Toledo Rockets' football players and coaches took to the Glass Bowl Monday for the team's annual media day. A lot of focus surrounded the inexperience on the defensive side of the ball along with the returning offensive fire power.
Defensively, the Rockets return only four starters and have a second-year defensive coordinator this season. Tom Matukewicz was hired prior to last season as the Rockets' defensive coordinator after spending four seasons as Northern Illinois' linebackers coach. The defensive inexperience doesn't rattle Matukewicz. "As a coordinator, we worry every day, we're just trying to have one of the top two defenses in the MAC so we can hopefully compete for a championship," he said.
Senior defensive end Christian Smith isn't worried about inexperience either. "We had a lot of people not start last season but still play quite a bit, so we have a lot of guys with game experience," said Smith. "Right now, we're simplifying the defense so the young guys can understand and play fast."
Unlike their defensive counterparts, offensively, the Rockets return some serious fire power in 2013. Terrance Owens is back at quarterback, David Fluellen returns at running back, and Bernard Reedy at wide receiver. All are top players in the MAC at their respective positions. Owens was able to throw for 2,699 yards and 14 touchdowns last season while Fluellen rushed for 1,498 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Surprisingly though, some questions on the offensive side focus on the wide receiver position. Despite the production out of Reedy and Alonzo Russell last season—they accounted for nearly two-thirds of the Rockets' receiving yards in 2012—the coaching staff still needs to solidify the depth chart behind them..
Head coach Matt Campbell seems confident about his options though. "Wide receiver is one area that we have as much depth now as we've ever had," said Campbell, "Justin Olack is ready to explode onto the scene with his talent and ability and we have a lot of young guys ready to step up."
Toledo will get a chance to show off those weapons in Week 1 against the No. 10 Florida Gators. With the opportunity to upset a Top-10 team to begin the season, there should be pressure on the Rockets, right? Campbell says that may not be the case.
"It'll be a great opportunity for us and our program to go down there and play in that culture. As a program, I know our guys have a lot of respect for Florida and everything they have accomplished," he said.
Owens has a similar attitude about facing the Gators on August 31. "Whenever we play big schools we're always the underdog, and we enjoy it," he said.
The Rockets may be used to bigger MAC crowds, but 100,000 screaming fans is new to them. "We blast music and put ourselves in the toughest situations possible during practice so that there won't be any surprises (against Florida)," said Reedy.
The Rockets will get to put those preparations to use early on against a pair of hostile SEC crowds. They open up the season with road games against Florida and Missouri, before returning to Toledo for their home opener against Eastern Washington on September 14.