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Published: Wednesday, 3/14/2012

Key questions stand out as spring practice starts

BLADE STAFF

Spring football begins Wednesday at the University of Toledo with the first of 15 practices set to start at 9 a.m. Here is a list of five key story lines leading up to the Blue and Gold spring game on April 13.

NEW COACHES: Matt Campbell enters his first spring as head coach and is accompanied by five new assistants. Campbell, the former offensive coordinator, used practices leading to the Military Bowl as a jump start, so the Rockets should be able to hit the ground running. Campbell promoted receivers coach Jason Candle to offensive coordinator and lured Northern Illinois linebackers coach Tom Matukewicz to be defensive coordinator. Rounding out the newcomers are Tom Manning (offensive line; Mount Union), Stan Watson (special teams; Bowling Green), D.K. McDonald (cornerbacks; William & Mary) and Bryce Saia (safeties; Emporia State).

QUARTERBACK BATTLE: The annual competition between senior Austin Dantin and redshirt junior Terrance Owens approaches the end of the road. They split snaps in 2011, with Owens taking over the reins by the end of the year when Dantin succumbed to injury. It will be interesting to see whether Campbell sticks with a two-quarterback system or installs one guy as his full-time starter.

REPLACING PAGE: Identifying one man to replace the production left when Eric Page declared for the NFL draft is an exercise in futility. Campbell has a number of younger players he'll turn to, headlined by Military Bowl MVP Bernard Reedy. Cordale Scott, Cassius McDowell, James Green, and Justin Olack will audition for increased roles. Finding Page's successor as kickoff and punt returner is also on the to-do list.

REPLACING THE SECONDARY: Cornerbacks Desmond Marrow and Taikwon Paige are gone, as is free safety Diauntae Morrow. Assistants McDonald and Saia, with the help of Matukewicz, must identify and develop their replacements. Waiting in the wings are, among others, cornerback Keith Suggs and Kishon Wilcher, and safeties Ross Madison, Cheatham Norrils and Mark Singer. Singer, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, was fourth on the team in tackles in 2010. Senior hybrid linebacker Byron Best, with 13 career starts, could be an option as well.

LINE CHANGE: Three linemen on either side of the ball must be replaced, with none more pressing than All-Mid-American Conference offensive tackle Mike VanDerMeulen. Sophomore Josh Hendershot was listed behind him on the depth chart to end last season. The return of All-MAC defensive end T.J. Fatinikun, who suffered a season-ending injury in October, will help to replenish the defensive line.

-- Ryan Autullo



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