The University of Toledo's Marquise Moore chases down Kent State quarterback George Bollas during a Rocket win last season. BLADE PHOTO
Through healthy competition and hard work, a talented group of defensive tackles has given University of Toledo defensive coordinator Brian George the potential to utilize a deep rotation at the position this season.
“If you looked at us coming into the season, you would say, ‘Hey coach, you lost this guy, and you lost this guy, and you lost this guy,’ ” George said.
“But what we have gained through some recruiting — and through some development and hard work that some of the players have put in — is some depth. When you have depth it gives you the opportunity to push some guys, because they have to compete for their job every day. That has been really healthy for us.”
Senior Marquise Moore, a Whitmer product, is set to start at one of the defensive tackle spots, and he provides a veteran presence at the position. Opposite Moore and behind him in the rotation is a hungry group ready to compete for playing time.
Daniel Davis is the only other senior in the group, and junior college transfer Reggie Howard should be in the mix as well. But the rotation could also feature young players such as sophomores Nate Childress, Willie Ross, and LaMarr Davis, and redshirt freshmen Edrick Mathews and David Hood.
George said he is pleased by the development of some of the younger defensive tackles.
“Willie Ross played a little bit last season before he got injured, and Willie is really coming along,” George said. “He’s playing really well and learning a new position. Edrick Mathews is a kid we redshirted last year, and he’s grown a lot in the last year.
“David Hood is in the same boat. He’s really grown a lot from last season, and gained some strength, and really worked to change his body. He’s showing some good things as well.
“Those guys are really starting to develop, and that’s what we wanted to see between last season and this season is how much progress can you make in a year’s time.”
Childress was injured in his senior season at Rossford High and redshirted his freshman season at UT. George said Childress was a bit behind schedule initially after missing two full years of football.
“The thing about Nate is he just works,” George said. “Now I think he is at the point where he is a regular guy in the rotation. He’s playing a ton of snaps for us as long as he continues to do what he is doing. He has really worked himself into the opportunity to play a lot of football.”
After playing 12 games and making eight tackles in limited play last year, Childress said he benefitted from playing with Treyvon Hester, who is now with the Oakland Raiders.
“Treyvon was a monster,” Childress said. “It was something I’ve never seen before coming from a small high school. He was a beast, and he came into practice every day and worked hard. His get off is one of the best I’ve ever seen, and he is going to have a good NFL career.”
The competition in camp has raised the level of play, and each player knows they have to be sharp in practice.
“Everybody has the ability to play,” Childress said. “You just got to come in every day with the mentality that you can lose your spot any day, so you have to bring it every day.”
George said Moore came into camp with a new mentality as a senior and has conditioned his body so that he can play for long stretches.
“He’s been through a lot of different scenarios since he has been here,” George said. “He’s dealt with injury. He’s dealt with some off-the-field issues. But he stayed the course and knew what his goal was and got back on track. He’s prepped himself through the offseason and the summer to have a great season.
“He dropped a few pounds and still has enough weight to be really effective at his position. He’s playing really fast, and it’s allowed him to really play a longer period of time with the same high level of play. Mentally, he’s been really in tune. He has really locked in to the details.”
The spirit and positive attitude of the group has impressed George, as has the skill each player has displayed.
“I’m really excited about this group,” George said. “As much as anything, it is their mentality and their eagerness to get better. They are not there to goof around and try to get out of things. They want to get better, so they work at it.
“They work at it in the meeting room, they work at it in the walkthroughs, and they work at it in practice. When you do that, you give yourself the chance to be successful.”