UT position previews: Running back

Newcomers Brown, Oku join forces with Hardesty, Poole

Tennessee tailback Montario Hardesty runs the ball during practice at Neyland Stadium.

Photo by Wade Payne

Tennessee tailback Montario Hardesty runs the ball during practice at Neyland Stadium.

Photo with no caption

Montario Hardesty: Differences betwween Fulmer's Vols and Kiffin's Vols

In the final two games of the 2008 season, the Vols rushed a combined 104 times. And it just so happened they won those two games - Kentucky and Vanderbilt - by a combined 28 points.

If there's anything to feel good about on offense from a year ago, it's that Tennessee managed to be somewhat effective running the ball even while finishing 115th in the country in total offense.

Heading into this season, the Vols have plenty of talent at tailback - and a new zone blocking scheme embraced by both offensive linemen and running backs. They also have the nation's No. 1 overall recruit, according to Rivals.com, on campus and ready to contribute in Bryce Brown.

"When you walk by Bryce and (see) his presence, he looks like the real deal," UT coach Lane Kiffin said. "He's 218 pounds right now, and he looks like a guy who has been in the NFL for a few years.

"Bryce is built up so well. He's got that superstar walk and presence to him. There's a lot to that."

There's also a lot to the impression Brown has made on All-American safety Eric Berry.

"Bryce Brown is definitely a mature guy," says Berry. "He's got his goals set in mind as far as what he wants to do."

And Berry, who has started every game of his UT career beginning with the 2007 season opener at California, knows something about maturity.

Brown, like Berry, will likely be expected to contribute right from the beginning. Fellow freshman David Oku, rated the nation's top all-purpose back by Rivals.com, will also get a chance to show what he can do early in fall camp as well.

From what Berry's seen in offseason workouts, Oku should prove an asset as well.

"He's a little lightning bolt," Berry said. "He has good moves, very good at catching the ball. Picks up on plays very quickly. He's already pretty much grasped the playbook. He's a special player."

But Oku and Brown aren't the only players in the backfield this fall.

Senior Montario Hardesty, who led the Vols with six touchdowns last fall, is one of the Vols' biggest leaders on offense. He's also a bruising runner who has good speed in the open field.

Behind Hardesty is Tauren Poole, who rushed for 86 yards last season but had an impressive spring practice.

"We have a nice group of running backs," said Hardesty, who has spent time teaching Brown and Oku the playbook this summer. "I think everybody's working hard, man. Tauren Poole has been working hard since he got here. I think we got a nice group with me and Tauren and the two freshmen guys coming in. I think we have a good group of guys."

They're also a comfortable group of guys, Hardesty said.

"That was a good sign from spring. We got better and better running the ball," he said. "Even to come out in the first day in a new scheme, we were running the ball a lot better than we were at any point last year. It's definitely good signs that our running game is coming along good."

That's good news for the Vols on offense.

Given the Vols' struggles in the passing game last fall and injuries to three of UT's top wide receivers this offseason, the running game will be vital this fall.

And while much of the focus has been on Brown and Oku this offseason, the Vols have enough contributors even after true freshman Toney Williams tore his anterior cruciate knee ligament in voluntary workouts and Lennon Creer left the program.

The momentum from spring has Hardesty looking for big things this fall.

"It's a little bit of scheme. It's a little more energy. It's guys knowing what to do better, knowing their assignments more," he says. "It's just a little bit of everything. Guys being more motivated from going 5-7 to practice harder.

"Whatever it was, I think as a whole the offense played a lot better in the spring than we did in the season at any point last year."

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Comments » 53

tdforvols writes:

Pound the rock!

DennisVols writes:

Loaded up at running back position and lining up top WR's for the 2010 class.
A bright future at UT.
Keeping it Real
Go Vols!!!

VolGraduate writes:

1st

itsgr82batnvol writes:

lets go hardesty! woohoo! those freshmen maybe great but its still your starting position to loose! practice practice practice!

go vols!

