Chattanooga opens spring practice Friday. 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: Shane Heatherly (graduation)
Returning: Wes Dothard (RS SR); Gunner Miller (RS SR); Muhasibi Wakeel (RS JR); C.J. Murrell (SR); Kris Harris (RS SO); A.J. Hampton (RS SO); Andrew Glaize (RS SO); Alex Kirby (RS FR)
Arriving this summer: T.J. Jenkins (2-star); David Morgan (NR)
Outlook: The 2013 group of linebackers will be a top-heavy bunch.
Fifth-year seniors Wes Dothard and Gunner Miller are both proven veterans, boasting a combined 42 starts between the two, but beyond that, there’s not much in terms of experience.
Dothard, a two-time All-American, has recorded 214 tackles in 31 career games, and he’s on pace to break into the top-10 in tackles in school history. He’s led one of the nation’s top-ranked defensive units for the past two seasons, and the 6-1, 235-pounder will be called upon to do the same in 2013.
Miller, who started seven games last year, will see that number increase this season with the graduation of Shane Heatherly, a team captain and the squad’s second-leading tackler (73) in 2012.
Heatherly is one of just two defensive starters who won’t be returning in 2013, but unlike the graduation of the school’s all-time sack leader, defensive end Josh Williams, the Mocs don’t have a proven reserve to step in and fill the void left at linebacker.
Redshirt junior Muhasibi Wakeel is the logical choice to replace Heatherly, but the 5-11, 220-pounder’s offseason arrest could set him back a bit. Wakeel racked up 13 tackles in 11 games last season, including a season-high four stops at Western Carolina on Nov. 3.
Senior C.J. Murrell, a former walk-on, has seen action in 24 games throughout his career, but most of his playing time has come on special teams.
Sophomore A.J. Hampton could receive some first-team looks this spring after appearing in all 11 games last season, finishing with eight tackles. Sophomores Kris Harris and Andrew Glaize, a transfer from Navy, both redshirted in 2012, spending the season on the scout team, and both should see plenty of reps this spring in hopes of preparing them for a reserve-or possibly starting-role in the fall.
By the numbers:
. Dothard: 31 games (22 starts), 214 tackles, 2 sacks, 19.5 TFLs
. Miller: 28 games (20 starts), 131 tackles, 1 sack, 12 TFLs
. Murrell: 24 games, 6 tackles
. Wakeel: 11 games, 13 tackles
. Hampton: 11 games, 8 tackles
Projected initial spring depth chart: Linebacker may be one of the thinnest units for Chattanooga in 2013, but it’s certainly not lacking in star power. Dothard and Miller will likely appear with the first-team defense this spring, but there will be plenty of competition for the third spot.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.