The evaluation process is nearly complete as preseason camp winds down for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team. Between three weeks of practice and two scrimmages, the coaches have a good idea of what they want the playing rotation to look like at each position and which younger players they can count on.
The next step is to put the players in game-day situations, and that's the plan for this afternoon's scrimmage at Finley Stadium.
"This scrimmage will be different than the previous two because it'll be more about game-day operations," offensive coordinator Jeff Durden said after Thursday evening's practice. "We want to make sure our coaches know what's expected of them and make sure the kids know what's going to happen in between series as far as correcting the previous series. It'll be a faster process for them, because they need to get ready for when we start switching our practice schedule to game preparations.
"It'll be big to get our signals and communication on the field, and I'm going up in the [press] box. It'll all be just like a regular game this time. There's a couple of guys we still need to know about, but mainly I want to see how our guys get lined up and execute."
One of the primary offensive questions still to be answered is which backup quarterback is ready to claim the number-two job behind Southern Conference offensive player of the year Jacob Huesman. Neither redshirt freshman -- Alejandro Bennifield or Tyler Roberson -- has taken a snap in a college game. Bennifield has worked with the second team more and was the first quarterback off the bench in last Saturday's scrimmage.
But while the coaches admit the importance of knowing who the top backup is, they aren't ready to identify either as having claimed the job just yet.
"What's got Alejandro ahead is his anticipation," Durden added. "He's more of a decision maker right now in the passing game. It's not that Tyler's doing bad -- he's just more careless with the ball, and that'll put you in the hole to start with. He's a big strong kid, just got to be more consistent.
"To get that job you have to be able to compete with the number one. When one of those guys can step in and move the first offense, that's when we'll know the order for them. They'll both have that opportunity, to work with the first offense, in the scrimmage.
"It's the key to our season, developing our number-two quarterback. Everybody on offense knows that. We want to keep Jacob on the field obviously, but those guys need to be ready in case they're called on. Right now our package would change if Jacob weren't in there, and that affects how we would call the game."
Since spring practice, Bennifield has shown the stronger arm while Roberson is the better runner, evidenced by coaches having him work with every special-teams unit, both kick-return and kick-coverage teams.
Jacob Huesman often spends extra time between reps instructing the two backups, trying to explain what they should be looking for in each situation.
"I'm trying to help them be the best that they can be," the starter said. "They're doing really well. I don't have to tell them as much as I used to. They're picking up the system really well. There's just a few moments I have to pull them aside and talk about remember a thing or two here and there."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.
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 ...