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Pound the fritter!

Keep the enemy out of that 2-9 defense.

Getting close to ready for the Hilltoppers.

Predictions coming soon.

voloffaith writes:

in response to VolGraduate:

1st

again boys and girls.......johnny it's not important who is first in class.remember in our new social structure our government is leading us toward the group is most important and there are no individuals.

so from now on instead of first type ALL.

on topic, the situation looks like we are working the qb search from the back door. Get the receivers and let them be the draw that attracts a quality qb.

GO VOLS!!

pdhuff#552644 writes:

in response to voloffaith:

again boys and girls.......johnny it's not important who is first in class.remember in our new social structure our government is leading us toward the group is most important and there are no individuals.

so from now on instead of first type ALL.

on topic, the situation looks like we are working the qb search from the back door. Get the receivers and let them be the draw that attracts a quality qb.

GO VOLS!!

Don't you get a pass for typing 1st when you're actually third?

voloffaith writes:

in response to pdhuff#552644:

Don't you get a pass for typing 1st when you're actually third?

You know that would probably be fair. I was going by his intent I guess.

jhayes0926#638474 writes:

seems that Hardesty will start and get the most carries leading to the 3rd and 4th qtrs pounding on the defense to tire them down. then Brown and Oku will finish up against the worn down defense in the 4th qtr. Sounds like a plan to me!!

LiveFaith writes:

I hope Hardesty has a huge year. He has worked ery hard for UT despite a lot of setbacks. Remember that TD against Cal as a freshman. Wow!

VOL1SG writes:

1st post for me, but am excited about the depth and caliber of the stable of running backs we have. I am thinking hardesty is going to have a monster of year as well as Brown. Oku will turn heads as well, if not in the backfield, definitely on ST. Here's to a great year!

bcm4ut writes:

I hope Hardesty can stay healthy. I don't know if any of us have ever seen him 100%. I'm excited about the new guys, but I wouldn't expect too much from them from the get go. I would work them in slowly and make sure they can hold onto the ball!

bcm4ut writes:

Who were your favorite Tn tailbacks? Mine in no particular order would be;

1.Travis Stephens (SR year)
2.Jamal Lewis (Freshman year)
3.Jay Graham (so. and jr. years)
4.James Stewart
5.Chuck Webb
6.Reggie Cobb
7.Charlie Garner
8.Travis "brady bunch" Henry
9.Aaron Hayden

Good grief we've been fortunate to have so many great tailbacks. How are we not running back U of the last two decades?

UCFgradVOLatHEART writes:

I feel we will turn into WR U again and it looks as we may turn into RB University if this trend continues.

kennypowers writes:

Looking forward to UT pounding opponents with the running game. It became extremely frustrating last year when our passing game was the weakest link yet we continued to throw the ball 30-40 times a game. I think the new staff is more likely to play to our strength and run to set up the pass. I can't wait to see them in action. GO VOLS

PoochPuntOn3rdDown writes:

in response to bcm4ut:

Who were your favorite Tn tailbacks? Mine in no particular order would be;

1.Travis Stephens (SR year)
2.Jamal Lewis (Freshman year)
3.Jay Graham (so. and jr. years)
4.James Stewart
5.Chuck Webb
6.Reggie Cobb
7.Charlie Garner
8.Travis "brady bunch" Henry
9.Aaron Hayden

Good grief we've been fortunate to have so many great tailbacks. How are we not running back U of the last two decades?

What about Johnnie Jones?

txvolsfan writes:

in response to bcm4ut:

Who were your favorite Tn tailbacks? Mine in no particular order would be;

1.Travis Stephens (SR year)
2.Jamal Lewis (Freshman year)
3.Jay Graham (so. and jr. years)
4.James Stewart
5.Chuck Webb
6.Reggie Cobb
7.Charlie Garner
8.Travis "brady bunch" Henry
9.Aaron Hayden

Good grief we've been fortunate to have so many great tailbacks. How are we not running back U of the last two decades?

