John Adams: Depth is an issue at running back for Vols, SEC

John Adams

This has aptly been described as the Year of the Running Back in the SEC. But it's also the year of the running question.

Tennessee can relate to both.

Tauren Poole was good enough and durable enough to rush for more than 1,000 yards behind a line comprised mainly of freshmen and sophomores last year. Yet he's backed up by young backs who don't have 200 career yards rushing among them.

As important as the development of young linebackers might be for this team, it's almost as crucial that either sophomore Raijon Neal dramatically raises his play from his freshman season or that one of two new freshmen, Marlin Lane or Tom Smith, has an immediate impact.

"If you don't have a deep stable of running backs, you're going to have a guy get beat up, unless he's some special guy," UT coach Derek Dooley said after Saturday's scrimmage. "There's not many Herschel Walkers out there."

Dooley likes what he has seen of the two freshmen so far. But "so far" doesn't include an SEC season.

The Vols aren't alone in their uncertainty at running back. For every SEC team that is seemingly set at the position, there's another with a question.

South Carolina, Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt all have established starters and proven backups. No problems there for now.

Florida has two experienced running backs in Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey. The Gators still have a question, though. Demps and Rainey have done their running in the spread offense of former coach Urban Meyer. You can't be sure how they will fare in the more conventional running game employed by new coach Will Muschamp.

LSU has depth and great potential at the position, especially given Spencer Ware's running in the Cotton Bowl. But it doesn't have a proven lead running back who has made it through an entire SEC season. Neither does Arkansas after losing Knile Davis to a broken ankle in preseason.

Georgia is counting on a promising freshman, Isaiah Crowell, to bolster a depleted position. Kentucky's leading returning rusher is Raymond Sanders, who had 254 yards last season, and there's not a recognizable name behind him.

The significance of depth at the position has been confirmed by UT's preseason in which it can't seem to scrimmage with a full complement of healthy running backs.

"I really felt good where (Smith and Lane) were after the second scrimmage," Dooley said. "Then Tom got hurt."

Neal has been hurt, too. While that qualifies as an inconvenience in preseason, it becomes game-altering in the regular season, particularly when you consider UT's October schedule — Georgia, LSU, Alabama and South Carolina in succession without an open date in between.

You will need at least two running backs for that. And you might need three. One of them will have to be a freshman.

"The trouble with Marlin and all the freshmen now is they're heavy-legged from camp," Dooley said. "This is the hardest thing they've been through."

October won't be any easier.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 30

RashaadSalabeb writes:

We'll be fine at runningback. Get the Freshmen in the mix! Might not hurt to run the fullback a few times. Let's play some football!

Go Vols!

62vol writes:

Dooley and Chaney are both high on Fugate as a running back. He weighs 245 and has something like 4.5 speed. The coaches may not want to show all their cards just now and if things go well in the first 2 games, we could have some surprises left for folks down the line. Dooley is well pleased wth Lane and Smith. They need rest. The running game is only as good as the blocking game. Both are better than last year.
V-O-L-S

Bigger_Al writes:

Adams still sssssuuuucccccc.... isn't so good.

Go_Big_O writes:

The secret to a good running game (besides the obvious OL blocking) is a good passing game. That's where we struggled early last year. Once teams realized they could put 8 defenders in the box against us, our running game suffered.

This year, we should be able to demonstrate more balance between the pass and run. That will help the running game and the passing game both.

14 days from today! GBO!

shorttail writes:

in response to Go_Big_O:

The secret to a good running game (besides the obvious OL blocking) is a good passing game. That's where we struggled early last year. Once teams realized they could put 8 defenders in the box against us, our running game suffered.

This year, we should be able to demonstrate more balance between the pass and run. That will help the running game and the passing game both.

14 days from today! GBO!

the last few years teams would put 8 or 9 in the box and we would still run the ball for no gain, maybe this year we'll burn that arse if they do

allvol32 writes:

The "problems" we face are only opportunities for talent to step up to the plate. Can't wait for this season to get cranked up!

Hrockytop writes:

I heard on sports talk that Neal has been working out solely with the wide receivers..Maybe to be used in the slot! He hasn't even been working out with the RB's! That's 1 down and if Lane or Smith are injured then yes we are thin.

xvolx writes:

Adams, if Tenn. had four senior running backs, your article would read; Tenn. will be thin at running back next year.

VolinDelaware writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I guess when your teams suck all a person can do is get on the opposing teams site and run them down. I would rather brag on my own team than to have to resort to talking bad about someone else. But obviously you dont have a team to talk about.

VolinDelaware writes:

in response to BolivarBob:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Seriously, should a so called Vandy fan be allowed to even talk about football in public??

VolinDelaware writes:

A little off topic here, but is there any REAL Tennessee fans in or around Delaware that get out to a sports bar to watch games?? Wouldnt mind hanging out with some like minded fans to watch this year.

RashaadSalabeb writes:

The Vols are going to be fine. This will be better than last year and good times are coming. There's nothing the trolls can go about it. They are lonely, sad people who deep down want to be Vol fans. Come guys you can admit it!

Go Big Orange! Go Vols!

GONAVY writes:

in response to VolinDelaware:

Seriously, should a so called Vandy fan be allowed to even talk about football in public??

I attended VU and graduated from UT: let me assure you Vanderbilt lays absolutely NO claim to this fellow...

givehim6 writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Sounds like you two need to go have lunch together or something, you two have all this spare time. You guys can be buddy's , do things togeter. That way you will have something else to do besides hang out in your parents basement on the coumputer bugging us.

CoverOrange writes:

While it is true that WR is one of the harder positions to learn, many not hitting stride until their junior season, Hunter and Da'Rick are sophs and Zach is a junior. They are not neophytes.

