Jason Candle Q&A on the Progress of the Rockets This Spring


TOLEDO, Ohio – The defending MAC Champion Toledo Rockets began spring practice this week. The spring practice season will culminate with a Spring Showcase scrimmage at the Glass Bowl on Saturday, April 8. The Spring Showcase begins at noon and is open to the public. 

The following are comments from Head Coach Jason Candle following practice on Feb. 28, 2023:
On the first week of practice:
“Obviously our guys are excited to be back out here and to be out running around and playing football. The month of February is about team-building. It’s about culture-building. It’s fighting over ropes and tires, touching cones, and doing all the things that require the discipline to get those habits formed. Now you want to see those same things manifest themselves on the football field. We’re excited to be back out for our first week here. I think our pressures and our expectations are internal. We have to find guys who are going to lead the team. We have to find guys who, when adversity hits, are going to stare it in the face like those seniors did last year who led us to those championships. We’re definitely a work in progress with a long way to go.”
On team identity:
“I think every team has its own identity. You have a 12-month calendar to try to see what that looks like and how you mold that into what you hope is a championship-type season. Again, who are the new leaders? Who are the guys that are going to use their sphere of influence to try to bring young guys along? We’re anxious to see which of those guys are going to take the next step and help us replace some of these good players who we lost this past year.”
On the outlook for the offense:
“I think there are always things to improve and grow upon. Obviously, Dequan Finn, going into year three and having a full season of starting under his belt, you want to see another jump in his development. Tucker Gleason came in, played some really tough moments for us last year, and did some really good things. You want to see another step in his development. You have John Alan Richter back, and RJ Johnson here as an early-enrollee freshman. You want to see those guys find their way, start to get into a rhythm, play within themselves in the offense. From a team perspective of things, we have a veteran group of guys coming back on offense. I do feel better from the standpoint of the production that comes back, but there are some new wrinkles and some new things. We have to do a good job as coaches to find out who our best players are and how we can put them in a position to be successful, especially around the QB and around the offensive line.”
On Dequan Finn’s “absorption” of the offense:
“I think absorption is a great term, him absorbing and learning and then being able to take what he absorbed and producing when he gets out here on the grass. I think that’s a step that you want to see. Having elite quarterback play comes down to two things for me: decision-making and accuracy. It will always be that way. Tom Brady has been able to play football for as long as he has not because he’s the best athlete, but because he makes great decisions and he’s accurate with the ball. That will always be the case when it comes to playing that position. It’s the most scrutinized position in the sport for a reason, so there’s a lot of ownership that has to go into that. He’s done a good job of owning that, and so have the other guys in the room. Coach (Rob) Weiner has done a good job of creating a plan for what spring development looks like for each one of them. We just have to stick to it now and put it to action.”
On replacing graduated players:
“I always go back to being an assistant coach here. When we lost Eric Page, I thought my world was ending. We were never going to get another Eric Page. We’re never going to have another good wide receiver with near the production that he had. Then along came Bernard Reedy. I didn’t pay attention enough to see that Bernard was patiently waiting for his turn to play. They’re two different talents, two different types of players, but you could make the argument that Bernard was more productive when he got a chance to play. When you lose a good player, it hurts inside because you have so much emotional attachment to those guys. So hopefully that somebody’s been waiting patiently to get their turn because now it’s here.”
On the addition of defensive line coach Larry Knight:
“I think we are always going to start with connections. We’re going to start with coaches that can relate to their room. Guys that can be great teachers and ultimately can maintain relationships. If you can do those things, I think you can be a really good recruiter. I think Larry brings great energy to the field. I think he’s not too far removed from playing to show the guys rather than tell them. He’s out here on a pair of cleats running around with the guys who want to condition. He’s running sprints with the guys. I’m not asking him to do that. It’s his way to put some energy into the room and maybe show-you mentality more than tell-you. I think that goes a long way because the guys feel like he’s in a fight with them.”
On the running backs:
“At any level of football, you want to be able to have a guy who can do all three things at a high level. You want to be able to give him the ball and see production. You want to have a real threat in the passing game, and then you want somebody who can lock down in pass protection and protect the quarterback. We were able to have that in Kareem Hunt, Terry Swanson, David Fluellen, Adonis Thomas and Bryant Koback. But for every Kareem Hunt there’s a young Terry Swanson, for every Terry Swanson, there’s a Damian Jones-Moore, for every David Fluellen there’s a young Adonis Thomas, and so on. If you go back in the history of our program, sometimes it’s maybe one bell-cow guy, but those supplemental contributions you get from other players in that room are absolutely critical. We’ve kind of had to mix and match those last couple years due to injuries and things like that. We’ve seen Micah Kelly have nights where he gained over 100 yards. Jacquez Stuart the same thing. Peny Boone has had some real productive days. Willie Shaw is a good young player. We talked about Connor Walendzak being here. Jordan Lowe is a reliable guy as well. So we’ll go through spring practice and let those guys compete. If we can settle in on one guy and he can be the guy, that would be great. Otherwise, we can do it by committee like we have.”
On expectations for the spring:
“We have to stay healthy. I think that’s every coach’s fear. I want to see what we did in February continued, having attention to detail and really making sure that we handle the little things that could prohibit success down the road. We’ve had so many close games in our league over the past couple of years, like a lot of teams. The margin for error here is so small that those little things are going to win out, whether those are penalties, missed assignments, or communication errors. Where we did a really good job last year was eliminating penalties in the secondary, and we eliminated penalties because we have great communicators. Those guys are all coming back. There shouldn’t be any miscommunication errors and receivers running free. On the offensive line, we’re either all right or we’re all wrong. When we’re wrong, one side’s doing one thing and the other side’s doing the other. We’re all on the same page, we’re doing what we need to do the right way, and then we continue to work through the communication and stress that actual live football puts on players because you don’t get a chance to do this again until August.”
On individual player development:
“I told the team every player is owed two things: an honest assessment of where they’re at and to allow us to try to paint a clearer picture of where we’re trying to take this thing for you. For a 17-year-old kid like Connor Walendzak, that’s different than a senior like Dallas Gant. I think what they’re owed is still a plan that allows them to continue to take one more step, and if we’re going to challenge them to get better, we have to do that as coaches to help them with that. We will give them some checkpoints so that they can see after practice, ‘Man, I’m inching my way closer to this particular goal.’ Individually, I’m kind of different than a lot of coaches. I like players to take a selfish approach to their own development. I think if they can do that, that means they’re working and they’re putting time and energy into making themselves the best player that they can be, and the team benefits from that. I’d rather have that than a guy who is a two or three (on the depth chart) that just sits back and claps for the starters. I’m big on internal competition, no matter what position that is. Each guy is continuing to use these opportunities that were presented to them in the spring to try to develop themselves and become as good as they possibly can.”

