Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer said he’s been impressed by tailback Montario Hardesty’s toughness and smarts during preseason camp. The junior has been the leader of a young group of tailbacks as Foster has been sidelined.
“He’s leading that group pretty good,” Fulmer said of Hardesty.
Said Hardesty, “Now I just feel like without him (Foster) being there, it’s up to me to take the leadership role with the running backs and show the younger guys how to practice.”
Fulmer said he also was impressed with how Hardesty responded to a fumble during Saturday’s scrimmage, intently protecting the ball thereafter.
Lower down the tailback depth chart, Fulmer said he doesn’t see a competition battle brewing between sophomore Lennon Creer and freshman Tauren Poole.
“We’ve got four tailbacks,” Fulmer said. “We’re going to need all four of them. All of them are getting themselves game ready.”
“I go out there and compete with everybody everyday, not just Tauren,” Creer said.
With Foster sidelined, Creer said he has been splitting reps evenly with the first team with Hardesty. That, however, doesn’t mean Creer is happy with his camp performance.
“I know I can do a lot better and I know I need to pick it up,” said Creer, who gained 10 pounds and underwent knee surgery in the offseason. “I need to pick up the offense more and pick up my practice habits.”
D-Up D-Tackles: Fulmer said UT’s reserve defensive tackles shouldn’t consider themselves ready to play just because junior reserve Chase Nelson is done for the year with a knee injury suffered last week.
Juniors Victor Thomas and Andre Mathis are two of the competitors vying for snaps in Nelson’s absence.
“Neither have shown that if you have an injury that they can go in there and play 40 snaps in a ball game,” Fulmer said.
Then, there’s freshman Donald Langley, also vying for snaps.
“He’s not as consistent as I’d like him to be,” Fulmer said of Langley.
Back-up Brent?: Cornerback Brent Vinson has gone from working with the third team to begin camp to working with the second and first teams.
“I wouldn’t say it’s really a competition,” the sophomore said. “The coaches have been rotating everybody. Everybody has been doing good.”
Vinson blamed his slide down the depth chart on missing spring practice following shoulder surgery.
“I missed a lot of good stuff, a lot of good coaching,” he said.
Vinson said he’s relying on his teammates to catch up and, despite starting 10 games last season, isn’t worried about locking down a starting position by the end of camp.
“I’m not really focusing on that,” Vinson said. “I’m just focusing on getting better everyday. . . . I just do what my coach says. I’m still a young player.”
Practice Report: Fulmer was pleased following Tuesday’s first workout.
“I loved this morning’s work,” Fulmer said. “It was cool and we had some good physical 9-on-8 and some good teaching.”
Fulmer has definitely grown used to the NCAA preseason practice rules implemented years ago to limit two-a-day practices.
“I can’t believe we used to do it the way we did,” Fulmer said. “It was so hard on them physically.”
Men to Watch: Having eyeballed UT’s defense countless times, Hardesty mentioned a couple of players he thought should be receiving more publicity, beginning with defensive end Chris Walker.
“Him and Ben Martin both are two guys showing a lot of improvement,” Hardesty said of the two sophomore defensive ends.
Phillip’s Thoughts: Stuck in the middle of camp, Fulmer said now is the time for his players to avoid complacency — and he’s ready to make sure that happens.
“You comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” Fulmer said. “You can’t get comfortable.”
Roll Call: Offensive lineman Cody Pope missed the morning practice Tuesday but returned for the afternoon session. The freshman is still dealing with an illness.
Heating Up: Two UT offensive linemen, Ramon Foster and Vladimir Richard, suffered cramps as they came of the practice field Tuesday afternoon.