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Published: Wednesday, 4/17/2013

Campbell has high hopes for UT football on defense

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Please give a warm welcome, Rocket football fans, to your University of Toledo defense.

Dan Molls, Jermaine Robinson, and Phil Lewis, redeeming qualities on one of the nation’s worst statistical units in 2012, are gone. Freshmen and sophomores expected to man key roles are plentiful.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement? Let’s try again. This group might pack a heavier punch, might run better, and might have more depth than a year ago. There is reason for optimism, insists coach Matt Campbell, following a productive spring that tempered concerns and did not raise new ones.

Early returns are encouraging. The defense controlled the intersquad scrimmage two weeks ago in Mentor and followed with a decent showing at the spring game, surrendering four touchdowns combined in a 21-10 Gold win. Extracting definitive conclusions is senseless, as the offensive line was missing three injured starters.

Campbell believes taking a step forward from 2012, when the Rockets ranked No. 113 in yards allowed, starts with coaching continuity. A year ago defensive coordinator Tom Matukewicz, then new to the job, had just wrapped up installing his system.

“Our staff being in tact for year number two has really helped our ability to grow fast with these young guys,” Campbell said.

The linebacking corps, the biggest concern when the spring began, now is considered a strength. Part-time 2012 starter Junior Sylvestre blossomed in his transition to weakside linebacker, his strength and enthusiasm for tackling suited better for playing in the box than on the perimeter. 

There is a lot to like about pass-rush specialist Trent Voss, and middle linebackers Jaylen Coleman and Chase Murdock look to be adequate replacements for Dan Molls, the nation’s leading tackler.

Murdock’s outstretched interception of Logan Woodside secured Gold’s win late in the fourth quarter Friday. Coleman had five tackles.

“It certainly has the potential to be a very physical, get-after-it linebacker corps that could surpass last year’s group from a physicality standpoint,” Campbell said.

Missed tackles were not an issue in either public scrimmage.

An educated guess says there will be eight new starters in 2013, which includes Sylvestre and cornerback Chris Dukes, each of whom lost his job midway through the season. The projected line up is broken into four seniors, two juniors, three or four sophomores, and one or two freshmen.

Depth on the line, where six seniors departed, is a concern. The development of senior Jayrone Elliott into an every-down end will be key, and Campbell will need an incoming freshmen or two to contribute.

The competition at free safety between Chaz Whitaker and D.J. Larkins could spill into the fall. The staff is high on incoming freshman Delando Johnson to provide depth.

“It’s a lot like we were offensively last year,” Campbell said. “There were a lot of guys we felt had a lot of talent, whether they were young and inexperienced, or they were good role players and now were ready to grow into taking over. I think we’re in that same boat.”

UNDER ARMOUR EXTENSION: The Rockets will be outfitted by Under Armour through at least the 2016 season after the two sides came to an agreement on a four-year extension. The original deal, signed in 2010, was set to expire in June. The product allowance Under Armour is obligated to give to Toledo was increased by $15,000 to $65,000, and the coaches’ allowance doubled to $15,000. A staff allowance was instituted, giving Campbell’s assistants $2,500 in gear.

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



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