As much potential as the Vols have at receiver this year one would think that all the Vols have to do to win is pass the ball. I mean with so many highly recruited freshman and a pair of seniors who know SEC defenses who wouldn’t think that? However, the Vols need to balance their attack with a solid running game. How can we do that with the loss of Montario Hardesty? Lucky for the Vols they have a nicely stocked stable of running backs and full backs to help with that mission. Their rushers are quick and elusive, a huge plus heading into this season where o-line play may be the most questioned position on the field. These runners will be tasked with helping the new quarterback ease into the position. Find out who we have and how good they are by
First lets take a look at the history of running backs in Big Orange Country. With only three All-American running backs since 1950 ( in the 50’s Lauricella, Majors, and more recently in 01 Stephens) one would think that UT doesn’t run the ball with much success. That isn’t true. Running the ball on Rocky Top is nothing new. In fact talented rushers have been a consistent option for the Vols quarterbacks for quite some time. The 50’s had Hank Lauricella & Jonny Majors, the late 60’s and 70’s had Curt Watson and Stanley Morgan, the 80’s had James Berry and Reggie Cobb, and the 90’s had Charlie Garner, Jay Graham, Jamal Lewis, and Travis Henry. Even in the last decade we had impressive names such as Travis Stephens, Cedric Houston and Arian Foster.
Montario Hardesty proved that a UT running back with one year as a starter could be a first day NFL draft pick. His hard style of running and impressive numbers last season are just another piece of evidence that UT produces solid running backs. These dominant performers have compiled impressive stats over the years as well.
- 14 Players have had runs for over 80 yards in a game
- 7 Players have had over 500 career carries
- 14 Players have had over 1,000 yards in a single season
- 18 Players have ran for over 200 yards in a game
- 12 Players have had over 2000 career yards
- Lewis, Garner, Henry, Graham, and Houston (arguably the best UT RB in NFL since mid 90’s) have combined for over 23,900 NFL yards
After throwing all those numbers at you I just want to clarify there are several schools that produce numerous NFL caliber running backs, such as USC and Auburn more so than Tennessee. I just want it to be known that in my opinion we hold our own and, all indications indicate that this season we have the talent to continue to doing so. Lets take a look at what we have heading into the season.
Penciled in as the starter heading into the season is a player that has dominated spring and fall camps for the past two years leaving fans calling for him to receive playing time on the field during hard times. Tauren Poole, junior, has wowed with his speed (marked at 4.6 – 40 yard dash on UTsports.com), and his ability to break tackles. As a high school player he put up impressive numbers running for 1,350 his sophomore year, 1,925 his junior year, and 2,138 his senior year for a total of 5,413 yards. Hailing from Toccoa, GA and playing in a very competitive GA football league, this is no small deal.
Now the 5’11” 213 lb runner is playing on Rocky Top and will finally receive his chance to start after playing backup the past two years. During that time he has compiled 32 carries for 171 yards and 2 receptions for 10 yards. Fans are looking for more of his famous long runs and Poole will do his best to deliver. The Orange and White game showed that for sure.
Rivals: ***, #16 RB, #25 GA
Scout: ***, #41 RB
Second string running back in 2010, will more than likely, be David Oku, sophomore from Lincoln, NE/Oklahoma City, OK (moved after football season senior year). Oku is a very quick and elusive runner. Averaging 4.1 yards per carry with a 4.48 – 40 this 5’10” 186 lb runner will be a nice back up on the field.
Oku also handles kick off returns. Last season he returned 33 kick offs for 863 yards or a 26.2 yard average. That was good enough for 6th best in the conference and 25th in the nation.
Rivals: ****, # 1 All purpose Back, # 97 USA, #3 OK
Scout: ****, #9 RB
Also competing for the lead back up spot is sophomore Toney Williams. At 6’1″ 227 lbs. he will be a good 3rd down, goal line powerback. Add in a 4.6 – 40 and this huge back can definitely be a force. The Alpharetta, GA product wowed coaches last spring before his early summer ACL tear. Lets hope has regained his form or does so quickly.
Rivals: ***, #53 RB, #42 GA
Scout: ****, # 4 FB
These three running backs provide the Vols with a talented and deep backfield. There is still the possibility that former top recruit Bryce Brown may still come back after his freshmen year of 101 carries for 460 yards and 3 touchdowns. It is widely speculated that Brown will be heading back to Kansas though to be closer to home and play with his brother. Nothing has been ruled out but I expect it to happen. However, with Brown the Vols backfield would definitely be one of the top in the conference but without him we are almost just as good.