Reggie Cobb was the man, I loved watching him run. He could have been our best ever if he had kept himself clean!!!
what a waste of talent and a local kid.
Jamal was a beast, he looked like a man playing with boys
We've had our share of great ones!!!
TXVOLSFAN

Rockygrass writes:

in response to bcm4ut:

Who were your favorite Tn tailbacks? Mine in no particular order would be;

1.Travis Stephens (SR year)
2.Jamal Lewis (Freshman year)
3.Jay Graham (so. and jr. years)
4.James Stewart
5.Chuck Webb
6.Reggie Cobb
7.Charlie Garner
8.Travis "brady bunch" Henry
9.Aaron Hayden

Good grief we've been fortunate to have so many great tailbacks. How are we not running back U of the last two decades?

Chuckie Webb, what good memories that brings back.

TommyJack writes:

in response to bcm4ut:

Who were your favorite Tn tailbacks? Mine in no particular order would be;

1.Travis Stephens (SR year)
2.Jamal Lewis (Freshman year)
3.Jay Graham (so. and jr. years)
4.James Stewart
5.Chuck Webb
6.Reggie Cobb
7.Charlie Garner
8.Travis "brady bunch" Henry
9.Aaron Hayden

Good grief we've been fortunate to have so many great tailbacks. How are we not running back U of the last two decades?

A healthy Chuck Webb was the best RB I ever saw in Orange.

ThaiVolFan writes:

in response to LiveFaith:

I hope Hardesty has a huge year. He has worked ery hard for UT despite a lot of setbacks. Remember that TD against Cal as a freshman. Wow!

I was at that opening home game against Cal with my 3 yr. old son. Neyland was ROCKIN', man that was a fun game and some nice memories. Yeah, Hardesty's run that day was terrific. I too hope he has a complete injury free season. I really like our group of backs this year. Feeling very good about this season.
GBO!

ThaiVolFan writes:

I have to say it again guys, this new offensive blocking scheme is going to be the difference between night and day with this seasons results compared to last years. The sound play by the O line is going to have a positive domino effect opon every position. From the qb, backs, and receivers to the D line and D backs staying fresh. Just wait and see, this year will be completely opposite from last year in so many ways. The confidence that our boys will be playing with this year will be very noticeable in contrast to last year and that confidence will result in better play which will in turn breed more confidence...and so on and so on. Just wait and see boys. Here's to the Kool-Aid!
GBO!

tennezz writes:

in response to TommyJack:

A healthy Chuck Webb was the best RB I ever saw in Orange.

I believe we would have won the NC with Webb, had he not left for the NFL. My second choice would be Stanley Morgan, but he played at reciever his freshman and soph. year. If he got past the line nobody could catch him!

Volinsider writes:

in response to bcm4ut:

Who were your favorite Tn tailbacks? Mine in no particular order would be;

1.Travis Stephens (SR year)
2.Jamal Lewis (Freshman year)
3.Jay Graham (so. and jr. years)
4.James Stewart
5.Chuck Webb
6.Reggie Cobb
7.Charlie Garner
8.Travis "brady bunch" Henry
9.Aaron Hayden

Good grief we've been fortunate to have so many great tailbacks. How are we not running back U of the last two decades?

How could anyone forget Johnnie Jones? We have a very talented team this year, but the wild card is QB play. How much does anybody want to bet me that the QB play will be a big surprise to everyone, and we end up winning 10-11 games? I also believe we will not get slaughtered by the Gators, but will still likely lose by 10-14 points. Book it people!

UrbanCryer writes:

shawn brysons run against UF was priceless. straight up the gut, untouched for about an 80 yd td. probably the fastest "fullback' in the history of college football. u know your loaded at rb when he is moved to FB to get PT.

BillsBrother writes:

Other memorable TN running backs...

