Mocs better at receiver with additions

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga offensive coordinator Justin Rascati already felt good about the Mocs' depth at wide receiver.

Still, a few more toys doesn't hurt, and additions have strengthened the competition level at practice.

After a poor first day's showing, the UTC offense, led in part by the receivers, has started to win its share of battles against the defense. After not having any explosive plays during Monday's practice - leading to an irritated Rascati pulling the group aside to voice his displeasure - the offense has had them over the past two days.

Alejandro Bennifield placed a perfect pass in the hands of junior Bingo Morton on Tuesday and another one to junior Kota Nix during Wednesday's session at Scrappy Moore Field. Backup quarterback Nick Tiano got in on the fun Wednesday, completing a long pass to James Stovall, with the All-Southern Conference preseason pick making a nice adjustment to get to the ball.

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The unit has been bolstered by the additions of 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior Joseph Parker, a shifty slot receiver who has caught everything thrown to him. Louisville transfer Cody Swabek earned his way to the afternoon practice Wednesday after spending the first two days practicing with the evening group of newcomers.

"This group that just came in has been one of the most talented groups of receivers we've had," senior Alphonso Stewart said after Wednesday's practice. "They've been pushing us to make us better and work harder each and every day. No spot is secure, and that's how we're practicing each day."

And the group still isn't complete yet. When the Mocs resume practice Friday, it will be the first time the returning players and all of the newcomers have practiced together, meaning junior Wil Young and freshmen Jordan Ferguson, Bryce Nunnelly and Jeffery Wood will be added to the mix.

Rascati was pleased with the improved effort and performance the past two days.

"They've bought in to competing everyday," Rascati said. "That first day they felt bad for themselves. It was hot, they got a little tired and just didn't execute. They didn't perform how they were capable of doing. They're going to make mistakes, but I was most upset about their effort.

"I'm hard on this group because I know there's a lot of talent, a lot of leadership and a lot of kids in the room that care and work hard. I'm real excited about that group. They're going to do a lot of good things for the offense this year."

There are going to be a lot of opportunities. Only two returning receivers - Stewart and senior James Stovall - caught at least 25 passes last year. Next on the list is Morton, who had eight catches and a touchdown, but Rascati feels just as good about the returning players as he does the new arrivals.

That is especially true with them under the tutelage of receivers coach Ryan Aplin, the "best wide receiver coach in the country," Rascati said.

"We've got 15 guys in that room, and we'll travel eight or nine," Rascati said. "We're telling the guys that every day they'll be evaluated. Every day counts, which is why Monday was so disappointing, with all the talent in that room. The good thing is they bounced back, and I know they'll get better every day.

"The way that Coach Ap brings it every day, with the way he coaches his guys - with passion and the love he has for the game, the knowledge he has of the game - when they buy in, they'll have a lot of success."

Contact Gene Henley at Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.