Gunner Miller doesn't play football to just run around not hitting people. The green no-contact jersey he's forced to wear because of a lingering nerve injury is almost like a set of shackles holding him down.
But until the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga linebacker is fully cleared to play, which won’t happen during spring practice, the green stays on and the waiting continues.
“Every time they even say the word ‘contact’ I get kicked off, but I’m out there running around and it’s good,” Miller said before Wednesday night's practice at Finley Stadium.
A former East Ridge High School standout, Miller earned the starting Sam linebacker job last fall, four weeks into his redshirt freshman season. Miller made his first start at Western Carolina and finished with nine tackles, including 4.0 for loss.
Miller made nine stops in the Mocs' next game, at The Citadel, and had six more versus Georgia Southern.
Two weeks later, on Oct. 30 against Elon, Miller suffered a left shoulder stinger early in the game and did not return. Little did he know that six months later he’d still be held out of contact.
Miller sustained a stretched nerve in his shoulder that, despite the 6-foot-1, 220-pound weight room junkie’s big muscles, sapped his strength on that side.
“It pretty much just shut my whole [left] arm down,” he said last month. “I couldn’t use it for about three weeks and now it’s starting to come back together.
“I’m back up to full strength in the weight room, but there’s some single-arm [lifts] that I still can’t do as well.”
Mocs defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said Miller is still able to get something positive out of practice despite being limited to non-contact situations.
Mocs offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said he has been mostly pleased with what he’s seen out of UTC’s revamped offensive line. He said freshman left tackle Taylor Dodds has shown flashes of being a great player down the road.
Satterfield said there’s plenty of room for improvement, but the overall effort from the guys has been good and they know their assignments.
“If you brought them in and gave them a test, they’d know what they were doing,” Satterfield said, adding that during Tuesday’s practice there were three busted plays out of the 40-plus plays the offense ran. “On the third day of spring, that’s pretty good.”
“We have some filler things for him do when he’s not allowed in, but anything we can involve him in, he will do,” Fuller said. “He’s got good football instincts, he’s always been a knee bender — we’ve been saying that for two years now. He gets it.”
In their second day in pads, the Mocs did some live scrimmaging toward the end of practice. In the first period, the offense converted on four straight plays before defensive tackle Devin Scates got free up the middle and stopped a pass play. In the second period, the defense made more plays.
Overall, the running backs had some good carries, quarterback B.J. Coleman hit receivers for short and long gains and defensively cornerback Chaz Moore and safety D.J. Key delivered some big hits.
The Mocs will conduct their first scrimmage at 7 p.m. Saturday at Finley Stadium.
Running back Keon Williams practiced Wednesday after sitting out Tuesday with back spasms and linebacker Keith Mayes missed part of practice with a shoulder injury. ... Offensive lineman Chas Presnell, a freshman who redshirted in the fall, has decided not to play anymore, Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. Presnell is still in school and has helped out filming practice the past two nights. ... The Mocs are off today and will practice Friday afternoon at 3:30.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...