If Monday's preview of the quarterbacks showed the most stable position on UTC's roster, then today's look at the defensive line represents the area with the biggest questions. Chattanooga returns two starters and just four lettermen to the line and will try to work in a number of talented but untested newcomers.
Senior Nick Davison (Calhoun, Ga.) and junior Josh Williams (Griffin, Ga.) are the two returning starters with Davison receiving preseason second team All-Southern Conference recognition. He will hold down one of the tackle positions while Williams will resume his role on the left end.
With 12 career sacks, Williams is just three shy of the UTC school record. He was a second team All-SoCon pick as a freshman, but was slowed by a shoulder injury last year. He had surgery in the offseason and by all accounts from practice, he is back to his old form.
"Josh is having a great camp," stated defensive line coach Jimmy Lindsey. "He is a good leader and you can tell he is back at full strength. He's doing a great job for us and we hope that once the season starts, he continues the production he's had the last two years."
Davison transferred to UTC prior to the start of the 2010 season and made an immediate impact. He posted 45 tackles, including eight for a loss, last season. "I feel like I've improved a lot," stated Davison. "I focused on my weaknesses during the offseason. I think I'm a lot stronger and I am in better shape this year. Hopefully, I can play a lot more snaps with a higher intensity."
Senior De'Markus Lee (Alexandria, Va.) and sophomore Michael Slowey (Brentwood, Tenn.) are the other two returners. Lee missed nine games last season due to an injury, but is ready to compete on the end. Slowey is still looking for his first career action, but has been hampered by a nagging hamstring injury during camp. He was back on the field today for the first time in five sessions.
Finding the right fit on the other end will be a key to the Mocs defense. "The blueprint of when you're good is if you have two guys on the edge, two defensive ends, who are dynamic, can run, can chase things down and rush the passer," stated head coach Russ Huesman. "We think we have some guys who can do that."
Huesman is referring to a pair of redshirt freshmen in Davis Tull (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Zack Rayl (Englewood, Tenn.). Tull flew under the recruiting radar after suffering a season-ending injury his senior year at Bearden High School. His athletic ability and work ethic will make him a formidable opponent for SoCon offenses. Rayl came to UTC as a linebacker, but has moved to the defensive line. His mix of size and speed will give him an advantage.
"Davis has great speed," stated Williams when asked about his younger teammate. "Now that he has been here for a year, he has pass-rushing moves and he's gotten more skillful. He's definitely ready to take the field."
Also competing for a spot on the end are freshmen Julian Reed (Hixson, Tenn.) and Darian Stewart (Augusta, Ga.). Reed redshirted last season while Stewart is a two-star recruit from Pebblebrook High School.
The Mocs will have some depth at tackle this season, a luxury they did not have in 2010. They key to success will be to mix in the right players with Davison.
"On the inside, we've always had one guy in there that is a dominant player, a disruptive kind of guy, and that's Nick Davison," continued Huesman. "And then as you put people in there you just want them to be solid, you want them to be in their gap, you want them to have their four or five tackles when it's their time to make a tackle. We think we have three dynamic guys and that's the making of a defense right there."
One big piece of the puzzle is Navy transfer Chris Mayes (Murfreesboro, Tenn.). At 6-3, 295 pounds, this tackle is not a common sight at the FCS level. He is still waiting to hear from the NCAA on his eligibility for the upcoming season. If he is cleared the Mocs will have another dominate presence inside.
Regardless of Mayes' status, the UTC still has two redshirt freshmen who can fill the other tackle position. Devin Scates (Memphis, Tenn.) and Keyon Reed (Palm Bay, Fla.) have both been impressive in camp and both could have played as true freshmen last season. Now they are more prepared to make plays at the collegiate level Scates has also been working on the end and could see time at any of the four spots.
True freshmen Josh Freeman (Atlanta, Ga.) and Toyvian Brand (Greensboro, Ala.) have also been very impressive early in camp. Brand has been slowed by a mild concussion, but the former all-state performer is pushing for time on the field. Freeman has worked in the both the first and second groups, and is also in the mix on the depth chart. Sophomore Marcus Englehardt (Maryville, Tenn.) is also competing for playing time.
"I feel like we've improved a lot since day one," added Davison. "We've really come together. You have myself and Josh Williams, who are back with game experience from last year as starters. The new guys have been in the system for a year, and they are really picking up the speed of the game."
2011 Chattanooga Mocs Football Practice Schedule
Friday - Aug. 12 - 2:30 p.m. - Finley Stadium (Scrimmage) - Open to the Public
Saturday - Aug. 13 - 2:30 p.m. - Scrappy Moore Field
Sunday - Aug. 14 - 2:00 p.m. - Scrappy Moore Field
Monday - Aug. 15 - 7:45 a.m. - Scrappy Moore Field
Tuesday - Aug. 16 - 7:45 a.m. - Scrappy Moore Field
Wednesday - Aug. 17 - 7:45 a.m. - Scrappy Moore Field
Thursday - Aug. 18 - 2:45 p.m. - Scrappy Moore Field
Friday - Aug. 19 - 7:45 a.m. - Scrappy Moore Field
Saturday - Aug. 20 - 2:30 p.m. - Finley Stadium (Scrimmage) - Meet the Mocs
Sunday - Aug. 21 - 2:00 p.m. - Scrappy Moore Field
Monday - Aug. 22 - OFF - First Day of Classes
Tuesday - Aug. 23 - 3:30 p.m. - Scrappy Moore Field
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