Then we have the position of Fullback. Dooley loves multi-tight end sets so it is unclear how much playing time these guys will receive but they are talented and ready to prove their worth to the coaches this off season.
Starting at Fullback will more than likely be 6′ 247 lb Kevin Cooper. Cooper is a redshirt Junior with 19 receptions for 142 yards, a 8.0 yard average, and 1 TD. He is a great short pass threat with the ability to break up field. Rushing, Cooper only has 13 yards on 6 carries but his run blocking has been used to great success and will improve over the course of his career. Comming out of Chattanooga this in state prospect rushed for 1054 yards and 1891 yards in the last two years of his high school career for a total of 29 Touchdowns. He has the talent and the ability, the only question is how much opportunity will he be given to show it.
Rivals: ***, #3 FB, #13 TN
Backing up Cooper could be one of two players. Either Sam Edgemon , a walk-on, or early enrolle Channing Fugate. Edgemon had a decent spring and could continue to improve under coach Dooley who really respects walk on players being a former walk on himself. I however am going to bet on freshman Fugate who had the advantage of going through a week of bowl practice, winter work outs and spring practice. This 6’2” 229 lb Kentucky rusher set a high school record in Kentucky as a junior by rushing for 3,057 yards and 36 touchdowns that year. His senior season defenses focused their efforts on him but he still rushed 143 times for 1332 yards ,a 9.32 yard average, and 17 touchdowns.
Rivals: ***, #3 KY, #75 Ath
Scout: ***, #6 FB
Fugate is a true freshman and joined the team back in December. He will be joined this summer by Rajion Neal from Tyrone, GA. This 5’11” 215 lbs. runner has a 4.44 – 40 yard dash and was set to join Dan Mullen at Mississippi State before Dooley and Company convinced him to otherwise after arriving late in January. His senior season he carried the ball 291 times for 1816 yards and 33 touchdowns including an 89 yard run.
Rivals: ****, #9 RB, # 11 GA, #151 USA
Scout: ***, #31 RB
The Vols are ready talent wise to compete for wins, at least at the running back position. They aren’t Ingram or Richardson from Alabama but they are good. Last season they had Eddie Gran coaching them. As a super recruiter of South Florida and a talented SEC coach for over a decade, Gran is the one coach that I wish we could have kept. He left because of Lane and Ed but with him here we would have one of the best staffs in the country in my opinion.
In the last 6 years he has been responsible for the signing of 1 five star, 6 four stars, 10 three stars, and 3 two star players. Fifteen of those Twenty recruits have been from the South Florida area. This year he has already gotten a commitment from 1 South Florida player and is targeting 10 more. As a coach he has coached NFL running backs Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Rudi Johnson, Brandon Jacobs, Heath Evans, Kenny Irons, Deuce McCallister, and John Avery.
Gran has coached since 1987 and has had an impressive resume. He has coached at Miami, Cincinnati, Ole Miss, Auburn, Tennessee, and now FSU. He is a great special teams coach also and has greatly boosted special teams rankings at every stop he has made.
Replacing Eddie Gran is offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. Chaney has coached QB, WR, TE, and OL as well as serving as Recruiting Coordinator and Offensive Coordinator during his impresive 26 year career but this will be his first time coaching running backs. Chanel is well known as an offensive mind and keeping him on staff was a huge plus in holding the team together and providing some continuity for Dooley. While at Purdue, where he coordinated an offense that allowed Drew Brees to average 349.1 yards per game, the offense finished ranked in passing and total offense six out of nine years. Also during his tenure at Purdue the Boilermakers ranked in the top 30 in recruiting every year.
Chaney has coached at Cal State Fullerton, Western Michigan, Wyoming, Purdue, and the St. Louis Rams before settling here in Knoxville. He was looking to leave last season because of Kiffin but luckly stayed long enough to be retained by Dooley. Having the experience Chaney has is invaluable but having never coached running backs before Dooley has brought in his Louisiana Tech Running Back coach Chino Fontenette as a graduate assistant.
Fontenette has been in coaching for six seasons now and in 2008 his running backs allowed Louisiana Tech to finish ranked 2nd in the WAC and 27th in the nation in rushing. Under his tootledge Tech’s starting running back Daniel Porter ran for 1,163 yards and 9 touchdowns and the back up 653 yards and 6 touchdowns. Porter also had 4 straight 100 yard games.
With Fontenette helping Chaney out this years Vols running backs should be good to go and another valued asset to our unproven QB and OL.
Coming Soon: Offensive Line