The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team begins spring practice Friday. Like every team in the land, the Mocs have multiple questions that need to be answered as they begin preparing for next season. Here are five:
1. Can the defense improve after struggling in 2010?
In 2009, the UTC defense was third in the Southern Conference in yards allowed (307.7 per game) and fourth in points allowed (25.7). Its numbers were much worse in 2010, with UTC giving up 370.0 yards a game and 31.2 points.
The Mocs surrendered 42 or more points in three SoCon games, all losses, and allowed at least 27 in five of their last six games.
Defensive coordinator Adam Fuller has 10 of 11 starters returning, though some will miss spring practice. He said his defense has to work on being more consistent and play at a faster pace.
"We gave up way too many big plays at the end of last year, and that falls on our secondary," he said. "It falls on them. We're not going to change a whole lot of what we do, it's just a matter of getting a whole lot better at what we do."
2. Can UTC replace Harr & Co.?
Three-year starters Chris Harr, Justin Galyon and T.J. Hurless are gone, which means UTC will work on revamping its offensive line this spring.
Austin Wilson was the backup center in 2009 and started eight games at left guard last season. He will take over at center and Adam Miller returns at right tackle, while Omre Harris is expected to regain his spot at left guard.
Taylor Dodds will get a shot at left tackle and Nick Gipson and Devin Caldwell will compete for the job at right guard.
"There's going to be some growing pains, and we've got to be patient," offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield said.
3. Will the kicking game be a liability again?
When freshman kicker Nick Pollard suffered a hip injury during the preseason last August, the Mocs didn't have much of a backup plan. Punter Mike Hammons gave it a try and wide receiver Jeff Veres wound up doing most of the kicking last season. As a team, UTC made 4 of 10 field-goal attempts and 41 of 47 extra points.
Mocs coach Russ Huesman said Pollard, who wound up redshirting last season, is fully healed and is ready to go this spring. He also said the team will spend a lot of time working on kicking and punting, which had a net average of 29.7 yards, last in the SoCon.
4. How can the offense get better?
In quarterback B.J. Coleman's second season as the Mocs' starter, he led UTC to one of its most productive offensive seasons in many years.
The Mocs were 11th in the Football Championship Subdivision with 430.0 yards per game and 17th in scoring at 31.5 points per game. They were third in the nation on third down, converting 48.7 percent of the time.
Coleman threw for 2,996 yards, third-best all-time at UTC, with 26 touchdowns (second most at UTC) and 13 interceptions. Joel Bradford set numerous receiving records, was named first-team All-SoCon and third-team All-American.
Along with Coleman and Bradford, UTC has four other skill-position starters returning. One area they can all improve on is protecting the ball. The Mocs were 94th in the FCS in turnovers lost with 27.
5. Will a lead running back emerge?
The Mocs lost leading rusher Erroll Wynn, but return a trio of proven runners in J.J. Jackson, Chris Awuah and Keon Williams. UTC averaged 152.8 rushing yards a game in 2010, but Satterfield wants that number to be much higher next season.
"We're not going to win the conference or get into the playoffs throwing it 40 times a game," he said. "We've got to be able to run the football."
Jackson started five games last season and Williams started three. Satterfield said Jackson will enter the spring at the top of the depth chart, but he expects a lot of fluctuation just like last season.
One thing Satterfield does want to work on is getting Awuah more involved. Awuah had just 26 carries in 2010 after rushing 153 times as a true freshman in 2009.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mocsbeatCTFP.