There are two starters gone, a new position coach and an increasing emphasis on the run game. The offensive line is an interesting group to watch during the first half of spring practice for the Chattanooga Mocs. UTC returns five letter winners, including three starters, and is developing depth with a group of talented redshirt freshmen.
“The offensive line is such an unselfish position and all of these guys have to be on the same page every snap,” stated head coach Russ Huesman. “Whether it is guard-tackle, center-guard, pass protection, calls, communication - they have to be a tight-knit group. They have to love each other, and they have to work well together. We’ve got a great group there.”
Chris Malone, the latest addition to the Mocs coaching staff, is tasked with continuing the improvement shown over the course of last season. A 15-year veteran at the collegiate level, Malone was most recently the offensive line coach at Virginia State. Prior to that, he spent the previous seven years working with current UTC offensive coordinator Jeff Durden at James Madison University.
“It has been a pretty smooth transition for me because I know Jeff from when I was working at JMU,” added Malone who was hired at UTC on March 11. “It is pretty much the same offense and a lot of the same verbage. Concepts are all the same. The biggest thing right now is to get a feel for the kids and put them all in a position to be successful.”
The returning starters Malone has to work with include senior right tackle Brandon Morgan, junior left guard Synjen Herren and sophomore left tackle Corey Levin. Other returning letter winners are junior center Channing Smith and junior guard Casey Hybarger. Hunter Townson, Jacob Revis, Logan Teichmann and Alex Hooper are all redshirt freshmen while Robert Hill, Jose Bruno and Brenton Leeper are upperclassmen looking for their first game action.
Chattanooga has to replace All-Southern Conference honoree Kevin Revis and three-year starter Patrick Sutton from last year’s squad. Revis was a first team all-league pick at right guard, while Sutton started every game of his career at center.
“We lost a couple that were pretty crucial last year, but everybody seems to be filling their spots,” stated Herren, who is about to enter his third season as the starter at left guard. Despite being a rising junior, spring practice is a new experience for the 6-4, 315-pound native of nearby Dalton, Ga.
“This is my first spring,” added Herren. “Different complications from different injuries and surgeries kept me out. I just want to get my experience up a little more. I think the camaraderie with each other is important. Some guys have not played as much, but to get everybody working together is big.”
Herren’s side of the ball is nailed down with the return of Levin at left tackle. He was a member of the SoCon All-Freshman team and received national freshman recognition for his play last season.
“Corey Levin I think can probably be as good as we have ever had here,” said Huesman. “Just unbelievable ability, toughness and size. What a great year he had last year.”
Brandon Morgan started 21 games in his career and is looking to fill the right tackle position again. He is being pushed by redshirt freshman Hunter Townson, who enrolled at UTC in January of 2013 and sat out last season.
“Brandon Morgan is another guy who started a lot of games for us,” added Huesman. “He can play tackle and guard. He is versatile. We expect him to have a really good year.”
The battles for the open positions at center and right guard are shaping up as expected. Redshirt freshman Jacob Revis is working with the first group at center, while former defensive lineman Chris Mayes flipped sides and is the front-runner at right guard.
“I am really encouraged by the acquisition of Chris Mayes from the defensive line,” stated Malone. “It has really been positive so far. He is going in the right direction. He is picking up on the techniques and the effort has been really good. He is a physical player that can run so he is going to help us.”
“They guy I have been extremely impressed with is Jacob Revis,” continued Huesman. “He has looked really good at center as a redshirt guy, and he is going to have to play. He is in the starting lineup, and we feel great about him.”
The Mocs just finished their sixth workout of the spring on Wednesday and are set for their first scrimmage on Friday. The scrimmage starts at 4:00 p.m. (E.D.T.) at Finley Stadium and is open to the public. Be sure to check back to GoMocs.com for a full recap.