published Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Chattanooga Mocs’ defensive line getting thin

UTC defensive linemen Davis Tull, right, and Josh Freeman run a drill during football practice Tuesday at Scrappy Moore Field.
UTC defensive linemen Davis Tull, right, and Josh Freeman run a drill during football practice Tuesday at Scrappy Moore Field.
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

It has not been a magical season for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga defensive line, of which much was expected after a very productive finish in 2012.

Injuries have been the primary problem for the group that included two preseason first-team All-Southern Conference players: reigning defensive player of the year Davis Tull at one end spot and tackle Derrick Lott inside.

Tull, a junior, has been slowed by illness and injuries for much of the season, and Lott, a senior, is likely out for the year, ending his career. Lott suffered an elbow injury against Georgia Southern on Sept. 28 and did not practice or play last week, and Mocs coach Russ Huesman said Tuesday that surgery is in Lott’s future.

“He’s probably going to have surgery on that elbow, so it doesn’t look good,” Huesman said during the SoCon coaches’ teleconference. “He’s probably done for the year.”

Lott said during practice Tuesday afternoon that he will have surgery Friday.

UTC’s defensive front has mostly played well against the run — as a team UTC (3-2, 1-1) is third in the SoCon in run defense, allowing 181.8 yards per game – but the pass rushers have just four sacks.

“We’ve just got to keep working and those things are going to come,” redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Josh Freeman said. “It’ll work itself out. We’ve got to play with the guys that we have and just go to work.”

The line’s trouble began in the spring when freshman end Vantrell McMillan suffered a torn ACL and was lost for the season. McMillan was at times a scout-team terror in 2012, and UTC was expecting big things in his first season.

UTC lost junior end Zach Rayl to a torn ACL during the preseason — he had surgery last month — so the Mocs are down to three ends: Tull, junior Toyvian Brand and redshirt freshman Keionta Davis. And Davis, a former Red Bank High School standout, was on crutches at Tuesday’s practice after having an MRI for a possible knee injury sustained against Western Carolina last Saturday. Huesman said UTC will know more about his status for Saturday’s game against Furman (2-3, 1-1) today.

The loss of Lott leaves UTC with three tackles: redshirt sophomore Josh Freeman, redshirt sophomore Daniel Ring and redshirt junior Chris Mayes. UTC also has redshirt junior Devin Scates, who can play tackle or end.

The addition of Ring this summer — he transferred from Navy, like Mayes before him — is looking even more valuable. Ring had perhaps his best game last week against Western Carolina with two tackles for loss.

“We were fortunate to get Danny, and now we’ve got the three-man rotation with him and Freeman and Chris Mayes,” Huesman said. “We’ll go with three inside there, and hopefully we’ll stay healthy.”

It continues to be a trying season for Tull, who set a school record with 12.5 sacks last season. He had food poisoning right before the season began, and then he didn’t practice much last week because of a leg injury. For the season he’s tied for sixth on the team with 18 tackles, including a team-high five tackles for loss and two sacks.

Huesman said Tull has played better than his statistics show. Tull said he can do better.

“I think I’m playing decent — I can play better, definitely — and I think I played better last year,” he said. “I’m not necessarily discouraged by it. I just know I’ve got to keep working and improve some things.”

The Mocs have two true freshman defensive linemen Huesman is very high on and is trying to redshirt: former Gordon Central High School standout end D.J. Prather and defensive tackle Taylor Reynolds. Huesman said they remain off limits at this time.

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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