By Chris King, Assistant Sports Editor —
With a new coaching staff and many new faces on the field, the football team competed in its annual Spring Game at Finley Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Mocs took part in two-hour scripted practice that consisted of individual position drills, situational drills, special teams drills, two-minute situations and one-on-one drills. The final 40 minutes was a live scrimmage that left those in attendance with a good first impression of the new era of Chattanooga football.
“I thought it was a good day overall,” said Head Coach Tom Arth. “There will be a lot to go back and work on but that’s the most important thing. There will be a lot of teaching moments that we can go back and look at on film. Overall, I was pleased with our performance in all phases of the game.”
Defensive line looking strong
Despite losing a strong core of defensive lineman from last year’s team, the Mocs’ defensive line looked very strong during the scripted practice. Seniors D.J. Prather, Calhoun, Georgia, and Taylor Reynolds, McCalla, Alabama, will look to be the leaders on the defensive line followed by juniors Isaiah Mack, Tunnel Hill, Georgia, and Derek Mahaffey, Oxford, Alabama.
On top of the returning defensive lineman, the Mocs will also have MTSU transfer Joshua Phillips, Hendersonville, Tennessee, and redshirt freshman Jonathan Decker, Alcoa, Tennessee, who is former Tennessee Mr. Football 3A Lineman of the Year and two-time 3A State Champion. Phillips had the highlight play of the scripted practice as he picked off the quarterback and returned it for a 47-yard touchdown. Decker and Mack each contributed a sack while Reynolds had one tackle-for-loss.
“I was very impressed with our defensive line, they really came to play today,” said Arth. “We are fortunate to have good depth at that position and I think they are one of the strengths of our team.”
After starting every game last season and earning second team All-SoCon, senior Alejandro Bennifield, Lovejoy, Georgia, is back and poised to be the signal caller again this season. Bennifield posted 44 yards passing on five attempts and one touchdown in his limited action during the live scrimmage part of the scripted practice. Behind Bennifield is Mississippi State transfer sophomore Nick Tiano, Chattanooga, who transferred back to his hometown prior to the spring semester. Tiano passed for 53 yards and one touchdown on just two attempts during the scrimmage. The addition of Tiano gives the Mocs depth at a very crucial position and potentially allows the coaching staff to use a two quarterback scheme in different game situations.
Tae Davis transitions to linebacker
After being a defensive back and a huge contributor on special teams during his first three seasons at UTC, senior Tae Davis, Oxford, Alabama, is making the transition to middle linebacker. Davis has big shoes to fill as former UTC middle linebacker Nakevion Leslie started 44 career games and was a three-time All SoCon member. Davis started one game last season at safety and played in all 13 games as he finished with 31 tackles on the year. Davis has a career-high of nine tackles that came against Alabama last season.
“The transition is going good,” said Davis. “I’ve been working on my footwork in the box and learning how to use my hands more. Being able to play in the box is something that I have always thought I would be capable of and this spring I have progressed into that role. I am very pleased with my progression at the position.”
The Mocs have two more practices left before closing out the spring schedule. Following the conclusion of spring practice, all eyes will be on the Aug. 26 season opener against Jacksonville State. That game will be on a neutral site at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama, and will be aired on ESPN at 7 p.m.