Wide receiver Tray James made a highlight-reel catch in the back of the end zone Friday morning, one of several big plays by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga offense during practice at Scrappy Moore Field.
The 6-foot-4 true freshman fought off All-Southern Conference cornerback Kadeem Wise for position and pulled in the ball using only his right hand. It was a good play, James said afterward, but not his best so far.
"Actually I had another good one [Wednesday] where I dove and caught one in the corner," he said, smiling. "That was my best one."
James is one of several largely unproven receivers UTC hopes can provide production this season. Junior Marlon Anthony is the Mocs' top returning wideout with 41 career receptions. Sophomore Tommy Hudson is next with five catches.
The 6-5 Anthony has been out since Wednesday with a sprained ankle and will not participate in today's 3 p.m. scrimmage at Finley Stadium. The absence of Anthony gives other receivers more reps and more chances to shine.
"We've recruited these guys and told them they're going to have a chance to play early and often," wideouts coach Will Healy said. "One guy's down, so the other guys have to step up. It gives guys like Tray James an opportunity to come in and prove himself."
Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said he's pleased with the way most of the receivers have performed in practice. He spoke highly of the play of the freshmen: James, C.J. Board, Al Thompson and walk-on Eric Foster.
Satterfield especially likes the prospect of having two big targets in Anthony and James available in the red zone.
"With him and Marlon both down in the red areas, it's huge to have two 6-5 guys that have ball skills and can jump," he said.
For the smaller receivers, such as sophomore Ron Moore, there will be plenty of chances to touch the ball in the new pro spread offense. Moore had only three receptions as a freshman last season, but the first was a 60-yard touchdown, the second went for a 52-yard gain and the third was a 35-yard touchdown.
Despite his limited experience and production, Moore is a veteran among the Mocs' receiving corps and he said he has to act like it.
"I definitely see this as a good learning experience for me, and I've got to start growing up because I don't have Joel Bradford and Sloan Allison here anymore," he said. "I looked up to them as leaders, and now I've got to start being a leader myself."
Shepherd not eligible
Mocs coach Russ Huesman said running back Tolerance Shepherd has been cleared by the NCAA clearinghouse but will not be eligible to play this season.
"He can practice, he can come on scholarship, but he's not eligible," Huesman said, due to "reasons were out of his control."
Shepherd will redshirt, which he may have done anyway given the Mocs' depth at running back.