Tauren Poole has firm grip on top spot

Tennessee tailback Tauren Poole (28) is shoved out of bounds by North Carolina's Kevin Reddick (48) during the first half Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010 in the Music City Bowl in Nashville at LP Field.

Photo by Michael Patrick

Tennessee tailback Tauren Poole (28) is shoved out of bounds by North Carolina's Kevin Reddick (48) during the first half Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010 in the Music City Bowl in Nashville at LP Field.

Tauren Poole

Tauren Poole

Strictly by the numbers, Tennessee appeared to at least have the possibility of entertaining a change at running back.

The backup heading into Saturday’s first scrimmage of spring piled up yardage and touchdowns while the starter struggled to do either, seemingly leaving the door open for a reversal of roles.

But context is everything, and a simple comparison of the defense that shut down Tauren Poole and the one that couldn’t contain Rajion Neal was enough for the Vols to keep the status quo.

If anything, Poole may have actually solidified his spot at the top of the depth chart as UT moved past the midway point of spring camp.

“Rajion ran against the (second-team defense) and got most of his yards,” Vols coach Derek Dooley said on Tuesday. “It was not a defense you’d be proud of if you watched it. JT would have had about 94 yards against them, Rajion had (152) — and JT, as you know, is my 12-year-old son.

“Rajion is getting better, I just told him that he’s doing a lot of things a lot better and that’s encouraging. But he still does some things that are absolutely horrendous that we’ve got to get out of his game. But he’s making a lot of progress. You know, it’s good, he’s doing good. I shouldn’t put it all on the twos, he made some nice runs.”

According to the statistics provided by UT, Neal essentially made all the pretty plays on the ground at Neyland Stadium while Poole was singled out for a disappointing effort as he prepares for his second season as the feature back.

But despite the nine-carry, 21-yard effort over the weekend, that status for Poole hasn’t changed any for the Vols. Aside from the different level of competition he and Neal each faced during the live action, the scrimmage also represents just a small sample-size that doesn’t appear to be indicative of the way the senior has been playing at this point in camp.

Poole may still have some occasional troubles making the right read or cutting his losses instead of trying to bust a long run, but even without a breakout performance against the first-team defense he’s been earning high praise.

“I think Tauren really, to me, has improved as much as anybody in the first six practices,” Dooley said. “Now, he didn’t get the results in the scrimmage and a lot of it wasn’t his fault. But I think Tauren is running better, he’s working harder, he’s less affected when things aren’t going his way, so I’m pleased with his progress. I think he’s being a lot more decisive as a runner.

“He’s not there yet, but he’s on his way. He’s doing things this spring that he didn’t do all last year, and that’s good.”

At this time a year ago Poole had ripped off some long touchdowns, grabbing hold of the job with huge gains in scrimmages and making clear he wasn’t going to let it go.

But he also was showing tendencies to strike out if he didn’t hit a home run even then, an issue that didn’t go away even on the way to a 1,034-yard campaign — and one Poole readily admits he must correct no matter which defensive unit is on the field against him.

“I think I’m making minimal progress,” Poole said Saturday. “Of course I’m not where I want to be, and I hope nobody is because we’ve got to get better as a football team. But I’m getting there, I’m definitely not there yet. I’m listening to the coaches, I’m critiquing myself on every little thing and I’m paying attention to the details.

“I can’t get down, man. You know I love to break long touchdowns, but I’ve got to roll with it. That’s the adversity you face as a running back. You’re not going to break long ones every game, and you’re not going to break them every practice. Hats off to the defense, you know, I’m proud of those guys. They attacked it — and I needed that.

“Out of anybody, I needed to see that, lower myself a little bit and know that I always have to work hard and for what I have.”

What Poole doesn’t have at this point are eye-popping statistics like Neal. But he appears to have maintained his firm grip on the starting job anyway.

Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.

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Comments » 28

ctownvol writes:

I really thought Toney Williams would have made an impact by now.

voloffaith writes:

in response to FLVOL79:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Politely I say read the article one more time....

VOLliven2it writes:

in response to FLVOL79:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Poole rushed for 1,034 yards last year counting the bowl. He missed a thousand by about 6 in the UK game. On one of his runs, one simple cut would have gotten probably 12 or 15 yards at least if not a td. But I saw that looking on a large screen tv.
He is a solid back and we have no reason if he stays healthy and the line gels to think he will not have a 1000 or maybe even a 1200 yard year. I'd love to see him lead the SEC. But with other backs around, that's asking a lot. I would say that if he gets 1200 or more yards we likely win 8 or 9 games. I would espescially love to see that.

RaineyVol writes:

Who ever plays better you play, None of this He has been here longer phooey!

dvols writes:

4th in the East.....

maxvolfan#217855 writes:

At this stage of the game I wont be convinced or excited about this team until we beat FL. That game will tell if we have a successful season.

kantanuuv writes:

I personally applaud Mr. Poole for "making minimal progress" as he unabashedly phrases it.

In fact, I think we've stumbled upon the catch phrase for the 2011 Vole offense. Visualize this: the offense takes the field after another touchdown by the opponent...the cheerleaders inflame the 53,000 in attendance by extolling the team to MAKE MINIMAL PROGRESS!...inspired by the crowd's roar, the offense runs 3 plays and gets very close to a first down!

The stuff of legend.

abnermc writes:

in response to dvols:

4th in the East.....

Fla.?

volinlouisiana writes:

in response to kantanuuv:

I personally applaud Mr. Poole for "making minimal progress" as he unabashedly phrases it.

