When news broke of the release of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga offensive line coach Chris Malone in early January due to a controversial tweet, there was a lot of speculation about how quickly head coach Rusty Wright would move to find a replacement.
Normally, a coach leaving in January wouldn't be an issue, but with the Mocs set to embark on an unprecedented spring football season, it felt as if there was a need to hire a replacement to prepare the unit for the year ahead.
But Wright didn't make that decision, choosing to allow the other offensive coaches and assistants to instruct while letting an experienced group police themselves.
So don't consider the Mocs' head coach surprised with the performance put together by the group in the team's 24-13 spring season opening win against Wofford last week. Between left guard Cole Strange (31 starts), left tackle Harrison Moon (17), right guard McClendon Curtis (14), right tackle Colin Truett (10) and center Kyle Miskelley (nine), the group has 81 starts together, so there's a level of synergy among the unit that has been on full display.
And behind that line, the Mocs (1-1, 1-0 Southern Conference), who moved up to No. 18 in the Football Championship Subdivision STATS poll Monday, finished with a solid 301 yards of total offense against the Terriers (1-1, 1-1), who fell from 11th to 20th after the loss. More impressive was that the Mocs only finished with 78 yards passing, with fifth-year senior but first-time starter at quarterback Drayton Arnold throwing for 223 yards and a score — a deviation from the norm for a team with a number of options in the backfield.
"That's the way a group that has played that much should be," Wright said Tuesday. "You should just be able to get them lined up, explain to them what they're going to see that week, let them see it and they should be able to do those things.
"Those kids don't surprise me. That group loves playing together; when you say a group's got to be like a glove, those five really enjoy playing together."
Do they probably need a leader? Sure, but there's still a ton of time for that as there are six scheduled games remaining this spring as well as 11 more this fall. The goal has been to get through the spring and focus on a replacement at that point.
So at different times during practice, different coaches have been seen leading the group. After one drive Saturday, the five huddled together and went over some things, and then went out and controlled what is usually one of the Terriers' strengths, the defensive line.
The Mocs put more of their focus on development in Tuesday's practice, giving more of the reps to younger players because that's technically what the spring is for, development. That's been Wright's concern all along, balancing getting players ready for games while also trying to develop younger players for the fall season ahead.
This week a trip to the Citadel (0-5, 0-1) awaits. Wright didn't have any issues with the effort of his line Saturday, but the same could be said about the entire team which may have been a slight surprise for the second-year head coach after watching film. Any concerns he had about effort or execution — the Mocs hadn't worked much on tackling — were answered pretty quickly.
"This group right now, for whatever reason, they like being around each other," Wright said. "They like playing hard for each other. I think they're scared to let each other down if they don't play hard, and that's on both sides of the ball.
"I was really, really pleased with it."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.