There's a lot less of Keon Williams at football practice these days. The same goes for fellow University of Tennessee at Chattanooga running back J.J. Jackson.
Both Mocs dropped a lot of weight during the summer and reported to preseason practice lean and quick and ready to run in UTC's new pro spread offense. No player on the offense has had more buzz during the first week of practice than Williams, who returned to the team in the spring after being suspended for the 2011 season.
"Keon was fat and sloppy in the spring," coach Russ Huesman said after Tuesday's morning practice at Scrappy Moore Field. "I don't want to talk too positively about him because he hasn't done anything yet, but I'm proud that he made a commitment to get in shape, and he had a great summer."
The 6-foot Williams said he's down to about 215 pounds from practicing in the spring at 230. He said he hasn't been this light since he was in 10th grade.
"The offense that we're running is real fast-paced, so I didn't want to come in kind of heavy and be sluggish," said Williams, who rushed for 500 yards in 2010 as a true freshman. "I shed off some pounds and ran like two miles every day this summer. ... I'm light on my feet and I just feel a lot better."
Jackson said he felt the same way after cutting from 205 pounds last season to 189. Nobody ever accused Jackson, a senior with eight career starts, of being too heavy. He said he wanted to drop the weight to get a little faster -- "I'd love to have some 40-plus yard runs," he said -- and mix in more breakaway runs with his power bursts between the tackles.
"Not really veering away from what I do, but switching it up a little bit," he said.
Marquis Green played as a true freshman last season and led the team with 530 yards, at about 170 pounds. Noticeably thicker through the arms, chest and shoulders, the 5-7 Green said he's up to 180 pounds. That weight, he said, will help him fight off that first defender and produce some bigger runs.
"I needed it just to take the hit, to protect my body," he said.
As has been the case for the past few seasons, the Mocs don't have a dominant running back. UTC has a group of runners, also including senior Chris Awuah and redshirt freshman Kenny Huitt, who are all capable of making plays -- yet none may emerge as the lead back. And that's OK with running backs coach Thomas Brown.
"The way I look at it, if we have a guy that emerges and separates himself from the group, I'm going to feed him," the former standout back at Georgia said. "But you've got to have other guys ready to go because it's such a brutal position. It's tough to stay healthy at that position.
"I'm all about competition, and if we have guys who all compete and are productive, we ought to play all of them."
Tuesday was UTC's first day in full pads and first practice in the team's new white practice pants. The offense was in white pants and navy jerseys and the defense was in all white, which made it look like Penn State or Georgia Southern was practicing at Scrappy.
Williams was asked what effect being in full pads had on practice.
"We've got knee pads on now," he said. "That's the only difference."
Running back signee Tolerance Shepherd is still waiting to hear from the NCAA clearinghouse about his status for this year, Huesman said. ... After trying to practice with a sprained ankle for a couple of days, Zack Rayl was on crutches by the end of Tuesday's practice. ... UTC will practice twice today -- the first of three two-a-days this preseason -- going at 7:45 a.m. and 6:45 p.m.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.
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 ...