Wednesday, Jun 29, 2016
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Opinion

UT's Amstutz ready to hand over QB reins to sophomore

For the first time since 2003, someone other than Bruce Gradkowski will start at quarterback for the University of Toledo this season.

Clint Cochran, a redshirt sophomore from Wadsworth, Ohio, is the favorite to replace Gradkowski after serving as his backup a year ago.

But Life After Bruce won't be quite the same, at least for a while.

UT-s-Amstutz-ready-to-hand-over-QB-reins-to-sophomore

Clint Cochran is No. 1 at quarterback on UT's depth chart. The Rockets open preseason practice on Aug. 2.

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Gradkowski turned out be a pretty gifted leader and a pretty darn good football player, despite being overlooked by every Division I-A program except Toledo coming out of high school.

He managed the Rockets' wide-open offense like a cop directs traffic, like a conductor leads an orchestra.

Gradkowski set 19 school records in his three seasons as UT's starter, including most yards (9,225), most touchdowns (85) and highest completion percentage (68.4).

He shared co-MVP honors in the Mid-American Conference with Western Michigan wide receiver Greg Jennings last season as a senior.

In April, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Gradkowski in the sixth round. He was the first Rockets quarterback taken in the NFL draft in 30 years.

"When you have a guy like that, a guy who is a special football player and a great leader, you're always going to miss him for a day or two," UT coach Tom Amstutz said.

A day or two?

You have to believe that Gradkowski's absence will linger a little longer than that.

You just can't replace one of the best quarterbacks in school history with a youngster like Cochran, who has one college start to his credit, and not expect to take a temporary step back.

If Amstutz is worried, he is not saying so publicly.

He has been successful in shuffling quarterbacks before in his pass-happy offense, replacing All-MAC performer Tavares Bolden with Brian Jones in 2002, and Jones with a redshirt sophomore named Gradkowski in 2003.

Amstutz is confident Coch-ran, who will be No. 1 on the depth chart when the Rockets open preseason practice Aug. 2, can step in and fill the void created by Gradkowski's departure.

Cochran, 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, saw action in six games last season. He started the Fresno State game - a lopsided 44-14 loss - when Gradkowski was out with an injury.

A former All-Ohio first team Division I quarterback, Cochran completed 32 of 43 passes for 262 yards a year ago. He also threw one touchdown pass and one interception.

"Clint Cochran is a very smart kid," Amstutz said. "He's one of the smartest people I know at Toledo, including the professors. He has a 4.0 in biomedical engineering. I'm not worried about him."

One thing that could help speed up Cochran's transition is that he will have plenty of support around him.

Four starters return on the offensive line, including All-MAC left tackle John Greco. Cochran will have a steady stable of tight ends, receivers and running backs to get the ball to and pick from.

However, Amstutz said two guys expected to be key contributors in the backfield - Scooter McDougle and Raymond Williams - are questionable for the start of preseason drills.

McDougle redshirted in 2005 while recovering from a devastating knee injury. Williams, who practiced twice a week with UT in the spring, is a former Parade Magazine All-American who hasn't played in a game in more than two years after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and aggravated robbery in high school.

"Scooter still has some issues he needs to get resolved. He needs to get in shape and he needs to get his academics in order," Amstutz said. "And Ray Williams still has some work to do. They are both question marks right now.

"But we have three other strong running backs - Jalen Parmele, Richard Davis and DaJuane Collins - and I am excited about that."

UT fans will also see a new and improved version of Amstutz. That burly guy you see on billboards all over town has lost 50 pounds.

His goal is to drop 50 more.

"I feel great - I am leaner and meaner," said Amstutz, who has a 45-18 record in five seasons. "I am watching what I eat now and I am working out every day. I went to Alaska this summer and climbed Mt. Juneau and did some salmon fishing. It was nice and relaxing."

But 10 days from now, when preseason drills kick off, the weight of UT's offense will rest squarely on the shoulders of Clint Cochran.

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