RB is one of the easier positions to learn. In two weeks Poole, Lane and Smith could be completely healed and everything would look bright.

Experienced depth at WR is more of a concern, but mostly if more than one freshman has to play at a time.

MusicCityVol writes:

With our O-line and an experienced Poole the running game could be really strong. However, JA is right in that if Poole gets hurt the Vols other options are unproven.

2011 Schedule Breakdown - Kentucky
http://www.checkerboardchatter.com/20...

sameolvolalum writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Instead of deriving your conclusions via UT's losing last year's 1,800 yds receiving experience, I'd suggest you should consider how bad you're going to be missing Urbie and Timmie T. after the 3rd weekend in September.......and no doubt after the rest of FU's terribly disappionting 2011 season. Look at it this way; UT's coaching staff has had over a year to congeal this program. Muschump and Weis? Not too long. Do you really think the amount of time spent on the coaches systems doesn't make a difference.....or have you even considered that aspect of the game? "Experience" is probably too big of a word for you to wrap your little mind around......considering your shallow troll-note.

boogweiser13 writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

I was not impressed at all with Brown and Oku's freshman year was twice as good as his sophmore one. I think Marlin Lane will be a very good back for us and Smith is that hammer back we have not had in years. Neal will be a a really good "3rd down hybird" back. I do agree Bray will have the dreaded sophomore hangover. Im not drunk on the koolaide but its far from doomsday as what some fans think. We will be better on the simple fact that we have the same staff and scheme for two years straight which has not happened since 2008.

voloffaith writes:

in response to sameolvolalum:

Instead of deriving your conclusions via UT's losing last year's 1,800 yds receiving experience, I'd suggest you should consider how bad you're going to be missing Urbie and Timmie T. after the 3rd weekend in September.......and no doubt after the rest of FU's terribly disappionting 2011 season. Look at it this way; UT's coaching staff has had over a year to congeal this program. Muschump and Weis? Not too long. Do you really think the amount of time spent on the coaches systems doesn't make a difference.....or have you even considered that aspect of the game? "Experience" is probably too big of a word for you to wrap your little mind around......considering your shallow troll-note.

Sorry to bust bubble,but css is a vandy fan who apparently adored Coach Fulmer and his tirades are all anti-Vol. Even if his postings were accurate he has no credibility due to his spewing.

voloffaith writes:

in response to boogweiser13:

I was not impressed at all with Brown and Oku's freshman year was twice as good as his sophmore one. I think Marlin Lane will be a very good back for us and Smith is that hammer back we have not had in years. Neal will be a a really good "3rd down hybird" back. I do agree Bray will have the dreaded sophomore hangover. Im not drunk on the koolaide but its far from doomsday as what some fans think. We will be better on the simple fact that we have the same staff and scheme for two years straight which has not happened since 2008.

Help me here,what is a "3rd down hybird"back? If Hybrid I get it. Agree Brown and Oku had a lot of hype ,but results less than stellar. Gettin' 'cited about Ktown in 2wks.

The_Real_Orange writes:

in response to voloffaith:

Sorry to bust bubble,but css is a vandy fan who apparently adored Coach Fulmer and his tirades are all anti-Vol. Even if his postings were accurate he has no credibility due to his spewing.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but CSS is a lifelong Vol fan. I bet he can name more players off past teams than almost any fan on here. He is still mad at the way the Fulmer firing went down, but he is all VOL and none of us other teams want him. Just sayin...

voloffaith writes:

in response to The_Real_Orange:

Sorry to burst your bubble, but CSS is a lifelong Vol fan. I bet he can name more players off past teams than almost any fan on here. He is still mad at the way the Fulmer firing went down, but he is all VOL and none of us other teams want him. Just sayin...

Fine. Do you remember his poster name prior to this one?Vandygrad. Does that tend to make one think his loyalty or team affiliation is with VOLS? Oh btw I know he had a son on the hill also. As to the all Vol,he has a strange way of being so when all that usually surfaces is anti. Thanks for the update though.

BigOrangeSmoker writes:

in response to xvolx:

Adams, if Tenn. had four senior running backs, your article would read; Tenn. will be thin at running back next year.

I agree and its real obvious that johnboy adams is lacking depth at knowledge with anythang to do with UT FOOTBALL

Vols7Twins writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

POOR me some of that there Koolaide.

voloffaith writes:

in response to Vols7Twins:

POOR me some of that there Koolaide.

Eye see yu saw his spelling problems continue....nothing to do with a POUR education that would have me POOR mouth it. On topic,hopefully backfield is healthy by gators. No I'm not overlooking Grizzlies or Cincy.

UTbassdrummer writes:

You know, for Bray to be "unproven" and for him to have "not played any +.500 teams" people certainly think they know how he'll react and perform in marquee games.

All we know about Tyler Bray so far, based on concrete evidence, is that he wins almost all the time and he throws for huge yards. And when he isn't throwing, he's hanging it to Tauren Poole, who we only know as a 1000+ yard rusher, based on concrete evidence. So, blitz away, with your ACTUALLY unproven headcoach, Gatorface.

DannyVol writes:

in response to simmsagain:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Yes he is. And a joke that hates Tennessee's guts.

keviningeorgia writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

It's not Koolaide. It's BIG ORANGE Nehi! And a Moonpie!

PS - I heard Saban didn't like you so much, either. Saw him in a T shirt that said "CantStandKNSTrolls"...

UTVOL2001 writes:

in response to CantStandSaban:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

No worries about completion percentage, buddy! Rather have 10-20 with 300 yards and 4 tds, than 20-20 for 100 yards and 1 td. Our guy can rack up the points! I can tell your are really excited about this year! Thanks for your support my friend!

Liberal_Vol writes:

Add safety to the list John.

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