Chattanooga’s defense didn’t leave head coach Russ Huesman gleaming with optimism this spring.
The unit’s younger players, who were the focal point of the Mocs’ 15 practice sessions, didn’t come far enough along. There are still depth concerns in the secondary and at linebacker. As far as UTC’s potential starting lineup goes, though, Huesman feels pretty good about it.
“I think we’re going to be fine on defense,” Huesman said. “I don’t think that’s the question, but I don’t know if we have the kind of depth we really need.”
Here’s a look at what the starting lineup could look like for Chattanooga when it takes the field for its home opener against UT Martin:
DE - Davis Tull (6-3, 230, RS JR): Extremely gifted pass rusher who spent much of the spring as a spectator after his record-setting 2012 campaign—12.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss. He’ll be the leader of Chattanooga’s highly-touted defensive front this fall.
DT - Derrick Lott (6-4, 303, RS SR): The Georgia transfer was a difference-maker along UTC’s defensive front last season. Lott’s size alone makes him a force in the Southern Conference. Combine that with his speed and agility, and he could among the top interior linemen in the FCS in 2013.
DT - Chris Mayes (6-3, 295, RS JR): Didn’t start a single game for the Mocs last season, but saw plenty of the field, splitting time at defensive tackle with teammate Toyvian Brand. This spring, however, the transfer from Navy lined up with the ones, along with Brand, who was working at defensive end.
DE - Zack Rayl (6-3, 230, RS JR): Seasoned backup with plenty of game experience. Appeared in all 11 games last season, racking up five tackles for loss and two sacks. He’s the favorite to start at end opposite Tull.
OLB - Gunner Miller (6-1, 225, RS SR): Transitioned to the Sam linebacker spot this spring after the graduation of Shane Heatherly. The fifth-year senior started seven games in 2012, but as one of UTC’s most experienced defenders, that number will go up in 2013.
MLB - Wes Dothard (6-1, 235, RS SR): Two-time All-American and leader of one of the nation’s top-ranked defenses for the past two seasons, racking up 192 total tackles. Didn’t see a lot of action this spring, but should rarely come off the field in 2013.
OLB - Muhasibi Wakeel (5-11, 220, RS JR): Wakeel appeared in all 11 games for the Mocs last season, mostly on special teams. He’s the logical choice to replace Heatherly as the third linebacker, but there’s still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the position heading into the fall.
CB - Chaz Moore (5-10, 165, SR): Two-year starter in the Mocs’ secondary, playing cornerback, nickel and safety, in addition to serving as the team’s kick returner. One of the few defensive veterans to play extensively this spring, leading UTC’s young group of defensive backs.
FS - Dean Haynes (5-11, 200, RS SR): North Carolina State transfer entering his final season with the Mocs. Missed the first five games of 2012 with an injury, and wasn’t 100 percent even after his return. Healthy for the first time at UTC, and looking to become an impact player in 2013.
SS - D.J. Key (6-0, 195, RS SR): Missed all of spring practice while recovering from offseason surgery to repair a micro-fracture in his left foot. Two-time All-Southern Conference selection has appeared in 32 games in his career, starting 24.
CB - Kadeem Wise (5-10, 180, RS SR): Awarded the Bob Davis Winter Warrior Award for work in the weight room this offseason. Has started all 22 games at cornerback over the last two years. Tied for No. 10 all-time at UTC with eight interceptions, one behind his head coach, Russ Huesman.
DL - Toyvian Brand: Versatile lineman who started all 11 games at defensive tackle in 2012. He worked at defensive end for most of the spring. The 6-2, 260-pound junior should see plenty of the field next fall providing a different look for UTC’s defensive front.
DB - Sema’je Kendall: Played in 10 games as a redshirt freshman in 2012, starting seven games. Played cornerback in nickel situations, and also spent some time at safety while Haynes was out with injury. The 6-foot, 175-pounder led the team in passes defended (7) and pass break-ups (7) last season.
LB - Nakevion Leslie: Redshirt freshman who transitioned from defensive back to linebacker this offseason. The 5-11, 205-pounder could challenge Wakeel for playing time at the third linebacker spot.
FS - Zach McCarter: Veteran defensive back missed all of spring with injury, but will be ready to go by fall. Former walk-on started six games in 2012, and the 6-3, 200-pounder will be battling Haynes for the starting free safety spot.
DT - Josh Freeman: Compact defensive tackle who redshirted last season after coming into camp overweight and out of shape. Had a solid spring for the Mocs, and the coaches hope the 6-foot, 285-pound junior returns to his true freshman form this fall.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.