Wiedmer: Mocs defenders admit they'd like to hit the QBs

Wiedmer: Mocs defenders admit they'd like to hit the QBs

August 11th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

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With Saturday's University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football scrimmage moving briskly along, quarterback Jacob Huesman rolled right, begging to be blown up by any number of dastardly defenders.

In a real game, the first of which the Mocs will host against UT-Martin on Aug. 29, this is where the squeamish cover their eyes and say a little prayer that the QB remains healthy enough to take the next snap.

But this was a controlled scrimmage at Finley Stadium, which meant Huesman's No. 14 jersey was colored red. Nor was this because he's a former Baylor School Red Raider and a lifelong Cincinnati Reds fan, although the sophomore gladly would plead guilty to both those charges.

No, the red jersey means "Stop!" not unlike traffic lights and signs. Tackles are confined to two-hand touches. Nothing more. Absolutely ... nothing ... more.

"Oh, we'd love to kill Jacob out there," defensive lineman Davis Tull, the co-preseason defensive player of the year in the Southern Conference, said with a grin. "But we've got to keep him healthy."

Added senior linebacker Wes Dothard, another preseason All-SoCon pick: "If I could hit Jacob, I'd probably try to take his head off. But we've got to take care of each other."

This is where you might expect UTC head coach Russ Huesman - who also happens to be Jacob's father - to say red practice jerseys have been the best idea since six-figure salaries, if only to make living with Jacob's mom Amy much, much easier.

But the elder Huesman once played defensive back for the Mocs, which meant he liked quarterbacks as much as athlete's foot during his own playing days.

"I don't remember not hitting quarterbacks," the coach said. "That idea wasn't in vogue back in my day. And just to show it wasn't as one-sided as you might think, I hit Tony Merendino one day in practice and I hurt for a week."

Let the record show that Merendino led the Mocs in total offense every year from 1976 to 1978. In one preposterously good game against Appalachian State in '78, he threw for 240 yards and ran for 134.

Perhaps because of that - and the fact that young Huesman became the first QB in school history last season to lead the Mocs in rushing with just over 82 yards a game - Coach Huesman said neither he nor his wife worry about the punishment his son receives on Saturday afternoons.

"Amy's never been one of those mothers who cringes when Jacob gets hit hard," Russ said. "I think we ran him 26 times one game last year, and when I got home she said, 'You should have run him 28.'"

There's also the matter of defensive timing. Though no one disputes the need to protect the quarterback as much as possible before real games, could there be a negative to defenders always pulling up short against quarterbacks?

"It may be frustrating to players," first-year defensive coordinator Adam Braithwaite said. "But it's not frustrating at all as a coach. You can coach good tackling without any contact. Sometimes it might actually help you become a better tackler."

Yet Dothard estimates those no-contact red jerseys force the defense to often go harder than "65 to 75 percent" of full-bore in practice.

Added Tull regarding a change that would allow the quarterback to be hit in practice: "It would definitely help you get in that [game time] state of mind."

Said defensive lineman Derrick Lott, the Georgia Bulldogs transfer: "Being defensive linemen, that's what we do - we hit quarterbacks. But that's the way it is. We know we can't make explosive blows."

That doesn't mean Lott can't fire a few hurtful words in the general direction of Jacob Huesman and quarterback/receiver Terrell Robinson.

"Yeah, sometimes we'll say, 'You're lucky we couldn't tackle you,' stuff like that," Lott said. "They know we could sack them if they'd let us."

Jacob Huesman admits to loving the no-contact jersey when he's back to pass. Just maybe not so much on his trademark scrambles and runs, when a two-hand touch ends the play.

"Yeah, I might say, 'There's no way you make that tackle,'" he said. "But that's about it. I don't want to make anybody mad."

So would Coach Huesman ever consider taking away the red jerseys for just one practice, letting all the players play the way they do on game day?

"We've still got one more scrimmage to go," he said. "We wouldn't hit Jacob or Terrell, but the other two [quarterbacks] aren't off the table just yet."

You could almost hear Dothard, Lott and Tull licking their chops before the words escaped the coach's mouth. Maybe, just maybe, one preseason chance to do what they do - hit quarterbacks. Somewhere, if not inside the Huesmans' or Robinsons' homes, a mother or two is about to cringe.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com