Much work to do for Chattanooga Mocs in two weeks left before opener

Much work to do for Chattanooga Mocs in two weeks left before opener

August 15th, 2013 by John Frierson in Sports - College

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga center Patrick Sutton (72) prepares to snap the ball Saturday during the Mocs' first preseason scrimmage at Finley Stadium.

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

Two weeks from tonight the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team begins its 2013 season. It's a big season for the Mocs, who are in their fifth season under coach Russ Huesman and are considered one of the favorites to win the Southern Conference championship.

To beat UT-Martin in the season opener Aug, 29, at Finley Stadium, in a game UTC is paying to televise on CSS, the Mocs will need to play well and play smart. There is much work to be done between today and the Mocs' debut, Huesman said, and Friday's scrimmage will tell him and the coaches a lot.

"In that scrimmage we have to see some of the guys that either got to provide depth or are battling for jobs, either win jobs or make us feel good about the depth," he said following Wednesday's practice at Scrappy Moore Field.

Offensive line and linebacker are among the positions where the Mocs are looking to solidify their backups. Meanwhile, there are numerous questions in the secondary.

All-SoCon strong safety D.J. Key has participated in one practice due to a foot injury, starting free safety Zach McCarter (knee) has missed some time and backup strong safety Dean Haynes (ankle) hasn't practiced since the first day.

In addition, cornerback Will Johnson, who was playing with the first-team nickel defense, left Wednesday's practice with an apparent right shoulder injury.

"We need to solidify a couple of positions in the back end," defensive coordinator Adam Braithwaite said. "Whenever you have some adversity with injuries, some people have to step up and execute. We're still working through that, we're progressing, and we've got two weeks to work hard and get better."

Offensively, the Mocs have played well for much of the preseason. The passing and running games are far more developed and effective than they were last season or even in the spring.

New offensive coordinator Jeff Durden said the offense has to be sharper, everyone has to know the system better and most of all, the guys have to play at a faster pace.

"We still have some things to work on, but I'm real pleased with our progress," Durden said. "We feel good about the offensive line, the running backs and I think our receivers -- we're not deep but we're doing some good things."

During the next two weeks Durden will also have to determine if freshman wide receiver Alphonso Stewart, who practiced with the team for the first time Tuesday, can contribute this season. The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Stewart had minor knee surgery early in camp to correct a meniscus problem.

"He's got 'it' which is the same thing we saw on the recruiting tape," Durden said.

Stewart's size and athleticism could help the Mocs right away, but before that happens he has to get himself ready to play.

"I've got to keep stretching, keep my rehab up and I've got to get back in shape," said Stewart, who went through his senior football and basketball seasons with the knee injury. "I haven't been able to run full speed in two weeks."

Extra points

The Mocs' scrimmage at 4 p.m. Friday will be open to UTC season ticket holders and Mocs Club members. ... Left guard Synjen Herren (ankle) did not practice. Defensive tackle Chris Mayes (knee) returned to practice after missing several days.

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MocsBeat.