George Cafego - two time all-american & #1 draft choice!
Johnny Majors - Yeah, he played before he coached!
Curt Watson - The Crossville Comet. With a nickname like that he must have been good.
William Howard - A terrific north south runner in the mid 80's.
Jeff Powell - His 1986 Sugar Bowl touchdown is a classic!

MidTennVol writes:

I see Hardesty getting most of his carries in the Orange Zone, Oku being used for flares/short passes on the edges, Brown emerging as the 20-30 carries a game workhorse, and Poole making his mark returning punts/kicks (along with Rogan and Nukeese).

I hope I'm wrong about Hardesty's and Brown's roles -- hope they're reversed. I love Montario and he has most certainly earned his stripes. I hope he's our primary carrier, our bread-and-butter guy.

99gator writes:

my personal tennessee preview for 2009. i'll let you all discuss.

it is fitting that tennessee hired the coach of a professional football team, because i think the team has been handled in the manner of a losing franchise.

11 players have left the team (cut, if you will).
several members of the team will be free agents that the club will not re-sign(seniors who will be gone in 2010).

therefore, essentially, half of the team will have been replaced very quickly.

the problem is the here and now....and the fact that the new players have to learn the system and develop.

in the here and now, tennessee has no qb and no depth at linebacker, d-line, o-line, or wr (due to the injuries that have already been sustained).

normally, you would want to pound the rock to protect this team's qb and to take advantage of the one position where there is plenty of depth running back. however, the lack of depth may really hurt this team. most teams that play in that manner wear down their opponent and achieve victory in the 4th quarter. can they play a "grind it out game" into the 4th quarter with no depth in several places. in addition, i don't think this is a "vintage strong" tennessee offensive line. they must get something out of the qb position. they absolutely can not afford to play from behind. sticking with the professional theme, i think this team will play offensively like a boring nfl team. 1st and 2nd down will be all about creating a "manageable 3rd down" situation. good news is the offense can't get any worse. the bad news is that is not saying very much. tennessee will be better, but unless the starting qb is reborn, the offense will still have problems.

defensively, tennessee should be very good. however, depth is again the problem. this season, tennessee does not have the depth to play quality defense for 4 quarters without getting any help from its offense. tennessee is small upfront and needs to get something from ben martin. somebody on that line needs to step up and demand a double team. my guess is that monte kiffin will want to have fun with eric berry and move him around to create havoc. his ability to do that will depend on what the other 10 players on defense give him.

99gator writes:

the key statistic to follow for this team all season is 3rd down conversions. the defense has to get off the field whenever the opportunity presents itself. the offense must keep its defense off the field so that it has the energy to be there in the 4th quarter. if the defense is going to carry this team than tennessee's offseason conditioning program must pay off because they can not afford to tire out before their opponent.

IMO, the florida and alabama games are a lost cause. the deck is stacked against tennessee when facing ole miss and georgia as well. south carolina, ucla and auburn are all winnable games and all at home, but my gut tells me tennessee doesn't get them all.

i think tennessee will end up at 7-5. with injuries 6-6, with good fortune 8-4.

ethanfrome writes:

in response to bcm4ut:

Who were your favorite Tn tailbacks? Mine in no particular order would be;

1.Travis Stephens (SR year)
2.Jamal Lewis (Freshman year)
3.Jay Graham (so. and jr. years)
4.James Stewart
5.Chuck Webb
6.Reggie Cobb
7.Charlie Garner
8.Travis "brady bunch" Henry
9.Aaron Hayden

Good grief we've been fortunate to have so many great tailbacks. How are we not running back U of the last two decades?

You are right. "Wide receiver U" is something that people say from the older days. We were certainly running back U for some time (before we became Punter U).

cloudodust writes:

Execution. We don't need another year like the year of Clawson Clusterbangs. Just do what you do as flawlessly as possible...Don't turn the ball over. Control the clock. Move the ball. Execution. BTW, No redshirt for Brown and may they all remain healthy.

