Chattanooga opens spring practice in less than a week. The Mocs return a wealth of talent on both sides of the ball from last season’s 6-5 campaign, and this spring will offer the first glimpse of new defensive coordinator Adam Braithewaite’s system.
Nooga.com will preview each position group leading up to the first practice on March 22.
Gone: Josh Williams (graduation)
Returning: Davis Tull (RS JR); Derrick Lott (RS SR); Toyvian Brand (JR); Chris Mayes (RS JR); Zack Rayl (RS JR); Keyon Reed (RS SO); Devin Scates (RS JR); Josh Freeman (RS SO); Keionta Davis (RS FR); Vantrell McMillan (RS FR); Will Mix (RS SO)
Arriving in summer: Taylor Reynolds (3-star); D.J. Prather (2-star)
Outlook: The Mocs’ defensive front was without question one of the team’s main strengths in 2012. With all the talent returning to the trenches, UTC’s front four should be even better in 2013.
Defensive end Josh Williams will certainly be missed, but Chattanooga has more than enough talent to fill in for the school’s all-time sack leader (23.5 sacks). The unit welcomes back three of its four starters from a season ago, including defensive end Davis Tull, the 2012 Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year (12.5 sacks, 19.0 TFL), and 6-4, 300-pound defensive tackle Derrick Lott, a second-team All-SoCon selection.
Tull and Lott are just the headliners, though. Chattanooga’s defensive line is as deep as it is talented.
Junior Zack Rayl is a strong candidate to start at the other defensive end spot. The 6-3, 230 pounder tallied 22 tackles-five for loss-and two sacks in 2012 while providing breathers for both Williams and Tull. Freshmen Keionta Davis and Vantrell McMillan should provide depth at the position after both redshirted last season.
Junior Toyvian Brand returns after starting all 11 games last season alongside Lott at defensive tackle, while junior Chris Mayes saw plenty of playing time as well, backing up the two in the middle.
Junior Devin Scates, along with sophomores Josh Freeman and Keyon Reed are three more tackles with starting experience, although none made many contributions last season. Freeman started 10 games for the Mocs as a true freshman in 2011, but the 6-foot, 285-pounder was afforded the opportunity to redshirt last year thanks to the added depth provided by transfers Lott (Georgia) and Mayes (Navy).
But while Freeman benefited from the influx of talent on the inside, Reed and Scates payed the price.
Reed, who was selected to the 2011 SoCon All-Freshman team (18 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks), saw both his playing time and production slip in 2012. The 6-2, 260-pounder played in just five games last season, recording three tackles, while Scates appeared in just three games.
By the numbers:
. Tull: 22 games, 88 tackles, 17.5 sacks, 23.0 TFLs
. Lott: (UTC career) 11 games, 57 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 4.0 TFLs
. Brand: 20 games, 40 tackles, 2.5 TFLs
. Mayes: (UTC career) 11 games, 13 tackles, 1.5 TFLs
. Rayl: 20 games, 32 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 9.0 TFLs
. Freeman: 11 games, 23 tackles
. Reed: 13 games, 24 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 5.5 TFLs
. Scates: 10 games, 11 tackles, 1.0 TFL
Projected initial spring depth chart: Tull and Rayl will likely start at the two defensive end spots, but Davis and McMillan should see plenty of action this spring as well. There’s going to be a logjam at defensive tackle, though. Lott should occupy one of the starting tackle positions, while-like last year-Brand and Mayes battle it out for the other spot.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.