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Dantin leads early QB competition

Published: Thursday, March 25, 2010

Updated: Thursday, March 25, 2010 06:03

Attempting to replace four-year starter Aaron Opelt this year at quarterback will be (from left-to-r

Nick Kneer / IC

Attempting to replace four-year starter Aaron Opelt this year at quarterback will be (from left-to-right) redshirt freshmen Michael Matthews and Terrence Owens, sophomore David Pasquale, senior Alex Pettee and sophomore Austin Dantin.

After a season of injuries at the quarterback position last year, the University of Toledo football program is again looking to find a new signal-caller.

Four-year starter Aaron Opelt graduated but left the Rockets showing the exciting promise that head coach Tim Beckman's new offense displayed in just its first year of installation.

In his first three seasons for Toledo, Opelt threw for 160.2 yards and one touchdown per game under former head coach Tom Amstutz. In his first five games last season under Beckman before suffering a partial tear of his rotator cuff, Opelt passed for nearly 341 yards per contest with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions. Opelt attempted to play with the injury but was never the same, completing just 28-of-56 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns with five interceptions in his final four games.

This season's favorite to take the reins of Beckman's offense is sophomore Austin Dantin. In just his first year at UT, Dantin climbed the depth chart to grab the backup job. After Opelt's injury in a game against Western Michigan, Dantin completed 34-of-52 passes for 362 yards and four touchdowns and just one interception against the Broncos and Northern Illinois before suffering a high ankle sprain against the Huskies. Dantin returned from his injury to complete 34-of-50 passes in the final two weeks of the season, including a 326-yard performance against Bowling Green. He has a strong arm and shows the ability to scramble and move the ball on the ground himself, which the offense lacked with Opelt.

"[Playing last season] helped me tremendously," Dantin said. "It gave me a lot more confidence going into this year, I know what to expect. I played quite a bit out here last year and I feel like I can step into the leadership role because of that."

With UT's first depth chart being released yesterday, Dantin was tabbed as the current starter if the season opened today.

"I came up here to start, anything less would be a big disappointment," Dantin said. "I know what guys are doing; it's not so much now learning the system as just improving upon it and trying to perfect it."

Sophomore David Pasquale currently holds the backup role with redshirt freshman Terrence Owens in the third spot. Senior Alex Pettee holds the fourth position with redshirt freshman Michael Matthews in fifth.

"Right now Austin's playing a little bit better than all of them but because he has a little bit more experience he probably should," Beckman said. "They all have their strong points. Austin can run and throw it, David runs well, Alex is the commander of the bunch because he knows everything, T.O.'s got the arm, and Matthews has things he does well. It's still up in the air but I would say Austin by far is doing the best right now."

Though the position is by no means set, it looks like the real battle will come down to who will be chosen as Dantin's backup. Pasquale and Owens have the early edge despite a lack of experience. Pasquale is the biggest of the bunch at 238 pounds. He played in six games last season but did not attempt a single pass on the year. He did carry the ball 24 times for 78 yards on the season while scoring three touchdowns.

"We're continuing to work on [throwing] with David," Beckman said. "I think that's something that we definitely have got to do with him."

Owens has put on 25 pounds of weight since his days at Cleveland Glenville High School bulking up to 190 pounds. He was rated as the No. 4 quarterback in Ohio coming out of high school by Scout.com and could push for playing time during the season.

Pettee isn't exceptional in any particular phase of his game, but he is an experienced leader and has a good grasp of the offense. Though he had minimal playing time last season, he did lead Toledo down the field on their final drive against Miami (OH) completing 6-of-8 passes for 87 yards before tight end Danny Noble fumbled at the goal line in an attempt to tie the game. In his only start of the season he completed 29-of-47 passes for 265 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions against the Mid-American Conference's top defense in Temple.

The biggest struggle for UT's starter will be fitting in so many new pieces. The Rockets must replace first team All-MAC receiver Stephen Williams and running back DaJuane Collins. They will, however, have the advantage of four returning starters on last year's 38th ranked offensive line, which gave up just 1.5 sacks per game.

— Zach Davis is the Sports Editor and a senior majoring in communication. He contributes to Scout.com and has previously worked as a correspondent to the Cincinnati Bengals through DraftTek.com and a college football pollster on UWire.com.

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