Over the course of the next eight days, the Times Free Press will take a positional look at the 2017 University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team, leading up to the first practice on July 24. We start with the quarterback position:
Alejandro Bennifield was a second-team all-Southern Conference selection in his first year at the helm, throwing for 2,622 yards while rushing for 377 and accounting for 32 touchdowns. His 26 passing touchdowns were tied for the second-most in UTC history. He was at his best in the team's final game, throwing for 295 yards and running for 85 more in the Mocs' 41-36 loss to top-ranked Sam Houston State in the Football Championship Subdivision second round. He entered last season as a confident person, and has only grown in that area, especially under the tutelage of three new offensive coaches (head coach Tom Arth, offensive coordinator Justin Rascati and wide receivers coach Ryan Aplin) who played the position in college.
The Mocs lost their second- and third-string quarterbacks after last season when Tyler Roberson – a would-be senior – graduated and chose not to play his final year, while Zack Weatherly chose to transfer to the University of Tennessee to attempt a career as a walk-on wide receiver with the Vols. Their replacements, however, are equally adept and should have the Mocs in solid position over the next four seasons after Bennifield. Mississippi State transfer Nick Tiano, a Baylor School product, is a big, physical quarterback that was extremely effective from the pocket during the spring. Bradley Central incoming freshman Cole Copeland is a likely redshirt, but the coaching staff is high on the potential of the freshman, who had 9,855 yards of total offense during his high school career, which ranks top 10 in Tennessee prep history.
Bennifield had a solid first campaign as the full-time starter for the Mocs, and even more will be expected from him in his final year. The new coaching staff has raved about the 6-foot-2, 220-pound senior's ability not just to deliver the football, but also his ability to extend plays in the pocket while looking for open receivers the entire time. A year of experience should only help him, and he should be more prepared for things coming at him, having gone through the Southern Conference gauntlet once.
There is very little experience behind Bennifield, although there is plenty of talent in Tiano and Copeland. Tiano spent two seasons at Mississippi State, throwing only one pass – a five-yard completion against Auburn. Through the spring, it appeared that the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder is more than ready to step in if his number is called, but it's not known yet in game action.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.