Inexperienced and undersized at some spots, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga offensive line had its hands full for most of the 2011 season.
The Mocs had new starters at three of the five positions, including a redshirt freshman center who was a former walk-on and a true freshman starting seven games at left tackle. It is perhaps no surprise that UTC allowed 2.2 sacks per game, second most in the Southern Conference.
UTC now has an experienced -- though still developing -- line.
"We feel way better this year than we did last year coming into this thing, for sure," coach Russ Huesman said before preseason practice began.
Following Monday morning's early practice at Scrappy Moore Field, Huesman reaffirmed that position. He also emphasized that there remains a lot of work to be done.
"Some of them are what we expect, no question, but other ones have to come along faster," he said.
The Mocs will practice in full pads for the first time today. Practice could begin in the dark since UTC plans to start at 6:30 a.m.
Senior right tackle Adam Miller, a preseason second-team All-SoCon pick, has started 29 career games. Right guard Kevin Revis started 10 games last season after leaving Tennessee, while Patrick Sutton, the center, started every game in 2011.
At left tackle last season, redshirt freshman Taylor Dodds was in a battle with freshman Brandon Morgan for the starting job before Morgan earned the job. Dodds later suffered a torn ACL and missed the final three games, as well as spring practice.
Dodds is still working his way back and is expected to vie for the starting job at left tackle once he's fully cleared. Meanwhile, redshirt freshman Synjen Herren has been working with the starters at left guard. Three other players who should play as backups are Shaun Hill, Devin Caldwell and Dustin Tate.
Ineligible last season after playing regularly in 2009 and '10, Tate is UTC's most experienced backup. Caldwell, meanwhile, has yet to practice this preseason as he works his way back from offseason knee surgery.
Last August, Hill was competing against Sutton for the starting center job. Injuries slowed Hill and Sutton earned the position and has refused to surrender it.
"Shaun's got to find a way to play," offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said. "We've got to find a place for him."
Safety Dean Haynes, the North Carolina State transfer, is out at least several weeks with a foot injury, Huesman said. Haynes went down during Sunday's practice and could miss the rest of the preseason.
"He will be back. Whether it's the first game, I don't know, but we'll see what kind of healer he is," Huesman said. "He's going to be out for a while, though."
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.