Observations: No clear No. 1 at running back for Vols

University of Tennessee running back Rajion Neal (20) right, is tackled by defensive lineman Corey Miller (80), left, and defensive back Brian Randolph (37), bottom, while carrying the ball during the Vols' opening scrimmage of the fall 2013 season at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013. (ADAM LAU/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Lau

University of Tennessee running back Rajion Neal (20) right, is tackled by defensive lineman Corey Miller (80), left, and defensive back Brian Randolph (37), bottom, while carrying the ball during the Vols' opening scrimmage of the fall 2013 season at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013. (ADAM LAU/NEWS SENTINEL)

While all attention is focused on the battle for Tennessee’s No. 1 quarterback, running back coach Robert Gillespie said Monday that no No. 1 tailback currently exists.

Moreover, Gillespie added, will there likely be a true No. 1 going into the Vols’ season opener against Austin Peay on Aug. 31.

“I don’t think there’s really a one for us as an offense,” Gillespie said following Monday’s practice. “Both those guys (Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane) are going to play. Who goes out first doesn’t matter. I don’t have a one in my head. Whether (offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian) or (head coach Butch Jones) does, I’ll leave that up to them.”

Except Lane isn’t playing at all at the moment.

The junior has recently been only working out on the sidelines for undisclosed reasons. Asked Monday for an update, Gillespie responded, “Nothing. There’s no situation.”

“We’re just trying to be smart,” he continued. “It’s the end of camp and some guys just need a little time to rest. He’s one of those guys. He missed a lot of reps in the spring so we’re just trying to bring him in slowly. We’re just resting him.”

While Neal has consistently worked with the first team offense, redshirt sophomore running back Tom Smith has seen an opportunity to emerge in Lane’s absence. Smith posted a nice showing in Saturday’s open practice and slipped through the interior of the line for a pair of touchdowns in goal-line situations on Monday.

“I think this is the first time he’s really getting meaningful reps and he’s shown a lot of improvement,” Gillespie said. “Hopefully we can find a role for him.”

If Gillespie does, it will likely be primarily as a pass protector and short-yardage rusher. As of now, Smith’s largest contribution remains as a special teams player. That doesn’t mean he won’t see the field with the offense, though, despite only appearing in three career games.

“From a depth standpoint, he’s a guy that’s going to be forced to have to play,” Gillespie said.

Regardless of having a true No. 1 in the backfield, Gillespie said the offense will utilize Neal and Lane on the field together.

“No doubt,” he said. “We’ll definitely try to do those things.”

***

Speaking of naming No. 1s, wide receivers coach Zack Azzanni was asked Monday if he has decided on his starters.

While a depth chart might come next week, Azzanni said Alton “Pig” Howard has done enough in camp to play a lot of snaps and pointed to Devrin Young as having had a good camp.

***

Defensive coordinator John Jancek indicated neither linebacker Curt Maggitt (ACL) nor defensive end Jacques Smith (thumb) will be ready for the opener.

“I’m not counting on Curt for the first game,” Jancek said.

Smith, meanwhile, is “not going to do anything” until a pin is removed from his broken right thumb in the next two or three weeks, Jancek said.

***

Jancek pointed to defensive end Jordan Williams, who is listed behind Smith on the preseason depth chart, as being the preseason’s “most impressive” defensive lineman. Jancek cited his improved play, especially in the pass rush.

***

Offensive lineman Dylan Wiesman, a freshman who impressed early in camp, is still limping noticeably. He was helped off the field during Saturday’s scrimmage and remains out of action.

Offensive line coach Don Mahoney did not disclose what the injury is, but said, “Everything I’ve heard is positive.”

He later added, “(Wiesman) is a guy that’s taken strides and that we’re going to be able to count on this year.”

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee football and men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/QuinnKNS.

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Comments » 15

td writes:

Team 117 doesn't need a Heisman back -- just a stable of hard runners who protect the ball (don't fumble), gain 4 yards or more with every touch, can pass block, and catch an occasional pass out of the backfield. Match that performance with the Team 117 offensive line, and things could get interesting.

TNRiverRat writes:

Great article, could be this one, could be that one. We just dont know, still waiting to see. They'll all play, who plays first doesn't matter. Good grief, is that all ya got?

Shake_Bake writes:

Lane needs rest?? Really? Something just doesn't make sense...I have to believe there is more to that story than we are being told.

lavette12389 writes:

thanks for the update? only news i see is curt is out for the opener and pig and young will make the 2 deep in 3-4 WR sets...guess willams will start but was quietly pulling for miller especially being the other SR

VOL_IN_BAMA writes:

What about Hill? Didn't he run the ball well during the Orange and White game? Something with Lane just doesn't sound right.

maxvolfan#217855 writes:

I hope Marlin doesn't turn into a Catfish

mdvol writes:

A recap of the RB situation and no mention of Alden Hill??? Heard his name a bunch in the spring but not much in the fall.

123forVOLS writes:

It would be nice to have "that" rb this year but looks like we don't. With the O line projected to be good, maybe the committee can get the job done. It just seems a little weird to me that Neal is not lighting it up with Lane having his whatever holdups. Anyway, the season is almost upon us ready or not rbs, qbs and all others. GO VOLS!

BolivrBob writes:

What happened to Alden Hill?

volnavy4life writes:

this is a lazy article. poor writing in several places and not much info to boot.

BigBadVol writes:

Alden Hill looked the best in the spring game. WTH?

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Shake_Bake:

Lane needs rest?? Really? Something just doesn't make sense...I have to believe there is more to that story than we are being told.

My impression is that, having missed the spring and probably some of the summer workouts as well, Lane probably isn't in tip-top shape right now. Of course, it is barely possible that CBJ is being a bit coy to defuse some of the fans' excitement. They may be more optimistic than they are letting on, but they want to both keep the guys plugging away and not get fans' hopes up too high too early. At least I HOPE so(;-P)!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to BolivrBob:

What happened to Alden Hill?

This is the third comment asking this question, which occurred to me as well. I hope Hill and Smith can help hold Neal's and Lane's feet to the fire. It's hard to actually USE four RBs, but they can keep up the pressure on each other, and it's always nice to have a couple of "spares" in case somebody gets hurt.

johnlg00 writes:

I'm glad to see that Howard and Young are making progress, but I'm really hoping that some of the BIG receivers like Croom and North can step.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I'm glad to see that Howard and Young are making progress, but I'm really hoping that some of the BIG receivers like Croom and North can step.

PS: "...can step UP."

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