The University of Toledo football team will begin its preseason today with two practices. Half the team will go in the morning, leaving the other half to take the field in the afternoon.
Here are five key position battles leading up to the Aug. 31 season opener at Florida.
Back-up quarterback: Early enrollee Logan Woodside looked decent in the spring but apparently did not secure the job to be Terrance Owens’ understudy. Why else would the coaches insist on utility man Dwight Macon taking preseason snaps at quarterback?
Macon, who played last season at receiver, remains a contingency plan should something happen to Owens. History suggests something will happen to Toledo’s starter. In seven seasons from 2006 to 2012 the No. 1 quarterback missed 16 contests. Just once, in 2008, did the starter appear in every game. Don’t expect freshman Michael Julian to contend. At least not yet.
The South Carolina native arrives with impressive tools, evidenced by his pulling in offers from several BCS schools, but Julian has serious catching up to do learning the system and appears destined for a redshirt.
Defensive backs: All are on notice, as this appears to be the weakest position group on the team. A talented crop of freshman could stir up the depth chart.
Coaches are excited about Maryland freshmen Delando Johnson and Jordan Martin, both of which are listed on the roster generically as a defensive back. They each have the size — 6-foot-2 and more than 190 pounds — to play safety where the Rockets must replace two multiyear starters. One must like senior Ross Madison’s chances to pin down one of the spots.
Concern abounds at cornerback where returning starter Cheatham Norrils has been listed second on the depth chart in the offseason. When coaches aren’t thrilled with their best corner, what does that say about the others?
Offensive right tackle: The only vacant spot on the Mid-American Conference’s top line is up for grabs. Career backup Chase Nelson is the front-runner, but guard Robert Lisowski is getting a chance to compete and has long been highly thought of. The top five linemen regardless of position will start, so don’t be surprised if there is some shifting of roles with the four holdovers to accommodate the strengths of the fifth guy. A dark horse candidate is local product Storm Norton. Coaches are happy with the way the Whitmer graduate reshaped his large frame, but experience is working against the redshirt freshman.
Back-up running back: If starter David Fluellen stays healthy, this competition is irrelevant. Fluellen, who emerged a year ago as one of the most productive backs in the nation, stopping just short of 1,5000 yards, did so despite missing all or big chunks of three games.
So underwhelming were his understudies — including supposed home run threat Cassius McDowell — that All-MAC receiver Bernard Reedy moved to the back field for the bowl game.
This is a big fall camp for the junior McDowell, as there’s no assurance his role as primary back up shall remain. Coaches are high on redshirt freshman Damion Jones-Moore, as they are with incoming recruit Kareem Hunt.
Middle linebacker: The battle to replace team MVP Dan Molls features two second-year players. It was difficult to tell in the spring who the coaches preferred.
Chase Murdock, a sophomore, was injured for the open scrimmage in Mentor, leaving first-team reps to redshirt freshman Jaylen Coleman. They were on opposite squads for the spring game. Coleman, of the two, hits better. Murdock moves better.