D.J. Prather certainly looks the part when he stands by his fellow University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defensive ends. But being big, quick and strong is only part of being ready to play ball.
More than a week into preseason practice, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound true freshman, and former all-state player at Gordon Central (Ga.) High School, is learning, processing and adjusting to the college game.
"It's something I've just got to get used to," he said Wednesday. "The speed of the game is a whole lot faster; everyone's bigger, stronger and faster."
Prather has taken a practical approach to his situation.
"You've got to look at it like, in high school you might have been the best one on your team, but in college everybody was the best one on their team and now we're all here together," he said. "I've got to study better, get into the playbook more and just go fast and get used to the speed."
Defensive line coach Marcus West believes Prather has loads of potential, which isn't said lightly at a school that has produced two defensive ends named Southern Conference defensive player of the year in the past four seasons.
West said Prather's head is sometimes getting in the way this preseason.
"He's a freshman, and in order to be able to play your freshman year, you've got to come in as a freshman and just jump into it wide open," West said following the first of the Mocs' two practices Friday. "He's kind of just feeling his way sometimes. ... I'm trying to get him to just go."
Prather likely won't be needed right away. The Mocs are pretty well stocked at end with All-American and 2012 SoCon co-defensive player of the year Davis Tull and Zach Rayl working with the first group. Toyvian Brand, a starter the past two seasons at defensive tackle, and redshirt freshman Keionta Davis, a former Red Bank High School standout, are the second-team ends.
"I pray to God I don't need him, but if I do I've got to prepare him," West said of Prather. "That's why I'm on him."
Prather has a big frame that could probably hold a lot of weight, making a move to defensive tackle possible, but that's not happening, West said.
"It's end all the way," he said. "There's no thoughts of moving him in."
19 and counting
The No. 25 Mocs held preseason practices Nos. 11 and 12 Friday and will conduct their first scrimmage at 2:30 p.m. today at Finley Stadium. The scrimmage is closed to the public. There are 19 days until the Mocs open their season on Aug. 29 against UT-Martin.
Based on Friday's morning practice, which had a lot of dropped passes, missed assignments and some general confusion about who was doing what, the Mocs appeared to be a long way from ready for the Skyhawks. They did look a bit sharper in the evening under the lights at Finley Stadium, however.
"It's our job as coaches to make sure they're assignment sound," head coach Russ Huesman said. "If that means spending time with them up until 10:25 in the evening, before they go to their room and go to sleep, that's what we've got to do. We've got to get to the point where everybody knows what's going on."
Another point of emphasis, starting with today's scrimmage, will be better tackling. Huesman said too many guys are taking bad angles.
Friday night's practice was marred by weather interruptions. ... Huesman said much of today's scrimmage will feature situational series, such as two- and four-minute drills. He the second- and third-team players will get a lot of playing time. ... Wideout C.J. Board landed awkwardly on the edge of the turf at Scrappy Moore Field in the morning and sat out the last half of practice, but he returned for the evening session.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.