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Published: Wednesday, 8/19/2009

Williams gives UT top target

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The track record of University of Toledo wide receiver StephenWilliams is well documented.

The senior led the Rockets in catches (73) and receiving yards (1,169) in 2007 before finishing last season second on the team with 71 catches for 781 yards while also scoring a team-best eight touchdowns.

But every go-to wideout needs a sidekick, and right now, Williams and the coaching staff are still searching for his.

We have to find guys that can step up and play, UT coach Tim Beckman said yesterday before the team s afternoon session of their two-practice day. You always want to make sure that you ve got a couple guys that can fit in with Stephen and make sure they re successful so [the defense] can t double anyone.

Nearly two weeks into preseason practices, senior Robin Bailey and sophomore Danny Noble are the front-runners to step into the role of the second and third options in the passing attack.

Also competing for time are sophomore Kenny Stafford, who recently sat out a practice with a shoulder injury, and freshman Eric Page, a Springfield graduate who may also contribute as a kick and punt returner for the Rockets.

We have a slew of [options], Beckman said, before turning his attention to the pitfalls of the receiving corps so far.

We have to continue to catch the ball better, Beckman said.

There have been too many [balls] on the ground for my taste. We ve really been stressing to them to look the ball in and tuck it away and make sure they have a grasp of it. Consistency is what we ve had to work on the most.

Williams said he s expecting big things from his band of associates, who should not be underestimated because of their anonymity.

This season we re going to introduce a lot of playmakers, Williams said. We re going to introduce a lot of weapons. It s going to be amazing. You re going to see a lot of speed and a lot of deep plays with the rest of the receivers.

Williams, a 6-foot-5 deep threat in the passing game himself, is just another sequoia in a forest ofredwoods for UT.

Noble and Bailey are also 6-5, while Stafford is 6-4.

We have tall dudes, Williams said. We have a lot of 6-5 receivers who can stretch the field, and we have a lot of dudes with a lot of intensity and built-up anger.

Bailey missed three games last season with a hamstring injury, but said he s relishing the opportunity to showcase his talents this year with the graduation of Nick Moore, UT s leading receiver in 2008.

We feel that there has been no drop off in [the quality of] the wide receivers at all, Bailey said. Nick is a great player, and we re not taking anything away from him, but we know that we have to move on. I m expecting to have a healthy season and do a lot for this team.

Noble said he took a similar mental approach to Bailey s entering camp.

It s a big opportunity, but at the same time, I had to be very focused as well as everybody else, Noble said. Coach is going to let the best players play on the field, and hopefully I ll be one of

them.

WATCH LIST: Senior safety Barry Church was named to the Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list yesterday for the second consecutive year. The award is given annually to the best defensive back in the nation.

Church was the only player from the Mid-American Conference named to the watch list. He was also listed on the Jim Thorpe Award watch list earlier this month.

Contact Zach Silka at:zsilka@theblade.com.



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