University of Toledo quarterback Michael Julian has a skill uncommon of someone at his position.
“Michael’s got a great leg,” coach Matt Campbell said.
So great, in fact, Julian is listed second on the spring depth chart at punter.
“He can punt the heck out of it,” quarterback Logan Woodside said.
Julian hopes to not prove it this fall. The redshirt freshman from Hilton Head Island, S.C. prefers to leave fourth-and-long duties to a traditional punter when the offense stalls. And he hopes, under his command, stalling will be infrequent.
Perceived perhaps unfairly as the third wheel in a three-man competition, Julian is splitting first-team snaps with tested hands Phillip Ely and Logan Woodside. The three entered spring as co-starters and thus far there appears to be no separation.
Campbell suspects the race will bleed into the fall, and he said it’s “too early to tell” if he’ll rotate quarterbacks in games as Toledo did in 2010 and 2011 with Austin Dantin and Terrance Owens.
At the end of the Rockets’ fourth of 15 spring practices, Julian offered a candid assessment: “First few days were really good,” he said. “Today I didn’t perform the way I thought I would.”
After delivering passes on target last week, Julian said, “I missed a lot today.”
Each quarterback began a drive at his own 20-yard line to end practice, and only Ely, with the first team, drove for a touchdown when he found tight end Alex Zmolik open in the back of the end zone.
Campbell and new quarterbacks coach Jason Candle will settle on the athlete who best displays three skills — accuracy, decision making, and leadership. Woodside, a sophomore, is the only one to take a live snap last year, as Julian redshirted and Ely burned a year of eligibility transferring from Alabama.
Each candidate has a different strength.
Julian, at 6-foot-5, has three inches on Woodside and four on Ely. A three-sport high school athlete, the all-state track runner is the most gifted athletically, and, according to Campbell, Julian’s “a pretty cool customer.”
Julian said he’s learned more this spring on studying defenses than he did all of last season.
Woodside gave a similarly glowing review of Candle, the offensive coordinator transitioning from receivers coach.
“A lot of things we didn’t know last year we know this year as far as protections and getting people in the right spots,” Woodside said. “I don’t know if we knew that as much last year.”
Woodside showed promise in 2013 in limited action. His finest moment was in the second half of a September win over Eastern Washington when he connected with Bernard Reedy for an 81-yard backbreaking touchdown after Woodside relieved an injured Owens. Woodside’s imploring Campbell that night to ditch a conservative game plan speaks to the bullish reputation of the Kentucky native.
“It’s gonna be whoever’s not gonna turn the ball over,” said Woodside, who was 21 of 41 passing in 2013. “Last year, the games we lost we turned the ball over.”
Ely, who collected two national championship rings at Alabama, brings preparation to the mix. A film-room junkie, he said his knowledge grew last year by observing others. He made a calculated move leaving the Tide to sit on mothballs for a year in the Mid-American Conference. Had he stuck with Alabama he’d likely be competing this spring to replace Heisman Trophy runner up A.J. McCarron.
“You never know,” Ely said.
Four years after from taking Tampa’s Plant High to the Florida 5A state title game, the ex-U.S. Army All-American is still searching for a headlining role. He attempted four passes as a redshirt freshman at Alabama and left after the spring.
“There was a better opportunity here,” Ely said. “Had a great ride there, learned a lot, and made a lot of good friends. But I really wanted to play and found myself a good opportunity here.”