Revisiting the five key questions facing the Mocs

Revisiting the five key questions facing the Mocs

April 21st, 2017 by Gene Henley in Sports - College

UTC quarterback Alejandro Bennifield was expected to perform well this spring after a strong finish to the 2016 season, and he did not disappoint new Mocs coach Tom Arth and his staff.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

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The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team finished its first spring under new coach Tom Arth on Tuesday. Prior to the first practice under Arth, the Times Free Press looked at five key questions that surrounded the program.

Fourteen practices later, we look at those questions and see if any were answered.

1. Have the players adjusted to the new coaching staff? Yes. Very well, actually. On average, it's a very young staff — only three coaches are older than 40 — and that seems to have helped coaches relate to players. In most cases, it hasn't been too long since the coaches have been players, and they've been able to invoke recent examples of their time on the field to instruct. The players immediately bought into the staff, a development that's clearly a positive for the Mocs.

2. How will the new offense look? Quarterback Alejandro Bennifield followed up his strong 2016 season finale against Sam Houston State (295 passing yards, 85 rushing) with a strong spring — the new staff raved about the rising senior's ability to make plays outside of the pocket. The other known quantity at the moment is receiver Alphonso Stewart, who seems to have stepped into a leadership role. The offensive line must be shored up as the Mocs adjust to a more pro-style scheme with multiple formations, and the running backs will have to continue to step up.

3. How will the new defense look? Despite having to make the adjustment this spring from a 4-2 front to a 3-4, it played well. On the line, senior Taylor Reynolds and juniors Isaiah Mack and Derek Mahaffey lived in the backfield in live drills. While the linebacker corps is thin — T.J. Jenkins missed the entire spring and Dale Warren missed the final two weeks — there is some talent there, albeit inexperienced. In the secondary, cornerbacks C.J. Fritz and Trevor Wright and safeties Tae Lawson and Lucas Webb made strides. There wasn't much of a step back from the previous regime.

4. Who is left on the first two levels of the defense? Reynolds and Mack at defensive end and Mahaffey at tackle dominated the spring with their ability to bring pressure. With the switch from two linebackers to four, the Mocs needed players to emerge on the defense's second level, and a few did. Tae Davis did a good job at inside linebacker, while the Mocs will have solid options on the outside in sophomores Khayyan Edwards and Hawk Schrider and senior Joshua Phillips. The staff added a number of linebackers in this year's signing class, and there will be opportunities for playing time.

5. How will the running back rotation work out? Richardre Bagley entered and exited as the leader in the club. New offensive coordinator Justin Rascati likes the versatility Bagley brings to the table entering his senior season, and Rascati showed formations that feature the 5-foot-9, 195-pounder in the backfield or split out wide. Rising junior Alex Trotter is similar to Bagley in stature, and he probably made the biggest jump, considering there wasn't much video for the new staff to grade the McCallie graduate on. He could be used similarly to Bagley. Kyle Nalls had a solid spring before an injury kept him out of the final two weeks. It will be interesting to see how things play out at preseason camp.

Contact Gene Henley at Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.