D.J. Key has been a rock at strong safety this season for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. There's nothing surprising about that, since Key is one of the best defensive players in the Southern Conference.
Things have been a lot less stable on the other side, at free safety.
Redshirt freshman Sema'je Kendall started the first three games, after moving back to safety from cornerback during preseason practice. Redshirt junior Keith Mayes started against Appalachian State and cornerback Chaz Moore moved to free safety for The Citadel, with Kendall playing corner.
Redshirt sophomore Zach McCarter has played a lot as well. UTC (2-3, 1-1) would like stability, defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said, but nobody has taken command at that position.
"In the past we've settled in a little quicker, but we also graduated two people [Chris Lewis-Harris and Jordan Tippit]," he said. "You don't always fix the problem with just one person."
Joining the crowd at free safety Saturday at Furman (2-4, 1-2) will be North Carolina State transfer Dean Haynes, the former Northwest Whitfield High School star who suffered a fractured bone in his left foot during UTC's third practice.
Both Fuller and head coach Russ Huesman have said they don't really know what to expect from Haynes, because they saw him for a little more than two practices. Haynes returned to practice last Wednesday, and Fuller said he hasn't looked like someone that has missed two months.
"No, actually, I think he's looked a little bit better than that," Fuller said. "He's conscientious and he paid attention. He's still got a ways to go, and we still have no idea about playing time yet."
For Haynes, who wears a brace on his foot and ankle, just being back on the field brings a smile.
"I took a while off, so it just feels great, really, to get out here and run around," he said. "I just have to knock the rust off. I took two months off, so my backpedal's rusty, my reads are rusty -- I really need to improve on that, and that's just going to take time."
In his first game at safety since high school, Moore "did fine" in UTC's 28-10 win at The Citadel, Huesman said. His switch from corner was for the triple option, and Moore will be back covering receivers this week.
"He'll go back to corner until we play an option team again, and then we'll make a decision," Huesman said.
Furman punter and kicker Ray Early was named the SoCon special teams player of the week Monday. Early had an 82-yard punt in the Paladins' 20-17 loss to Wofford, and two of his three boots were downed at the 3-yard line. ... Furman is second in the SoCon in time of possession at 33:38 per game, and UTC is close behind in third at 33:16.
Contact John Frierson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.