This will be the seventh of 15 practices as Chattanooga gets ready for the season-opening trip to South Florida on Sept. 1. UTC will hold its second scrimmage of the spring on Saturday, March 24, at 7:00 p.m. at Finley Stadium. The Spring Game is set for the following Saturday, March 31, at 2:00 p.m. at Finley.
During the first week, GoMocs.com broke down the quarterback position and the fierce competition for playing time under center. While the quarterback battle will be fun to watch, the toughest competition may be among the running backs. UTC returns four ball carriers who have scored at least three rushing touchdowns and another highly-rated recruit who redshirted last season.
"We are loaded there," said Mocs head coach Russ Huesman. "It is a great problem to have. I think we have a bunch of quality players back there. The competition will make each one of them better, just knowing that there are quality players breathing down their necks. They have all looked pretty good in the spring and I like the things they are doing."
J.J. Jackson (Marietta, Ga.) is currently holding down the No. 1 spot on the depth chart, although a number of running backs have worked with the first team through the first six spring practices. Jackson (5-9, 200) has eight starts in his three-year career that includes action in 28 games. He won the starting job last season, but suffered an ankle injury in the season opener at Nebraska. He finished with 234 yards rushing and three touchdowns in eight games.
"He is as solid as it gets, in every aspect of the game," said Huesman. "We can put him out there and have a lot of success. He is not quite as dynamic as some of the others, but we can win with him."
Jackson has battled classmate Chris Awuah (Marietta, Ga.) for playing time in each of the last three seasons. Awuah (5-9, 200) won the starting job as a freshman in 2009 and also started five games in 2011. He is the active career rushing leader for the Mocs with 803 yards and eight touchdowns. A very versatile player, he has scored by rushing, passing, receiving and on special teams. He has played hurt for most of his career and missed two games last season, but is healthy for the first time since his freshman season and ready to make an impact.
"Awuah is coming back," stated Huesman. "You can see it this spring. He is starting to get his form back, he is starting to feel better and the aches and pains he had throughout the fall are gone. It looks like he is improving and he should be an impact player for us."
Marquis Green (Palmetto, Fla.) made the Southern Conference All-Freshman team last season, amassing a team-high 530 yards and three scores on 120 carries. It was the second-most yards and third-most carries by a Chattanooga freshman in school history. The fastest player in the group, he saw action in all 11 games and made one start. Green (5-7, 175) is also UTC's third-leading returning receiver with 17 catches for 89 yards. Playing as a true freshman in 2011, Green was also impressive in the classroom, making the Dean's List in his first semester of college.
"Marquis is doing really well," added Huesman. "We have to find ways to get him the ball other than when he is in the backfield. I think we are doing that right now. We are putting him outside and letting him catch ball screens and bubbles."
UTC also has two big question marks at running back in Kendrix Huitt (Atlanta, Ga.) and Keon Williams (Chattanooga, Tenn.). Huitt (5-9, 190) was a three-star prospect out of Norcross High School in Atlanta, Ga., and redshirted in the fall. He has explosive speed and a ton of potential that the coaching staff hopes to continue to develop in the spring.
"Huitt is doing some good things," continued Huesman. "He has a ton of ability and is probably the truest running back, as far as running back skills are concerned. Cuts, body-lean, the ability to make people miss, he has the overall combination when the ball is in his hands. He has to get tougher and he has to learn how to block and pass protect, but he is making strides."
Williams (6-0, 215) was a member of the SoCon All-Freshman team in 2010 when he ran for 500 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry, but was dismissed from the team in the offseason for a violation of team rules. He did not participate in team activities in the fall, but was allowed back for workouts in the spring. At 6-0 215 pounds, he possesses a mixture of size and speed that is not common at the FCS level. He could be a force in Chattanooga's new focus on the ground attack.
"He made it back to spring practice and that is a good thing," said Huesman. "But he is still on a very, very short leash. He has to continue to do everything the right way. He is rusty and he is way behind right now. He is going to have to get himself in playing shape. He has ability, no question. We saw that two years ago, but he has to do all of the little things right to get back on the field."
Taharin Tyson (Alcoa, Tenn.) started seven games at fullback as a true freshman in 2011. Tyson (5-11, 225) made the SoCon All-Freshman team, totaling 147 yards and two touchdowns on 47 carries. He had shoulder surgery in the offseason and is not participating in any contact this spring.
"If we want a big back, Taharin can do a lot of things," said Huesman. "He will play next year in a different role. He is not going to be the I-fullback who is pounding (isolations). We are going to get him the ball in the backfield and give him the opportunity to do more than he did in the past. I wish he was out here in the spring where we could get more evaluation on him, but he is a fantastic kid and he will know where to go and what to do."
Ethan Poe (Knoxville, Tenn.) is the other listed fullback. Poe (5-9, 200) is entering his third season in the program, but is yet to see action on the field. He and Tyson were both on the Dean's List in the spring and Poe has one of the highest g.p.a.s on the team as an economics major.
One other change among the running backs is the addition of assistant coach Thomas Brown. Brown played two seasons in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns. A former standout at Georgia (2007-07), be spent last season as a graduate assistant with the Bulldogs.
"Thomas Brown brings so much to the table," added Huesman. "He brings instant credibility to our running backs. They know who he is and what he has done. He will help this group continue to improve and that is what we want."