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Who better to talk about University of Tennessee at Chattanooga all-everything defensive end Davis Tull than the man who has spent the past month trying to block him day after day?
That man is Mocs right tackle Hunter Dockery.
"He's quick, explosive, he can do it all," Dockery said. "He's good with his hands, and you have to be ready for the punch and everything."
Short of winning the Buck Buchanan Award, which goes to the top defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision, Tull accomplished just about everything a defensive player could in 2012.
Then a redshirt sophomore, Tull was a first-team All-American several times over and the Southern Conference defensive player of the year. His 12.5 sacks were 5.5 more than anyone else in the league and a UTC single-season record; his 18.5 tackles for loss were 4.5 clear of his nearest pursuers.
Hyper-competitive yet often demonstrating a fairly laid-back demeanor, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Knoxville native may not show that accolades -- whether from last season or this preseason -- mean all that much to him. But they do, defensive line coach Marcus West said.
"That stuff means the world to him. It does," West said. "He reads it and he works to beat out the best. I think more than anything about himself, he reads about who else is on [an All-America team] and who got in front of him and their stats."
Tull said before his weight room workout Tuesday morning that he pays attention to some stats -- he has 17.5 career sacks, six behind buddy Josh Williams' UTC record of 23.5 -- and awards are nice, but he's more interested in the shared experience of winning a SoCon championship.
"The ultimate goal is to get that ring, because everybody can share that," he said. "The individual stuff is cool, when people tell you you did a good job, but you don't get to bond with anybody over that. You win a championship with all these guys together. Everybody cares about it and it's a team goal."
The Mocs haven't won a SoCon title or been to the playoffs since 1984.
UTC's defense should be among the best in the SoCon and the FCS -- five players made the preseason All-SoCon first team, and Tull and linebacker Wes Dothard are on the Buchanan watch list -- and the Mocs may move Tull around this season. For the past two seasons he was at left end and Williams was at right, forming one of the best duos in the FCS, but moving Tull around presents some advantages.
"We've got to find ways to get him on different sides," head coach Russ Huesman said. "Right now, I'm not sure what we're going to do for this game, but eventually we've got to find spots to free him up. It's finding ways so he's not getting doubled, so he's not covered up. We'll see how it progresses."
The Mocs open their season Thursday night against UT-Martin at Finley Stadium. Huesman said UTC is expecting UT-Martin to be in a lot of no-tight-end formations, so Tull might not be double-teamed too often.
Whatever teams throw at Tull, West believes he'll be better prepared to handle it this season. That's because Tull spent the offseason becoming more of a student of the game.
"He's gotten better on the [white] board," West said. "He's gotten better recognizing [what offenses are doing]; he's gotten smarter. He came in after the season and said, 'I want to know our defense.' ... He's almost the complete package now."
Which could be a scary thought for opposing teams.
"You better have a plan for how you're going to block him," UT-Martin coach Jason Simpson said, "or you'll make him an All-American again in the first game."
In the game notes for Thursday's opener, D.J. Key is listed as the starter at strong safety and Sema'je Kendall is listed as the starter at free safety. ... A pep rally for the Mocs will be held today at noon at Miller Plaza downtown. Hosted by the River City Company, it will include appearances by Huesman and some players along with the marching band, cheerleaders, Sugar Mocs and mascot Scrappy. Game and season tickets will be on sale.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.
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 ...