practices. The opening practice was originally scheduled to occur on March 5 but was delayed until after spring break due to the passing of junior defensive end Blain Padgett.

The Owls will have 15 practices, including the annual Blue-Gray game, an intrasquad scrimmage that is open to the public. Bloomgren, who has been in the job since December, said he is enjoying being around Houston and Rice in general.

“I think the people here [have] been excellent,” Bloomgren said. “They’ve been awesome to me, they’ve been awesome to my family and so welcoming and the Rice community is so passionate about Rice University and Rice football.

During the winter, the team focused on their strength and conditioning training, but on Thursday they will get out to the playing field for the first time. According to NCAA regulations, their first two practices must be non-contact; only 12 in total can have contact, and only eight out of those 12 can include tackling.

According to Bloomgren, he is excited about getting out on the grass and getting started.

“That’s what I’m looking forward to: Getting the chance to see step one of our system [installed] offensively, defensively and [on] special teams,” Bloomgren said.

One thing that Bloomgren will be looking for is new leaders. Last season’s team had 17 seniors, including veteran standouts Emmanuel Ellerbee, Brian Womac and DJ Green. Bloomgren has made it clear that the future leaders he is looking for need to perform on the field first and foremost.

“To be that leader that we want, you gotta lead from the front,” Bloomgren said. “So, you got to be doing everything right yourself so that your voice will be able to bring those people along.”

Since his hiring, Bloomgren has filled his staff with key assistants that he will count on to head their respective units. Bloomgren hired Pete Lembo as associate head coach and special teams coordinator, Jerry Mack as offensive coordinator and Brian Smith as defensive coordinator. Lembo was most recently the associate head coach at the University of Maryland, Mack comes from the head coaching position at North Carolina Central University and Smith arrives at Rice after two seasons of being the defensive backs coach at the University of Michigan. Bloomgren said he is confident in the choices he has made for these roles.

“They are experts and unbelievable men; I think that’s the starting point of why we hired them,” Bloomgren said. “What you’re getting is three very different coaching styles in those three coaches.”

Usually, one of the main storylines of spring practice at any university is position battles. For Rice, according to Bloomgren, all starting jobs are up for grabs.

“It’s the most fluid depth chart in the world; we might as well call it water because that’s exactly what it is,” Bloomgren said.“We’ve told these guys we’re going to evaluate them from when I took over Dec. 5. This is a real fresh start for these kids and a great opportunity for all of us.”

The Blue-Gray scrimmage is tentatively scheduled for April 21. While Bloomgren said he knows that change does not come overnight, he is hoping to see the team take its initial steps toward improvement during the spring.

“I don’t know that anybody will be masters in their respective systems, but I hope that we have a good understanding of how to do the things we need to do for these offense, defense and special teams units to be successful,” Bloomgren said. “The thing I’m stressing to these guys is process and effort and understanding; that this thing is not going to be built tomorrow, but we have to understand the steps we have to take to get this thing right.”