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Published: Thursday, 4/11/2013

Linebackers emerge for starting spot on defense for Toledo Rockets

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Murdock Murdock
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The two University of Toledo linebackers tasked this spring with filling the biggest hole on defense nearly went elsewhere in 2012. Their team should be thankful they chose not to.

Coleman Coleman
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Chase Murdock, caught early in the eye of the I-75 Rivalry, visited Bowling Green the weekend before signing day. Among the schools wooing three-star prospect Jaylen Coleman was West Virginia.

If there is concern about losing senior tackling machine Dan Molls, consider this. If not for the Rockets prevailing in two down-to-the-wire recruiting battles, the program would be in a dire spot at middle linebacker.

“It was last second on both of them,” defensive coordinator Tom Matukewicz said.

Murdock, a sophomore who primarily contributed last year on special teams, will play for the gold team in today’s spring game. Coleman, who redshirted, is part of the blue squad. The game, which is free, is set to begin at 7 p.m.

It is too soon to project which player will win the job, as they each are earning high offseason marks. Coach Matt Campbell said he expects Murdock and Coleman to rotate in the fall, a continuation of the spring arrangement.

Today’s happenings, a small slice among 15 spring sessions, are not likely to tip the scale much one way or the other.

Murdock, who appeared in all but one game in 2012, sat out last Friday’s open scrimmage in Mentor with a concussion. That was unfortunate as his presence would have given insight into the hierarchy at the position. Murdock has been cleared to resume contact.

“We found out really early these two are ready to play,” Campbell said. “I don’t know if we knew that going into spring practice.”

Coleman, at 6 feet and 235 pounds, is the larger of the two and describes himself as “fast and physical.” He did not become eligible until midway through last season — there was confusion amid his paperwork with the NCAA — or otherwise he might have carved out a role. Murdock is the same height as Coleman and 15 pounds lighter.

For what it’s worth, Molls — who led the nation in tackles in 2012 — was listed at 6-1, 230. Comparisons between Molls and his replacement won’t stop with measurements. Coleman admitted he feels pressure to fill the void left by “one of the great Toledo linebackers to ever come out.” Murdock said he has been studying Molls’ game tape.

“Being on the sidelines, watching him in action painted a clear picture of what it’s like to be out there,” Murdock said.

Neither Murdock nor Coleman, at least for now, is taking on Molls’ job of lining up the defense. That would be overwhelming for a young player processing information about his own role, said Matukewicz, who passed off those duties to veteran weak side linebacker Junior Sylvestre.

Matukewicz said Sylvestre, a junior, “has probably been the MVP of the spring.”

No one yet is touting Murdock or Coleman as MVP. Nor are there illusions that either can replace Molls’ productivity in year one. But their coaches like what they’ve seen from the skillful linebackers — and they sure are happy they chose Toledo.

“They don’t need to be the next Dan Molls,” Matukewicz said. “They just need to be the best Chase and the best Jaylen they can be. They’re good enough players.”

NOTES: Rockets Zac Kerin, Vince Penza, Greg Mancz, Josh Hendershot, and Rob Lisowski shaved their heads after practice Thursday to support former UT women’s basketball player Ashlee Barrett. Barrett, the fiance of former UT defensive lineman Ben Pike, is battling leukemia. A benefit practice in her honor last week in Mentor generated more than $7,200. ... Six former Rockets will be honorary captains today. Representing the old school are Gary Hinkson, Al Baker, and Curtis Johnson. The new-school trio consists of Kevin Kowalski, John Greco, and Trinity Dawson.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.



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