With the Bruce Gradkowski era in the rearview mirror for the University of Toledo, finding a replacement for the standout quarterback is high on the agenda for the Rockets heading into the 2006 season.
Clint Cochran, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, appears to be the guy at the head of the list.
He was in the huddle when the Rockets offensive starters took the field against the Rockets defensive starters to start UT s final spring scrimmage yesterday before approximately 250 spectators at the Glass Bowl.
Cochran, who understands his predicament trying to replace a record-setting QB, showed flashes that he s capable. He showed adequate touch on completions and led the offense on a scoring drive early in the one-hour scrimmage played at less than full speed. Quarterbacks wore green vests and were not allowed to be tackled.
I m not the same player that I was at this time last year, and that s kind of how it works playing in a system like this that molds and shapes you as a quarterback, said Cochran, who believes he s better this spring. You have Bruce [Gradkowski] to hold up to. You have to put him in your face [as motivation].
Cochran and the rest of the offense didn t perform well on a consistent basis against a defensive group that made more plays overall.
All-Mid-American Conference linebacker Mike Alston, a 6-2 senior, led the swarming defensive group that pressured the quarterbacks frequently. Greg Hay and Jeremy Mack picked off a pass apiece. Hay intercepted a pass thrown by redshirt freshman Brandon Summers and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. He reached the end zone and was soon met by an enthusiastic crowd of defensive teammates.
We re a very emotional group, said Alston, who would have been credited with a couple of sacks in a full-speed affair. We re always out there playing with high intensity. We always want to come out on the field playing hard and fast.
Mack intercepted a pass thrown by John Goolsby, a 6-5 sophomore.
UT coach Tom Amstutz acknowledged the Rockets showed some encouraging things on defense.
We have good team speed on the field with some players that can really make big plays, he said. We like to come after football teams and we have guys who can do that well.
Amstutz believes the whole team met expectations for the spring workouts.
We had a really good spring, Amstutz said. I was very proud of the players the way they stayed focused through the whole spring. We re humble and hungry and our work ethic was good through the spring.
While the passing game remains a question mark, the running game appears to be one of the Rockets strong suits. Returners Jalen Parmele, a six-foot junior, and Richard Davis, a six-foot sophomore, lead a talented and deep running back group. Parmele finished off a couple of scoring drives for UT by battering his way into the end zone and Davis showed plenty of quickness and nifty footwork on several carries.
All in all, the Rockets left the field optimistic about the near future.
I liked a lot of the things I saw with our offense, Amstutz said. I like our group of running backs and I think they re strong. Our offensive line had a good spring and they re working together, and I think our quarterbacks are developing along with our receiver corps.
UT will not scrimmage today or tomorrow and will hold its final spring practice on Monday.
Among the notable moments during yesterday s scrimmage was a 20-plus-yard cutback run by walk-on running back Ray Williams, a two-time Division III Ohio offensive player of the year for Cleveland Benedictine.
Williams, who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and aggravated robbery charges in October of 2004 after being involved in a botched robbery attempt that left one of his friends dead, saw limited action during the scrimmage. But his best run of the afternoon drew the loudest applause from the sparse crowd.
Williams, who has been enrolled at UT since January of 2005 as part of a five-year probation deal that required him to attend college, has been practicing on a limited basis this spring.
Considering his limited involvement, Williams was pleased with his effort.
It was a good day, said Williams, who had a scholarship to West Virginia withdrawn following the incident. I was put in on the plays that I knew, so I played as much as I expected to play.
Williams, who plans to take classes during the summer, has a goal of being a full-time member of the Rockets in the fall. Amstutz, who had previously stated Williams first concern is his academics, said Williams is on course to be able to play in the fall.
The Rockets open the 2006 campaign on the road at Iowa State on Aug. 31. Their home-opener at the Glass Bowl is scheduled for Sept. 15 against Kansas.
Contact Donald Emmons at: email@example.com or 419-724-6302.