Spring Preview: Safeties

RocketDigest.com caught up with the Rockets new safeties coach, Paul Nichols, to get a rundown on the Rockets last line of defense heading into Spring Practice. What are his impressions of the unit heading into the Spring? What kind of shape will the Rockets begin Spring Game preparations.

As the Rockets enter Spring Practice under new coach Tim Beckman, a lot of eyes will be on the Toledo Rockets defense. Underachievers defensively last season, Toledo struggled at times keeping opponents offenses off the field and out of the Rockets end zone. A former defensive coordinator himself, the Rockets new head coach will be expected to change that.

Adding the right support staff was Beckman's first move towards shoring up the Rockets defense. Just this past week RocketDigest.com caught up with one of his hires, co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, Paul Nichols, to address where the Rockets are at in regards to their last line of defense heading into Spring ball.

"It looks like we've got some guys who are pretty talented," Nichols said after evaluating film on the current Rocket safeties. "We've got guys who play hard, and the good news is that we'll have some good senior leadership in the secondary this year, particularly at safety."

Starting with the seniors and working his way down, Nichols continued.

"Obviously Lester Richmond has played a lot of football around here," Nichols said. "He's a tremendous leader. He's a real physical player, but obviously a very smart player. One thing we want is a player who not only knows the defensive schemes, but also knows what an offense is going to want to do and how they'll want to attack us. We want that kind of awareness and we think Richmond has it. We feel good about Lester and the ability that he has to play football and win us a MAC Championship.

"Our next guy is probably Barry Church. He seems to be a great player. He's had a lot of recognition and a lot of notoriety over the past three years, and it's well deserved. He seems to be a player with great character and great work ethic. It obviously shows on the field. He's shown the ability to make big plays in big games, and we're excited about him and seeing him in multiple roles. Hopefully he can get that done.

"And then Chris Faison from Michigan, he's a kid who's played some special teams and some safety. He's had a nice winter conditioning. He looks to be someone who can run around a little bit. He's good in man-coverage situations."

Conditioning, and keeping these safeties in position to be able to run in man-to-man situations, seems to be a common thread amongst the group. Pushed further on the new program, Coach Nichols continued to praise the dedication, led by the seniors, as the group prepares for their final year in Toledo.

"We tested their body weight and body fat percentage today actually," Nichols added, "and every member of the secondary combined; I believe we dropped 28% body fat in just about seven weeks. We feel good about that because we really challenged these guys to really do one thing, be able to come into spring practice in great shape. We want to be able to coach football instead of showing them how to get into shape. It will also help us get a better evaluation of them. If you're in shape already you're going to play harder, play faster and you'll be able to play longer."

It's not just seniors, though, planning on making their mark on the Rockets defensive secondary this fall. Nichols was quick to continue his praise for others at the position.

"Joe Shuler, from Apopka, comes from a very rich high school tradition. I think over the off season he's really changed his life. In the last eight or nine weeks it seems like the light has really come on for him. He's a young man who's put on five or six pounds in eight weeks, but still cut his percentage of body fat. He's done a great job in the class room, and we're looking for big things out of him. I'm really proud of the way he's progressed over the past two months. He's made a bigger leap than anyone else in our secondary, and for that we're excited to see how he can help us.

"Mark Singer is a kid from out in New Jersey. He seems to be a tough kid. A real, real willing kid. He's got great work ethic. He does a great job in the classroom. He's a real competitive guy. He's a guy who's going to find a way to win no matter what it is. If you play him in Tiddlywinks he's going to find a way to beat you. That's the guy that I love to coach. He's going to get after it to the best of his abilities. He had a great interception against Michigan, and he played a big specials teams role. We're glad to see he has that experience.

"Isiah Ballard, a guy who actually grew up in the Toledo area, he's kind of like Joe Shuler. He's developed at an extremely fast pace over the past two months. In speaking with his mom the other day, he told her that he told matured more in the past two months than he has in his entire life.

"Drey'Lon Pree, he's a guy you wish they might have initially redshirted him. Obviously that wasn't up to us. I'm sure there are great reasons for why he was played, but he's just a young guy. He's doing a nice job though. He's cut two or three percent body fat in the past two months, and that's not easy. He's tall, long and lean and looks to have some ability in the blitzing area, but he's got good cover skills too.

"Anthony King, a young man from California who's actually going through some health issues right now, we'll know soon whether he's going to be able to go through Spring. He's got some speed and ability. A great mama. We'd like to get him back on the field as soon as possible.

And last, but, certainly not least.

"Yeah, Jermaine Robinson will go through spring practice. He's a guy who we think is just going to be a terrific football player. It's interesting to look at our defense, see the guys who have been productive over the past couple years, we obviously love the state of Ohio, but Pennsylvania's been good to us and Jermaine Robinson is no exception to that rule. We've never seen him play in a Toledo uniform, but he's picking things up and he'll start at safety right now. He's a tremendous athlete. He's going to take a face off of somebody. We think his talent level is pretty high."

Rocket Digest Top Stories