VOL1SG writes:

I do not think any game is a lost cause. Florida and Alabama may be a long shot, but I do not think the lost cause as you state. TN, with a renewed confidence on offense, will give us the opportunity to rest the defense. Our defense last year held Florida to its lowest output of total yards and gave Tebow his lowest output in passing yards. With CLK giving ST to CG, still do not kick it to Brandon James, another aspect of the TN game that has been lacking in the past and cost us many points, will become a strong point.

I do respect the post and enjoy a different point of view. Keep up the good work.

GO VOLS

give_him_6 writes:

Pound the rock and then hit'em with play action!!!!!

Go Vols

TDTN writes:

in response to bcm4ut:

Who were your favorite Tn tailbacks? Mine in no particular order would be;

1.Travis Stephens (SR year)
2.Jamal Lewis (Freshman year)
3.Jay Graham (so. and jr. years)
4.James Stewart
5.Chuck Webb
6.Reggie Cobb
7.Charlie Garner
8.Travis "brady bunch" Henry
9.Aaron Hayden

Good grief we've been fortunate to have so many great tailbacks. How are we not running back U of the last two decades?

We have had some great ones. Dont forget about these: Johnnie Jones, Shawn Bryson (FB), and Tony Thompson who came off the bench to lead the SEC in rushing one season.

TommyJack writes:

8 wins would be a huge first season for CLK.

Go4Two writes:

in response to bcm4ut:

Who were your favorite Tn tailbacks? Mine in no particular order would be;

1.Travis Stephens (SR year)
2.Jamal Lewis (Freshman year)
3.Jay Graham (so. and jr. years)
4.James Stewart
5.Chuck Webb
6.Reggie Cobb
7.Charlie Garner
8.Travis "brady bunch" Henry
9.Aaron Hayden

Good grief we've been fortunate to have so many great tailbacks. How are we not running back U of the last two decades?

Chuck Webb was the best back to play for the vols.

crimsonviper writes:

in response to TommyJack:

A healthy Chuck Webb was the best RB I ever saw in Orange.

I agree with that.I remember the first time i saw him.All i could say was WOW,this dude is good.

mbradshaw1#655539 writes:

in response to 99gator:

the key statistic to follow for this team all season is 3rd down conversions. the defense has to get off the field whenever the opportunity presents itself. the offense must keep its defense off the field so that it has the energy to be there in the 4th quarter. if the defense is going to carry this team than tennessee's offseason conditioning program must pay off because they can not afford to tire out before their opponent.

IMO, the florida and alabama games are a lost cause. the deck is stacked against tennessee when facing ole miss and georgia as well. south carolina, ucla and auburn are all winnable games and all at home, but my gut tells me tennessee doesn't get them all.

i think tennessee will end up at 7-5. with injuries 6-6, with good fortune 8-4.

Better coaching across the board and a better understanding of their assignments will go a long way. The if factor is injuries, we will need to stay healthy. I hope Hardsty is able to do just that but he has not gone through a whole season yet.

Go Vols!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

buxavol writes:

in response to Rockygrass:

Chuckie Webb, what good memories that brings back.

You got that right, grass. Best running back I've ever seen in Orange!

iowavol writes:

in response to PoochPuntOn3rdDown:

What about Johnnie Jones?

I was thinking about him as well. But one of my favorite plays is "Powell's around the corner, Powell's gone, goodbye, touchdown Tennessee". And of course the guys he outran was the all world corner from Miami with world class speed - can't remember his name but he sure was burned by Powell.

xvolx writes:

Hardesty will never get thru fall practice without getting injured. Just give us a running back that doesn't fumble every time he gets hit.

AllVol1 writes:

Hardesty: Hailstone
Poole: Downpour
Bryce Brown: Thunder
David Oku: Lightning

UT offense: Orange Storm

Berry: the Attacker
Williams: the Smacker
McCoy: the Sacker

UT defense: Orange Swarm

"THE BIG ORANGE SWARM AND STORM!!"