In fact, I think we've stumbled upon the catch phrase for the 2011 Vole offense. Visualize this: the offense takes the field after another touchdown by the opponent...the cheerleaders inflame the 53,000 in attendance by extolling the team to MAKE MINIMAL PROGRESS!...inspired by the crowd's roar, the offense runs 3 plays and gets very close to a first down!

The stuff of legend.

I suppose we would rather them think that they are all world beaters after a practice or two. I think minimal progress in spring practice day by day is a good goal, but I suppose you know more than the coaches.

Rich_Is_Re-born writes:

Poole and Neal together just might be a nasty 1-2 punch. I'm also excited simply because our ENTIRE TEAM will have been in the same exact system for 2 seasons straight! Our offense has had 4 different OCs in 4 years. That stuff matters. The offense, defense, special teams, everything. I can't wait.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Poole is a gamer.

A 1000 yds don't come easy in the SEC.

After the O/W, pls let us go quietly till fall.

easleychuck writes:

It is always the great unknown with a football team.

Does the defense look good because the offense is bad?

Or is the offense rolling because the defense is struggling?

Never really know until you play the games.

OrangePride writes:

Here is the deal. IF, the O-line comes together and can provide a little daylight, TP will be great. Last year, TP had some great games until teams decided to load up and stop the run and make Tennessee throw. So....if the passing game is dangerous enough to keep that strategy at bay, AND the line can be just effective enough to give a little space, TP will be just fine. He is a heck of a back. GO VOLS!

TommyJack writes:

Seems to me, TP doesn't get the respect he deserves. He is a quality SEC back. If Neal shows the toughness of TP, he will stand out too.

GreerVol22 writes:

in response to TommyJack:

Seems to me, TP doesn't get the respect he deserves. He is a quality SEC back. If Neal shows the toughness of TP, he will stand out too.

agreed, in this conference it takes two backs to tango effectively. IF USC had another back even close to the quality of Lattimore, they would have a couple more wins to their season.

NashvillePreds writes:

I am looking forward to the MTSU, and UGA games with great anticipation.
Not a lot to gain from the MTSU game, but a lot to lose. Also, I would have to leave TN, if that game goes awry.
If we beat UGA, it could be that way for a few years to come.
I'll be in the mountains of East TN this weekend. Always great to be up there during the spring.

Go Vols, and Playoff Preds!

BigVolFaninSC writes:

Poole will be the senior leader of the team this year! For him to gain 1k behind that green OL last year was quite a feat! We need him and Neal to step up and keep the D honest! The key to everything, though is the big uglies up front opening holes and keeping Bray clean in the pocket! Our success hinges on how quickly these younglings can become Jedi!

69grad writes:

in response to NashvillePreds:

I am looking forward to the MTSU, and UGA games with great anticipation.
Not a lot to gain from the MTSU game, but a lot to lose. Also, I would have to leave TN, if that game goes awry.
If we beat UGA, it could be that way for a few years to come.
I'll be in the mountains of East TN this weekend. Always great to be up there during the spring.

Go Vols, and Playoff Preds!

When I was in high school, lived and worked in Gatliburg during the summers of '63 and'64. And, boy did I learn a lot. Also made enough money to pay for my books and tuition when I started in '65.

69grad writes:

(Spelling and facts omitted) Gatlinburg and UT grad '69. Go Vols

hueypilot writes:

I like the attitude. Keep it humble and hard working boys. Do your talking on Saturdays.

FarmerVol writes:

in response to TommyJack:

Seems to me, TP doesn't get the respect he deserves. He is a quality SEC back. If Neal shows the toughness of TP, he will stand out too.

He is a solid kid for a 5'10" 185 pounder. I got to meet him at a banquet and he is 100% quality. Will enjoy watching him explode through the holes he did not have last year most of the time. Our running game was not as good as it could have been but that is because of the play calling and lack of OL dudes who could block. The fact TP got any yards is largely due to his talent. If OL is better, he will be better. If he is better, passing game is better. If passing game is better, we keep ball longer. If we keep ball longer, defense stays off field longer. Etc. Etc. Its all good. GBO and Marlin will help when he gets here.

volfan2002 writes:

Hopefully JT will sign a scholarship with Tennessee. If he can get 94 now he should be awesome when he grows up.

Smokey_Chow writes:

I just hope this Poole/Neal thing isn't the Bray/Simms competition we had last spring... where Bray did way better than Simms but Dooley supported Simms up until it was evident that there was a better choice for that position.

givehim6 writes:

Glad Neal is getting the yeards this year, Pool will warm up as Sept gets here. Last year Pool had no help, with Ouk gone Neal knows he has #2 spot Hopefuly a better running game we will have.

NashvillePreds writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

What exactly does, "heads above" mean? Can't say I've heard that one.
BTW, just heard them calling for you. Something about cleanup on aisle 9...

jawga writes:

in response to Rich_Is_Re-born:

Poole and Neal together just might be a nasty 1-2 punch. I'm also excited simply because our ENTIRE TEAM will have been in the same exact system for 2 seasons straight! Our offense has had 4 different OCs in 4 years. That stuff matters. The offense, defense, special teams, everything. I can't wait.

Quite a reach to say Poole & Neal will be a "Nasty" combo. If Poole is starting TB the Vols will have a firm grip on 6-6 at best.

stormblast writes:

in response to givehim6:

Glad Neal is getting the yeards this year, Pool will warm up as Sept gets here. Last year Pool had no help, with Ouk gone Neal knows he has #2 spot Hopefuly a better running game we will have.

The O line will be better too. 3 freshmen starters last year with a freshman qb. This could be one the most balanced offenses of the sec next season.

baldingalum writes:

It was asked previously, and it was a really good question. Where is Toney Williams? He's got good size and speed. He looks like a good RB with the potential to be great.

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