The Chattanooga football team opened spring practice Monday afternoon at Scrappy Moore Field, holding the first of 14 practice sessions leading up to the annual Blue & Gold spring game on Friday, April 11.
As UTC head coach Russ Huesman described it, nothing truly spectacular happened during the roughly 2 1/2 hour workout. Nothing catastrophic occurred, either, just the all-too-expected Day 1 rust.
“Throw a big old okay in there,” Huesman said afterwards.
“I think we’re trying hard, but we’ve got to get better,” he added. “You’ve got to temper [expectations]. We’ve got a lot of guys not practicing and a lot of guys playing new spots. You live with what you’ve got and hope they keep getting better.”
Just like last spring, several key players will be sidelined-the result of previous injuries and offseason surgeries-leaving the Mocs rather thin at certain spots; linebacker being one of them.
The departures of two-time All-American Wes Dothard and 2013 team captain Gunner Miller has left Chattanooga with a handful of largely inexperienced players at the position. There’s talent there, but two potential starters in 2014-senior Muhasibi Wakeel and junior A.J. Hampton-won’t be participating this spring.
“You look at the [number] one defense, and we’ve got T.J. Jenkins at Mike linebacker,” Huesman said. “He’s going to be an excellent player, but he’s never done it. Now he’s got to get people lined up and the pace just can’t go that fast.”
The secondary is another area in need of retooling this offseason following the departures of multi-year starters D.J. Key, Kadeem Wise and Chaz Moore.
“Shoot you’re talking about D.J. Key and Kadeem Wise-four-year starters-and Wes [Dothard], a three-year starter,” Huesman said. “We’ll miss their playmaking ability, but I think we’ve got enough older people on this team that there’s enough leadership. I don’t think there’s any question about that.”
“We talked about it today in meetings,” added junior defensive tackle Josh Freeman. “We’ve just got to turn the page. Anytime you lose that many guys it’s tough, but you’ve just got to turn the page and get better; grow up and just go from there.”
For Chattanooga’s offense, which returns eight starters to a unit ranked in the FCS top 25 in rushing offense (212.4 ypg) and pass efficieny (142.30) a season ago, it wasn’t so much inexperience as it was a lack of timing and rhythm.
“I think everybody’s a little rusty,” said junior quarterback Jacob Huesman, the 2014 SoCon Offensive Player of the Year. “We’ve given the playbook a once over, just trying to knock some cobwebs out of there. I think we’ll be okay, but you can’t have the highest expectations for day one.
“It’s just nice to be back out here with the guys; everybody out here all at once competing.”
2014 season tickets on sale now
To purchase tickets for Chattanooga’s 2014 season, which went on sale Monday, visit GoMocs.com or call the UTC Ticket Office at 423-266-6627. Season tickets for youth, UTC faculty, staff and alumni start at $50, while prices for the general public start at $75. The Mocs’ five-game homescheduleincludes games against Jacksonville State, Samford, VMI, Mercer and Wofford. For more information, visitGoMocs.com.
. OUT:OL Robert Hill; OL Jose Bruno; DE Zach Rayl; DE Davis Tull; DE Vantrell McMillan;DT Derrick Lott; LB A.J. Hampton; LB Muhasibi Wakeel; LB Whit Shelton; CB Will Johnson
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on twitter @MichaelNooga.