Chattanooga opens spring practice in just over a week. The Mocs return a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball from last season’s 6-5 campaign, but this spring will offer the first glimpse of new offensive coordinator Jeff Durden’s system.
Nooga.com will preview each position group leading up to the first practice on March 22.
Gone: J.J. Jackson (graduation); Chris Awuah (graduation); *Ethan Poe (graduation)
Returning: Keon Williams (RS JR); Kendrix Huitt (RS SO); Marquis Green (JR); Tolerance Shepherd (RS FR); *Taharin Tyson (JR)
Arriving in summer: Derrick Craine (2-star)
Outlook: Chattanooga’s backfield, like just about every other unit, welcomes back plenty of experience this spring, but, unfortunately for the Mocs, not a lot of production.
UTC returns four of its top five backs from a year ago, including junior fullback Taharin Tyson, a two-year starter, but none of them enjoyed much success last season.
The Mocs finished seventh in the nine-team Southern Conference in rushing offense (166.4 ypg), and quarterback Jacob Huesman was responsible for nearly half of the team’s yards.
Kendrix Huitt led the backs with 288 yards and three touchdowns on 57 carries, but the position produced just 754 yards on the season. Georgia Southern, which led the SoCon and the nation in rushing yards (5,591), had six players rack up more yards than Huitt. A lot of that is a result of the Eagles’ triple-option offensive attack, obviously, but it helps illustrate how little the Mocs generated on the ground in 2012.
Huitt was the only back for Chattanooga to notch a 100-yard game last season, and the 5-9, 190-pounder only accomplished that feat once—a 129-yard, one-touchdown performance at Western Carolina on Nov. 3.
Junior Keon Williams started last season strong, running for 150 yards and a pair of scores through the first four weeks, but the 6-foot, 220-pounder’s role shrunk drastically down the stretch. Williams, who ran for 500 yards and four touchdowns as a true freshman in 2010, carried the ball just five times in UTC’s final seven games.
Fellow junior Marquis Green, who also eclipsed the 500-yard mark in his freshman season (2011), saw his production dip last year as well. Green ran for a season-high 59 yards and two touchdowns in the Mocs’ home opener against Glenville State, but the 5-7, 175-pound speedster simply wasn’t being utilized enough out of the backfield.
Green made the transition to slot receiver midway through the season, and made an immediate impact there. He hauled in 15 receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown, including a five-catch, 53-yard performance at Furman on Oct. 13.
Freshman Tolerance Shepherd will also be in the mix for carries this spring after redshirting in 2012. The 5-10, 180-pound back out of Fitzgerald, Ga., racked up 1,564 yards and 24 touchdowns in his senior year at Fitzgerald High School.
Chattanooga signed just one running back in its most recent class, Derrick Craine. Craine, a two-star recruit according to rivals.com, ran for a school-record 2,015 yards and 26 touchdowns last season as a senior at Union Grove High School. Barring any unforeseen injuries, the 5-10, 205-pounder will likely redshirt next fall.
Quotable: Durden on his offensive philosophy:
“Offensively I like to run the football. That’s what we’ve done (at James Madison); that’s how we’ve been successful. Usually when you can do that you’re pretty good on defense, and I know that’s what this program has been built around—a top-notch defense.”
By the numbers:
• Williams: (UTC career) 154 rushing attempts, 655 yards, 7 TDs
• Green: (UTC career) 144 rushing attempts, 656 yards; 32 receptions, 221 yards, 1 TD
• Huitt: (UTC career) 57 rushing attempts, 288 yards, 3 TDs
• Tyson: (UTC career) 53 rushing attempts, 165 yards, 2 TDs
• Craine: (SR year at Union Grove H.S.) 262 rushing attempts, 2,015 yards, 26 TDs
Projected spring depth chart: The Mocs never utlized an every-down back last season, spreading the carries around quite a bit. Durden has stated he would like to get as many people involved in the offense as possible, so that could also be the case this year. Williams, Huitt and Green have to be on top of the list, but Shepherd could also be competing for carries next fall.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.