The road to recovery

Joe Toledo stands on the sidelines sporting a red jersey with the No.2 on it. There's only one problem, the University of Washington's colors are purple and gold. For Toledo, who missed much of the 2001 season with a broken foot, this spring has left him with an all-too familiar feeling.

Toledo has shoulder surgery to repair at torn labrum shortly after the game against Purdue in the Sun Bowl, and has been forced to miss all of spring ball. The doctors told him he couldn't take part in contact drills for 6 months. So far, it's been only 13 weeks since the surgery, meaning the huge tight end still has a ways to go before returning to the football field at full speed.

For now, as he did two years ago while his foot healed, Toledo is left with catching passes on the sidelines while his teammates work their way up the depth chart.

"It's frustrating not being able to be out there," said Toledo, who will be a third-year player in 2003. "This is basically my time to out there and prove to the coaches what I can do. Not being able to do that, and just having to stand and watch other guys go through it is real frustrating."

Toledo says he'd rather be on the field, battling for the starting job and helping the up-and-coming tight ends like Jon Lyon and Ben Bandel learn the nuances of the position.

"These guys are younger and they don't really know what's going on," said Toledo. "It's kind of hard not being out there being able to help them.

"They are coming on and they are playing and showing what they can do. It's tough for me not being able to do that. But at the same time I need to watch from the sidelines and see what's going on so I stay sharp mentally."

In the mean time, Toledo is doing all the doctors will allow him to do to get back in shape. He's hitting the weights hard with the strength and conditioning staff to rehab the injury, and he feels like he is right on track for a return time somewhere around June.

But during practices this spring, there hasn't been much for Toledo to do.

"I've been running some routes and catching the ball," he said. "I can't really do any hands-on stuff. When I get out too wide it feels kind of loose, but it's getting stronger and hopefully with a little more rehab it will be back."

Recently, after the Huskies' last scrimmage, tight end coach Keith Gilbertson went public in saying that none of the other tight ends were playing up to the level where they could take away the starting spot from Toledo.

Toledo says those comments don't matter, at least not for now.

"These guys are going to come out and compete like I'm going to in the fall. It feels good that coach Gilbertson said that, obviously, but at the same time I have to take that and put it behind me because it doesn't really mean anything until I prove myself."

Of all the uncertainty that surrounds spring football in Montlake, the one sure thing surrounding this team might be that the battle for the starting tight end position is heating up - even if it's taken Joe Toledo watching from the sidelines to increase the battle for the job.

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