The Times Free Press is taking a daily positional look at the 2017 University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team, leading up to the first practice Monday. Today we look at the linebackers:
The biggest adjustment for the program was the adjustment to the 3-4 from the 4-2-5 UTC ran under former coach Russ Huesman. The linebacker position is potentially the most important position in the scheme, with strong, smart gap protectors needed in the middle and agile, versatile defenders wanted on the outside. The Mocs have a good group in both spots, with preseason first-team All-Southern Conference pick Dale Warren, Michael Bean, T.J. Jenkins and converted safety Tae Davis among those on the interior, and Khayyan Edwards, Joshua Phillips and Hawk Schrider three of the key options on the outside.
Mocs, SoCon preview stories
- Shelton Felton's outside linebackers 'competing' well for UTC
- Josh Cardiello leading as Mocs' O-line progresses
- Competition fierce for UTC defensive backs
- Alejandro Bennifield shows leadership amid Mocs tensions
- SoCon Preview: Favored Wofford Terriers hope to maintain 'picked seventh' approach
- Alumnus Chris Cook making an impact now as UTC assistant coach
- SoCon Preview: Western Carolina
- Mocs better at receiver with additions
- VMI plans to lean more toward running this year
- Defense puts the heat on offense in UTC's opening practice [photos]
- Quarterback 'Duck' expects more balance in Samford offense
- Five questions for the Mocs as preseason practice starts
- Mocs lack experience on special teams
- Mercer confident about new season
- Key for UTC linebackers is their adjustment to 3-4 scheme
- Cleveland's Austin Herink clear leader for 'more mature' ETSU team
- Strong defensive line still a UTC trademark
- The Citadel keeping expectations high despite key losses
- UTC to offer VIP tents for fans at Finley Stadium
- UTC offensive line must gain experience
- Mocs picked fourth with league-high 10 preseason All-SoCon players
- Commissioner John Iamarino sees 'quality,' healthy parity in SoCon football
- Mocs have mixture of experience, transfers, youth at receiver
- UTC football picked fourth in SoCon preseason poll
- Richardre Bagley, Darrell Bridges experienced running backs for Mocs
- UTC not likely to be picked No. 1 again today
- UTC quarterback Alejandro Bennifield solid, but questions loom behind starter
NEED MORE BODIES, GOT THEM
The UTC coaching staff focused on developing depth and competition through their recruiting and were able to get some young, long defenders who can cover in space. The staff brought in a pair of transfers: sophomore Matthew Draper from Cincinnati, a former three-star prospect, and freshman Zack Lesko, who was recruited by UTC defensive coordinator Tom Kaufman at Syracuse and spent last season as a preferred walk-on with the Orange. Mocs coaches are really high on incoming freshman Demond Ross from Florida, who they feel has the skills at outside linebacker to make an impact sooner rather than later. Zach Feaster, Jahsari Patterson and C.J. Winston are other incoming freshmen for the class.
Speed, length and athletic ability. All three are needed for linebackers in the 3-4 scheme, and the Mocs have that. Davis has shown the ability to process information quickly in the move from safety, and Warren was the team's breakout star defensively in 2016, earning consensus all-league honors, including a first-team nod by the media. Edwards, Phillips and Schrider are converted defensive ends who will mesh well at outside linebacker, with Schrider also having experience as a linebacker during his freshman season at Richmond.
The players are good, but they lack experience in the new scheme. It's an issue that can be handled only with more practices and games - and the defense will get better as the season goes along - but something to look for is how well the unit with the biggest upheaval from last season to this one adjusts to all of the changes.
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.