published Saturday, April 5th, 2014

Offensive line shines in UTC scrimmage

  • photo
    Mocs offensive lineman Synjen Heren (74) blocks for quarterback Jacob Huesman (14) during a scrimmage at Finley Stadium on Friday.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

His defensive coaching roots wouldn't allow Russ Huesman to get carried away when assessing how well the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's offensive line had performed during Friday evening's scrimmage at Finley Stadium.

But to the casual observer, the Mocs offensive front got the better of their more hyped defensive counterparts. And considering the depth of talent along UTC's defensive line, it was an encouraging harbinger of offensive potential.

"I'm going to reserve judgement until I watch film," Huesman said following the Mocs' second scrimmage of spring practice. "You can't tell for sure, but I thought we protected a little bit better today and it didn't look as sloppy as the first scrimmage. I thought we looked better.

"There was some room to run in there, for sure."

Nine players got carries for the Mocs, averaging 5.3 yards as a group during the 79-play scrimmage. They were led by Tyler Roberson with 76 yards on nine attempts, highlighted by a 33-yard touchdown.

Derrick Craine added 42 rushing yards and also scored once, and while it wasn't a run, Marquis Green turned a short screen pass into a 50-yard TD. That made the second scrimmage in which the speedy rising senior had a long scoring play.

"We're playing a whole lot better than we did last week, and a lot of that just comes from playing together more," said junior guard Synjen Herren. "Offensive line is just one of those positions that it doesn't matter if you have an All-American on one side, if you don't have guys on the other side doing their job you won't get much done. We have to be able to run to both sides, and we're coming together as a unit.

"It makes you feel good because we're going against guys who are all-conference and even All-American players. As a group collectively there's no better feeling than when you're going against the other [starters] and you hit a big run."

Roberson's long scoring run was part of another theme of the scrimmage, coming on third down. The Mocs had a handful of other big plays to convert third downs, including a 35-yard pass from Jacob Huesman to C.J. Board to set up a TD pass from Huesman to Faysal Shafaat, also on third down.

And although the younger Huesman continued to wear the red "no contact" jersey, both Roberson and Alejandro Bennifield, who are battling for the backup quarterback job, were made "live" for the scrimmage, which meant defenders were allowed to hit them.

While Roberson was making plays with his feet, Bennifield also had a TD run and completed six of eight passes for 104 yards and another score. Similar to the variety of ball carriers, 10 players caught passes.

"We spread it out and got a lot of people involved, and that was important," Mocs offensive coordinator Jeff Durden said. "I saw improvement in Tyler from the first scrimmage. He competed. Both of them are competing, which is what you want. We're learning what their strengths are, so we'll know what situations we can use them in.

"I thought we had a good day up front blocking, and converting those third downs is where games are won and lost."

Although the offense had plenty of highlights, it was the defense that ended the scrimmage with a big play as Dee Virgin intercepted a Roberson pass in the red zone and returned it 80 yards for a TD. Sophomore end Keionta Davis had two quarterback hurries and a tackle for loss.

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293.

about Stephen Hargis...

Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...

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