Vol staff talks about recruiting offensive players
Alabama makes it look so easy.
It needs a running back. It signs several. And not just any running backs, but some of the very best, according to recruiting services.
It seems contradictory to my theory that the only thing a running back wants more than the ball is a chance to start right away. Tennessee running backs coach Jay Graham believes the theory is still valid.
"I think all running backs want the ball," Graham said on signing day. "And they want to play early."
So how do you explain Alabama signing four running backs Wednesday? All of those backs surely will have to fall in line behind T.J. Yeldon, who was sensational last season as a freshman. Also, don't forget about consensus high school All-American Dee Hart or 240-pound Jalston Fowler, promising running backs who missed last season with injuries.
"The thing about running backs, they have confidence," said Graham, a former running back who didn't mind signing with the Vols when they were loaded with good running backs. "They have confidence they can compete if you've got four guys in a signing class or five guys."
Whether running backs are confident they can overtake the competition or patient enough to wait for playing time, national champion Alabama keeps stockpiling them. But Alabama isn't the only SEC program that gets the running backs it needs or wants.
Last season, LSU was so stacked with talent at running back that the two players who began the season as Nos. 3 and 4 on the depth chart both declared for the NFL draft after their junior seasons.
Georgia was in dire need of running backs in the last recruiting class. It didn't just sign one elite running back; it signed two. In fact, one Georgia running back actually helped recruit the other one.
UT needed a dynamic running back, too. And it has something to offer in return — playing time and one of the best offensive lines in the SEC.
Nonetheless, the highest-ranked running backs in the 2013 recruiting class weren't interested. They might have visited UT or even included it among their final choices. But they signed with somebody else.
The Vols didn't get shut out. They beat out East Carolina for Jabo Lee. He's a 180-pound, three-star running back from Dillon, S.C., whose senior season was sabotaged by a knee injury.
Neither the injury nor his recruiting ranking assures he will be relegated to mediocrity with Tennessee. All-SEC teams are full of former three-star recruits.
But the Tide hasn't won three of the last four
national championships by recruiting three-star running backs. It repeatedly has signed the most sought-after running backs — the same running backs that keep turning their backs on the Vols.
UT isn't bereft of running backs. It has three experienced players at the position, including two (Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane), who rushed for more than 600 yards last season.
Both are OK running backs and should be even more effective in 2013 behind an offensive line that will be a team strength. But they're not the kind of backs who scare a defense the way Georgia's Todd Gurley, LSU's Jeremy Hill and Alabama's Yeldon did last season as freshmen.
Maybe Jalen Hurd of Hendersonville could become that kind of back. He led Beech High School to the Class 5A state championship last fall and should be one of the top prospects in the 2014 class.
First-year UT coach Butch Jones and his staff have repeatedly emphasized the importance of in-state recruiting. Given the Vols need for a running back, Hurd might be the most important in-state recruit of all.