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 defensive line:
Different staff, same strength. The Mocs are still strong up front, with that group being the most dominant during the spring while also being the most experienced. Senior Taylor Reynolds and junior Isaiah Mack — both tackles under the previous staff's 4-2-5 scheme — have adjusted to being defensive ends in the new staff's 3-4 defense, and both are preseason All-Southern Conference selections. Junior Derek Mahaffey, who started to come on strong late last season, will move to nose tackle as a plug in the middle. UTC is also blessed with depth at the position, as seniors D.J. Prather and Brandon Bourk have lots of experience and sophomore Telvin Jones a lot of talent.
Redshirt freshman Jonathan Decker was a 2016 scout-team member who didn't get to practice much due to an injury, but he was solid during spring practice and could earn some playing time down the road. The coaching staff brought in one recruit, Devonnsha Maxwell, who eventually will help at defensive end. The 6-foot-2, 260-pounder had 10 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks as a senior at Georgia Class AAAAAA champion Valdosta.
There's plenty of experience, and there's plenty of depth. Prather and Jones would be no-brainer starters for a lot of Football Championship Subdivision teams, but with the talents of Mack, Mahaffey and Reynolds, they'll be jockeying for reps. What also happens due to the talent level at the position is that the competition during practice will make everyone better, which helps the team in the long run.
Going from a four-man front to a three-man is the only question surrounding this unit. Under the previous regime, defensive ends did a lot of pinning their ears back and attacking the quarterback around the edge. Now those same players will be asked to create havoc with more interior rushes, allowing the outside linebackers to rush more. That, along with adjustments by Mack and Reynolds to different roles — each less of a pass-rusher, more of a run-stopper with some pass-rushing responsibilities — will be things to watch.
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenleytfp.