Chattanooga returns eight of 11 starters on defense, including all four defensive linemen. The Mocs will have to replace All-SoCon linebacker Ryan Consiglio, who led the league with 120 tackles, and a pair of four-year starting defensive backs in Jordan Tippit and Chris Lewis-Harris. However, with what is returning, the defensive line is one area Chattanooga has a lot of talent.
"I think we have some really good players up front, but you have to start outside with David Tull (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Josh Williams (Griffin, Ga.)," stated head coach Russ Huesman. "Those two, in my opinion, are as good as there is in the league. They are dynamic players and that is what we need on the edge."
Williams (6-2, 235) is the Mocs' all-time sack leader with 21.5 in his career. He led the SoCon with 9.5 last season, earning first team all-league honors. Tull (6-3, 230) was tied for fifth in the league and led all SoCon freshmen with five sacks, earning SoCon All-Freshman honors. Their 14.5 sacks are the most by any returning tandem in the league. Together they also had 13 hurries while Tull recovered two fumbles.
Chattanooga only has three defensive ends on the roster, with Zach Rayl (Englewood, Tenn.) coming off a solid freshman season. Rayl (6-3, 230) moved up from linebacker and played in nine games off the bench, recording a sack and four tackles for loss.
"Zack Rayl has had a great spring and we think he can be just like those guys (Williams and Tull)," said Huesman. "We feel good about a three-man rotation, but we are going to try to find a fourth defensive end. Either we move someone from another position or a freshman comes in a plays in that spot."
There are four currently battling for time at defensive tackles with a total of six listed on the depth chart. Josh Freeman (Atlanta, Ga.) started 10 of 11 games last season, recording 23 tackles and two fumble recoveries. Freeman (6-0, 280) made the SoCon All-Freshman team, but is out for the spring recovering from shoulder surgery.
"Obviously, Josh Freeman had a really nice year for us," said Huesman. "He is one of the leaders up front and we think he can be real good. We will get him healthy for the fall. I feel great about him."
Michael Slowey (Brentwood, Tenn.) is the other on the depth chart that is not currently competing at the position. He moved over to the offensive line last week and is still experimenting with the change. At 6-5 and 330 pounds, Slowey is the biggest body on the team and will help, regardless of what position he plays in the fall.
"You can throw all four of the other defensive tackles in a hat and pick two," added Huesman. "They are all going to play and they are all good players. Toyvian Brand (Greensboro, Ala.) got so much better as the year went on and we feel like he can be really good."
Brand (6-2, 260) was the other starter at tackle last season, working on the first team five times in nine games. He finished with 15 tackles and one fumble recovery. Keyon Reed (Palm Bay, Fla.) was also a big contributor as a freshman, posting 18 tackles and 2.5 sacks while recovering two fumbles and forcing another. Reed (6-2, 260) started three times in eight games and earned a spot on the SoCon All-Freshman team.
"Keon Reed had some good games and we expect him to have a good year for us," continued Huesman. "We want him to put on some more weight and he will be in the mix for a starting spot."
"Devin is an unbelievable worker," said Huesman. "He can be a cross between a tackle and an end, but we are hoping he can put the weight on. He can run, he just has to get stronger and bigger. If he does that, he can be a factor at defensive tackle."
Mayes maybe be the x-factor at this position and could have the biggest impact on the defense. He transferred from Navy last season and sat out as a redshirt. At 6-3 and 295 pounds, his mix of size of athletic ability is rare at the FCS level. He has already shown flashes of his ability, returning a fumble 55 yards for a touchdown in Saturday's scrimmage.
"Chris Mayes is coming along," stated Huesman. "We just don't have any big bodies like him in that spot. If he continues to work on the things we are asking him to work on, I think he can be really good."