UT cornerback Ka’Dar Hollman, left, and wide receiver Andrew Davis collide during a drill under the eyes of coach Jason Candle, top left. Players ran a number of drills during Tuesday’s practice, which was open to media. BLADE/JETTA FRASER
As the University of Toledo football team enters its second week of spring practice, coach Jason Candle is trying to take advantage of the chance to get back on the field and evaluate the talent he has heading into the 2017 season.
“We’re just trying to get guys reps and evaluate them in live situations and as many close to game repetitions as we possibly can simulate and see who will step up and rise to the occasion,” Candle said. “We’re just trying to have good teachable moments and teach the basic fundamentals of our game and let those guys perfect their craft. I think that is really the point of spring football.”
Toledo enters the season with several key questions, but one strength of the team will be at quarterback where the Rockets bring back senior Logan Woodside. Last year Woodside battled with Michael Julian and Mitch Guadagni for the starting job during spring and fall practice. This offseason, after shattering single-season Toledo records for passing yards (4,129) and touchdowns (45) as a junior, Woodside said he will still treat the spring as if he is competing for the starting spot.
“I just come out each day and I can’t think that it’s my job, because if I do that I lose my competitive edge and my will to go out here and play and have fun,” Woodside said. “I’m never going to lose that and I’m just going to go out and try to have fun each day.”
Woodside will have plenty of options to throw the ball to as the wide receiver position is extremely deep. First-team All-MAC performer Cody Thompson is back for his senior season as is junior Jon’Vea Johnson and Diontae Johnson also returns from injury. The Rockets will have to replace Corey Jones in the slot receiver role, but have options in Danzel McKinley-Lewis and Desmond Phillips among others.
The Rockets lose star running back Kareem Hunt, but still bring back a solid stable of backs. Candle said the running backs position has been one of the most competitive groups on the team the past few years. Sophomore Art Thompkins, who already has a 100-yard rushing game, should be in line for more carries and redshirt freshmen Nevone McCrimmon and Shakif Seymour provide a glimpse of what the future may look like at the position. But it appears that senior Terry Swanson is set for the first lead role of his career.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Swanson said. “This is really my very first opportunity to take the carries as the premier back. I believe that I am ready and the coaches believe in me. I’m excited to get this ball rolling.”
Toledo will need to replace three graduating seniors on the offensive line, but players like Brant Weiss, Yazeed Atariwa will have expanded roles and Elijah Nkansah, Bryce Harris, and Nate Jeppesen each return after significant playing time last season.
On the defensive side of the ball, Toledo will have to replace all-conference performers in John Stepec (defensive end), Treyvon Hester (defensive tackle), and DeJuan Rogers (safety). Senior linebacker Ja’Wuan Woodley, a third-team All-MAC pick last season, will be counted on more as a leader of the defense.
“It’s a bigger step up for me in a leadership role,” Woodley said. “All those guys in that defensive room are looking at me to set that example and do the little things right like running to the ball, practicing hard, and developing those good things so they can show up in game time.”
With starting positions up for grabs and room for players to improve by getting more reps, UT is looking to make the most of spring practices.
“I think one of the biggest parts of college football is spring practice,” Woodside said. “It’s where last year I came in and got better and I was telling all these young guys, ‘This is where you go and win a job and get ready to go into fall camp and be a starter and lead this football team.’ ”
After a 9-4 season last year and a disappointing loss to Appalachian State in the Camellia Bowl, the Rockets begin the quest for their first Mid-American Conference championship since 2004.
“The number one goal is definitely to be MAC champions,” Swanson said. “It’s MAC or bust for us. This program has too much talent. We fell short a couple years in the past. But I believe we have the right mindset going into the season.”
Contact Brian Buckey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6110.
Senior Logan Woodside, right, returns at QB, and said he is treating the practices as if he is competing to be the starter. BLADE/JETTA FRASER