(Man, I would love to hear John Ward calling this out after we pull out a big upset this year.)

AllVol1 writes:

in response to xvolx:

Hardesty will never get thru fall practice without getting injured. Just give us a running back that doesn't fumble every time he gets hit.

Try some positive thinking, my friend. You will create what you truly believe. Our thinking about Hardesty can become a drag or a contributing force for the momentum that we are trying to build with this team. If you are a rival fan hiding behind a vol name, then I understand. Otherwise, let's have fun with this team and this game. Just so you know: I totally agree with the idea that we need the RB's to hold onto the football.

Dirty00 writes:

in response to bcm4ut:

Who were your favorite Tn tailbacks? Mine in no particular order would be;

1.Travis Stephens (SR year)
2.Jamal Lewis (Freshman year)
3.Jay Graham (so. and jr. years)
4.James Stewart
5.Chuck Webb
6.Reggie Cobb
7.Charlie Garner
8.Travis "brady bunch" Henry
9.Aaron Hayden

Good grief we've been fortunate to have so many great tailbacks. How are we not running back U of the last two decades?

Thats a great running back list but the best i've ever seen on the Hill was local Nashville boy Keith Davis in '85. He got injured and it ruined his career but he was pretty much unstoppable.

GainesvilleVol1 writes:

How about Greg Amsler? Not that famous, but a lot of heart. Yea, it's important we stay healthy at all our positions going into the fall. Hopefully the new mindset will lead to less fumbles, and turnovers. Better special teams, and an improved kicking game. In short, don't be our own worst enemy.

Getting close!

GO VOLS!!

chrisw2967 writes:

chuck webb is the best RB i ever seen in orange , the against Ark. in the cotton bowl was awesome.

orangebloodgmc writes:

This unit should definitely be a team strength, if we can just get em a little blocking, and I believe we will.

dkdkdk writes:

did u know travis cozart( lenoir city highschool star running back)started ahead of jay graham.in the spring but eventually got kick off the team for purse snatching.

StroVol writes:

in response to bcm4ut:

Who were your favorite Tn tailbacks? Mine in no particular order would be;

1.Travis Stephens (SR year)
2.Jamal Lewis (Freshman year)
3.Jay Graham (so. and jr. years)
4.James Stewart
5.Chuck Webb
6.Reggie Cobb
7.Charlie Garner
8.Travis "brady bunch" Henry
9.Aaron Hayden

Good grief we've been fortunate to have so many great tailbacks. How are we not running back U of the last two decades?

I used to go freaking nuts when Garner would come in for one play, reel off 20 yards and Fulmer would quickly remove him from the game for about 4 series. But that was Phil's deal. Pay your dues and maybe I'll let you play.

Need_2_Know writes:

in response to bcm4ut:

Who were your favorite Tn tailbacks? Mine in no particular order would be;

1.Travis Stephens (SR year)
2.Jamal Lewis (Freshman year)
3.Jay Graham (so. and jr. years)
4.James Stewart
5.Chuck Webb
6.Reggie Cobb
7.Charlie Garner
8.Travis "brady bunch" Henry
9.Aaron Hayden

Good grief we've been fortunate to have so many great tailbacks. How are we not running back U of the last two decades?

My list is much the same as yours. I remember when Aaron Hayden and "Little Man" Stewart came to the hill, Hayden was the more highly touted. For whatever reason, I think Stewart ended up being more productive.

The coming year or two has me thinking of the heady days of Cobb-Webb, as good a duo as I have ever seen in the SEC. Now, if we can just locate a Greg Amsler (FB), we'll be good2go in the backfield.

QB is a little thin for the future, but we're good for the next two...remember Darryl Dickey and what he accomplished?

That's all I'm sayin', and I'll hang up and listen to your comments.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

in response to grvol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

4.5 star comment!

We do not need 413 yards East and West.

North and South is the way to travel as William Howard could do at times.

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