On new players:
“We have a few of our transfer players who are here now, and then we have a couple of local high school guys in Sam Smith and Connor Walendzak. I think both have had really good days, comparatively speaking. Those guys, at this time, would be getting ready for the homecoming dance, and they’re out here running around and playing football. Again, I think it’s a little too early to tell specifically who it is, but I think there are young guys who can always impress you when they come in and they handle the routine of things.”
On benefits to enrolling early:
“I think the benefits are obvious: a semester of school, 15 spring practices, acclimatization to what the team environment is, and getting used to the atmosphere in the locker room. All those things are a leg up compared to somebody who’s going to be here in June. But I’m a proponent of playing all the high school sports you can possibly play. If you’re a very good basketball player, you’re a great baseball player, you’re an elite track runner, then you should stay in high school and compete for your school. I’m not in the game of recruiting like some people who promise every freshman when we go sit in their living room that they’re going to start and be the savior of our program when they get on campus, so that’s off the table. I think that we tell ourselves the truth here. We give guys an honest plan of what it’s going to look like from a development stage. Physical strength and development is still a key factor in college football. To say that any one of those guys are going to come in here and light the world on fire and be a starter next year because they enrolled early, I don’t think that’s real. Whatever the best plan is for them individually, I don’t think the position matters. I think whatever they’re comfortable doing – if the family is prepared for it and planned for it – we’re all for it. If not, then we’ll see you in June. We’ll have a plan for you when you get here.”

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Written by ToledoBuzz Staff

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