When University of Toledo defensive line coach Mark Rhea recruited Albertson Alexandre out of Foothill (Calif.) College last winter, he was straightforward with him.
"He told me they were looking for someone who could get to the quarterback," Alexandre said.
The Rockets' football team tied for last in the country last year in sacks with just nine all season. The national leader, Georgia Tech, had 48, and the best in the Mid-American Conference, Miami, recorded 32.
UT was hindered from the start in 2007 when the starters projected at both defensive end spots, Sean Williamson and Doug Westbrook, suffered season-ending injuries in nonconference play. But if more injuries happen this fall, the Rockets want to have enough depth and versatility to protect themselves.
This spring, junior D.J. Summers and sophomore Terrell Willis have moved from linebacker to defensive end, with senior Keith Forestal trying his hand there as well before returning to his original position. Also, the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Alexandre, part of the 2008 recruiting class, enrolled in classes in January so he could participate in spring practice.
"We feel like there's four really capable players that we have at that spot," UT coach Tom Amstutz said. "You can rotate guys in there to keep fresh players on the field. Eventually it gets to the offense. It really could change the pressure we get on a quarterback by having fresh, athletic defensive ends."
Summers isn't huge for a defensive end at 6-foot-2, 233 pounds, but has been one of the surprises of spring ball as he has naturally taken to the position.
Alexandre, a junior, has excited coaches with his range and speed. With Williamson and Westbrook still recovering from injuries, those two have had plenty of opportunities to impress.
"We have more depth and more solid experienced players than we've had in a while," Amstutz said. "If we stay healthy we'll be able to use all that talent to get our defense the way we want to play."
Amstutz believes getting more pressure on the quarterback will help alleviate the problems the defense had elsewhere last year, but the defense as a whole is focusing on speed this spring.
"Everything we do has to do with quickness and speed," Forestal said. "A lot's changed from last year. There's a lot more snappy drills, up-downs, side-to-side movements. It's a different type of mentality."
The coaches gladly will sacrifice size for quickness, believing that's what it will take to boost a defense that must improve to compete for a MAC title.
"[Defensive coordinator] coach [Tim] Rose said he's not too worried about the weight, just everybody be fast," senior Tyrrell Herbert said. "He wants a fast defense and we're trying to live up to his expectations."
NOTES: Amstutz said redshirt freshman Bill Claus from St. John's Jesuit has been performing well as the No. 1 punter this spring. "He's working hard," Amstutz said. "He's going to be one of the candidates. We have some incoming freshmen that are also going to come in and compete." Friday's practice at 3:15 p.m. at the Glass Bowl will be open to the public.
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