Strange vs. Dearstone: News Sentinel pride on the line as Vols take to the field for Spring game
As promised, Jim Chaney put the ball in the hands of his fullback.
Apparently five touches for Channing Fugate in last week's scrimmage were enough to fill the quota for the Tennessee offensive coordinator.
Chaney joked that he's now done giving the bruising blocker a chance to show off his ability with the football after just a handful of chances, but UT's persistent effort to get Fugate more involved in the offense throughout the spring gave him away even before he started laughing.
"I told him after the scrimmage that it was a complete waste of our time and to go back to blocking," Chaney said. "I just wanted to get that over with in the spring so I didn't feel guilty about not trying it in the fall."
The Vols are used to Chaney's brand of humor by now, but even if Fugate thought the play-caller was serious, the sophomore hardly seemed concerned about how exactly he gets used in the attack.
Despite impressive high-school credentials as a rusher that included a 3,000-yard season as a junior, Fugate didn't have a single attempt last year for UT and finished with just two catches in a limited role as a true freshman. That workload figures to change significantly as he moves into a permanent, full-time gig in the backfield this fall, and even those couple opportunities last weekend provided a glimpse at what Fugate can do as he accounted for 26 total yards with three carries and two receptions.
"Coach Chaney is a funny guy, you know," Fugate said. "He jokes around a lot, but when it's time to get down to business, he tells you what to do and he's a good coach.
"But, you know, when I came in here they told me I was going to be a fullback and I wasn't going to get it that much - maybe just some passes out in the flat. But I accepted my role as a fullback and just tried to help the team out as much as I could. I just want to help the team out as much as possible. If they don't feel like handing it to me is going to help the team, then that's just fine with me."
Fugate won't be taking as many handoffs as he did at Breathitt County High School in Kentucky, since his main responsibility still will be paving the way for the running backs with his 6-foot-1, 251-pound frame.
But that impressive build can also be useful when Fugate does get a chance to carry the football himself. His stature makes him hard to tackle, his physical approach lends itself to fighting for extra yardage, he has reliable hands as a target out of the backfield - and he also has a track record of success at a lower level.
"Guys who have that many yards have excellent instincts," Vols coach Derek Dooley said. "There's never been a running back who can rush for that many yards and not understand the tone and see things that other guys can't see. Then whether they're a good running back at this level or not, that's when the size and speed become a big issue.
"He's got great instincts and he's a heavy body, very good balance when he runs the ball. You can see why he was so productive in high school."
Fugate obviously isn't likely to ever match that sort of output at the collegiate level.
But he's going to get more than five touches in a scrimmage to give it a try - regardless of the hard time Fugate might get from his coordinator.
"He likes Channing and so do I, and I think he's going to play a big role in our offense," Dooley said. "We're going to give him the ball. If Jim doesn't want to, I'll call it."