Chattanooga opens spring practice today. 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 this afternoon.
Gone: Don Cope (graduation)
Returning: Kadeem Wise (RS SR); Chaz Moore (SR); Dean Haynes (RS SR); Sema’je Kendall (RS SO); Keith Mayes (RS JR); Nakevion Leslie (RS FR); Will Johnson (RS FR); Cedric Nettles (RS FR); Dee Virgin (RS FR); William BeAird (RS FR); Marius Hampton (RS FR); Nick Branum (RS SR)
Injuries: D.J. Key (RS SR); Zach McCarter (RS JR)
Arriving this summer: Jerkerious Scott (2-star); Lucas Webb (NR)
Outlook: Chattanooga’s defensive backfield has been a force in the Southern Conference for the last two seasons, and with all of its starters in the secondary returning this fall, UTC will be aiming to improve on its already stellar pass defense.
In 2011, the Mocs led the SoCon in pass defense and pass defense efficiency, and while they took a bit of a step back last year, the unit still finished the season ranked third in the league in both categories.
Senior safety D.J. Key, a two-time All-SoCon selection, is sure to be in the starting lineup this fall, along with senior cornerbacks Kadeem Wise and Chaz Moore.
Senior safety Dean Haynes will also be looking to crack the starting lineup, along with redshirt sophomore Sema’je Kendall and redshirt juniors Keith Mayes and Zach McCarter. All four saw time at free safety in 2012.
Haynes, a transfer from North Carolina State, missed the first half of last season with a foot injury that the 5’11, 200-pounder suffered on just the third day of fall camp. Haynes started two of the final three games at free safety, and he’ll be looking for a smoother second season with the Mocs.
Kendall started the first three games at free safety before transitioning to cornerback-the 6-foot, 175-pounder’s preferred position-while Mayes and McCarter saw plenty of snaps at the free safety as well.
Key and McCarter won’t be participating this spring after undergoing offseason surgeries, but that shouldn’t matter much. Unlike last spring, when the Mocs were focused on replacing two key contributors in their secondary-Chris Lewis Harris and Jordan Tippit-this spring will be more about finding quality backups.
Nakevion Leslie (5-11, 205), Will Johnson (5-11, 185), Cedric Nettles (6-0, 180), Dee Virgin (5-10, 180), William BeAird (5-11, 195) and Marius Hampton (5-8, 165) all redshirted last season as true freshmen, and they’ll have the most to gain-or lose-this spring.
By the numbers:
Key: 32 games (24 starts), 216 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 5 INTs
Wise: 33 games (33 starts), 129 tackles, 5 TFLs, 8 INTs
Moore: 33 games (17 starts), 91 tackles, 3 INTs
Haynes: (UTC career) 6 games (2 starts) 18 tackles, 2 TFLs
Kendall: 10 games (7 starts), 21 tackles
McCarter: 21 games (6 starts), 41 tackles
Mayes: 21 games (1 start), 17 tackles, 1 TFL
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.