Entering the 2009 season, the Tennessee football team had a senior captain and the nation’s No. 1 running back recruit in its backfield.
A year later, 1,300-yard rusher Montario Hardesty is in the NFL, and Bryce Brown missed spring practice and has yet to rejoin the team for summer workouts, leaving his status for the upcoming season a question mark.
The Volunteers are left with running backs who combined for just 179 rushing yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 22 yards last season.
Tauren Poole stood out the most during spring practice.
The junior got somewhat lost in the running back rotation last year but displayed a knack for finding running room in the spring.
“Tauren made big plays (in) every scrimmage and (in) the (Orange and White) game,” head coach Derek Dooley said. “I’m really pleased with how he’s running the ball.”
“He’s got great character and he’s a hard worker,” Dooley said. “He’s a hard runner. He can go out and do some things in the passing game (as a receiver) and can break a lot of tackles. He’s going to be a real key for us.”
Though the Vols still have to go through fall camp before kicking off the season against UT-Martin on Sept. 4., Poole appears to be the frontrunner to start the season, and he is aware of the opportunity in front of him.
“It feels good to have (the coaches’) trust and to get more chances (to display my abilities),” Poole said. “I always tell myself I don’t want to be tackled by the first (defender), and I have always prided myself in yards after contact.”
Regardless of Poole’s success, though, the running back carries will be split among multiple backs.
David Oku is most likely next to get touches after Poole.
Oku is a smaller, all-purpose back that can help the Vols in the return game as well. During the offseason and in the spring, the sophomore gained about 10 pounds of muscle and appeared to do so without losing any agility or acceleration. He hopes to begin the season around 200 pounds, a plus given the rigors of an SEC schedule.
“We still need David Oku to keep coming on, and I think he will,” Dooley said.
Toney Williams was a bright spot for the Vols during the spring last season but suffered a torn ACL in summer workouts and was forced to redshirt the season. Williams was a full participant during the spring but is still working to get his knee back into the shape it was when he arrived on campus as an early enrollee in January 2009.
Rajion Neal enrolled at UT for summer school and will go through summer workouts and participate in fall camp. Neal was a highly talented recruit from Tyrone, Ga. A one-time Mississippi State commit, Neal switched his commitment to the Vols following the hiring of Dooley in January.
The Vols have talent, albeit inexperience, in their backfield.
Dooley’s offensive philosophy is built around having a solid running game, and regardless of whether Brown returns to the team, this year’s Tennessee team will be no different. The offense will rely on the legs in its backfield to carry the Vols this fall.
Poole frontrunner in green backfield
Published: Tue Jun 22, 2010