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Front Page - Friday, August 18, 2017

Jenkins Perspective: Mocs have big holes to fill in offensive line

Josh Cardiello, shown here playing right guard against Alabama, is back at center this spring. He is replacing three-year starter Jacob Revis, a first-team All-Southern Conference selection for the past two seasons. - Photograph courtesy of Jeff Hurndon | UTC Athletics

One of the first signs that new University of Tennessee at Chattanooga head football coach Tom Arth had a firm grasp of his new program’s needs was the Mocs’ last-minute recruitment and signing of huge Chattanooga Central offensive lineman McClendon Curtis.

Curtis, who checks in as a freshman as 6-foot-8, 320, is going to have a chance to play heavily – if not start – at right offensive guard as the Mocs rebuild their offensive line in front of veteran quarterback Alejandro Bennifield. While there is a veteran anchoring the line – All-Southern Conference senior center Josh Cardiello – the four players who will flank him this season will all be new to starting or new to their position.

Much will be expected of Cardiello (6-3, 305, Buford, Georgia), who transferred to the Mocs after initially being a three-star recruit for the University of Georgia. He was redshirted as a freshman and played in one game as a sophomore before electing to transfer.

He was initially employed by the Mocs as a right-side guard, but returned to center in the spring and worked first team at that position all through practice.

“I played tackle in high school, so when I got to Georgia it was the first time I’d played center,” Cardiello explains. “It took me a while to figure it out there. How to snap a ball, adjusting to that level of play was kind of difficult, but once I figured it out, it’s been fine.

“I’ve worked on it on and off since I’ve been here, so it hasn’t been too bad. I know the offense well enough where I can direct everyone and be the center of the offensive line and control everything.”

While much has been made of the numerous transfers the Mocs program has received this season – the first under Arth – one of the biggest disappointments was the loss of two veteran linemen for personal reasons.

While the graduation and ascent to the NFL of guard Josh Levin was proudly part of the off-season of change, much less welcome were the “retirements” of veteran upperclassmen Jacob Revis and Hunter Townson, both electing to pass on their senior season of eligibility.

Revis (6-2, 300), a three-year starter and the incumbent center, was a product of Rhea County High School and was named first team All-Southern Conference in 2016 for the second consecutive year and third-team All-America. He was also all-academic and a member of the Dean’s list. He earned his degree in health and human performance and let his departure be known right about the same time head coach Russ Huesman announced he was leaving.

Townson (6-4, 300, Ider, Alabama) actually graduated early from high school to begin his career as a Moc and would go on to start in 37 games during his UTC career. He earned his degree (also in health and human performance), and was named a member of the elite Alpha Society – one of the most prestigious awards a graduate could receive.

He posted the following on his Facebook page: “In 2012, I made a similar decision to forgo my last semester of high school and graduated early to enroll at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Over these last four years, I have had some of the best times of my life and also had to face different kinds of adversity; however, I believe that this experience has taught me many life lessons that have made me a better man. I thank God every day for allowing me to play the game I love and for the friendships that I have developed over these years that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”

Filling the void won’t be easy, but there are plenty of big bodies who will make the effort. Besides Cardiello, 6-6, 305 Malcolm White (Johnson City) returns after earning SoCon All-Freshman honors and starting every game at left tackle. But beyond the two returnees are players hoping to make their mark in preseason practice and earn a coveted starting slot against Jacksonville State on August 26th.

Neither Arth nor new offensive line coach Nick Hennessey have indicated who they think will emerge as the Mocs’ new front five. The candidates include, among the veterans, junior Branden Parker (6-3, 295, Lithonia, Georgia), junior and Louisville transfer Luke Schultheiss (6-3,2 280, Canton, Georgia), sophomore Taylor Helton (6-5, 300, Kingsport) and sophomore Brian Marshall (6-2, 220 (Marietta, Georgia).

Redshirt freshmen in the mix include Tyler Martin (6-4, 280, Sevierville) and Cole Strange (6-6, 270, Knox Farragut), while Curtis is the only true freshman involved.

Patriots sign injured Moc All-America Davis

The last piece of unfinished business from Russ Huesman’s coaching era came to a happy ending this week.

Two-time All-America and 2016 Southern League Defensive Player of the Year Keionta Davis signed a free agent deal with the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots despite the presence of a bulging disc in his neck that will require him to spend the 2017 season on the Patriots’ practice squad.

Davis has long been on the radar of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, so much so that the legendary head coach slipped into Chattanooga in March to personally conduct a private workout for he and Moc teammate Corey Levin.

Davis was limited on how much he could do during the official NFL combine, but turned into some exception performances during the Pro Day staged by the Mocs for several players and ex-players. During that workout, the 6-4, 270 Davis ran a 4.67 40-yard dash and turned in a 37-inch vertical and 30 reps pressing 225 pounds on the bench.

But, no nibbles during or after the draft. This week, the Patriots suddenly came calling during what is normally roster cutting time for NFL teams.

“We’ve done quite a bit of work on him,” Belichick told the assembled media at the Patriots’ training facility. “I worked him out at Chattanooga myself in March. I mean, he’s a good player. I don’t think he’s any secret. We were able to add him to our roster at this time.”

“(Belichick) told me to keep working, that you never know,” Davis told local media by phone. “It’s a great situation that I’m fortunate to be in. To go from not knowing my future to signing with these guys, it shows they actually care.”

The neck injury was not apparent during Davis’ huge senior season. He had 10.5 sacks for the Mocs, following up his school records 13.5 sacks as a junior. He will be place initially on the Patriot’s physically unable to perform list. He will be allowed to work out and rehab at team’s facilities while he heals. The team apparently concurs with his desire to avoid surgery.

Davis thus becomes the third player from the 2016 Mocs team – the finale for coach Russ Huesman – competing for an NFL roster spot. The third, after David and Levin, who was the Tennessee Titans sixth-round draft pick, is free agent receiver C.J. Board (Ravens).

Jacob Huesman, Russ’ son, is attempting to earn a job with the New York Giants as a fullback and long snapper. He played his final season with the Mocs in 2015.

Final Four named in A.D. search

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has four finalists for the job of athletic director, each hoping to replace David Blackburn. Blackburn abruptly resigned with no notice in June. Senior associate athletics director for internal operations Scott Altizer has been serving as interim director.

The list of finalists includes Jim Booz, executive associate athletic director at Georgia, Gerald Harrison, senior associate athletic director for internal affairs at Duke, Jeff O’Malley, associate athletic director and chief of staff at Marshall, and Mark Wharton, associate athletic director for athletic development at Penn State.

A decision is expected to be made by the search committee by the end of August.

New basketball coach has commitment

New Mocs head basketball coach Lamont Paris has gotten his first 2018 commitment: Baltimore point guard Donovann Toatley.

The 5-foot-8 Toatley average 14 points and six assists for a private school championship team. Paris figures to have a small incoming class since he expects to lose only one player, Trayvond Massenburg, to graduation.

Already on campus is Fairfield transfer Jerry Johnson, Jr., a shooting guard who played his high school basketball in Germantown. After sitting out the upcoming season, Johnson will have two years of eligibility remaining.