With minimal depth at the wide receiver position, Derek Dooley has stressed the importance of the ground attack since the Vols opened spring practice on March 26.
"I am excited as a running backs coach and our running backs are excited," Jay Graham said of the importance placed on the running game. "That is the thing that is important. I tell them every day that they should be excited. We go to team run and all these different plays they need to be excited and ready to make a play."
Graham's group includes sophomore tailbacks Marlin Lane, Tom Smith and Devrin Young, all of which played as freshmen for the Orange and White, but Graham isn't considering the past when evaluating the runners.
"I looked at (last year's film), but the most important thing is what we do from this point going forward," he said. "The thing that is important for me is every day I am looking at and evaluating every drill, grading every practice. They have to understand that because we have to be perfect on everything we do technically."
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has seen a change in the Vols running game from not only the running backs, but also the offensive line, receivers and everyone involved.
"It seems like they are more focused, maybe Jay gets some of the credit, but I think, as an offense, we ran the ball so poorly last year we were tad bit embarrassed," Chaney said. "I think everyone has a workman-like attitude. The wide receivers are blocking better and making an effort. The physicality is better."
One thing that Chaney stressed as the Vols prepare for their first scrimmage of the spring on Friday (11 a.m.) in Neyland Stadium is ball security, which Graham has continued to stress.
"You just have to learn how to squeeze the ball and always think about it," Graham said. "I feel like if we can drill it now, physically it just becomes natural to you. Natural to hold that ball tight when you are cutting and coming out of breaks and all that stuff.
"I try to poke at it. That's what defensive players do, they try to rip away at the ball. You just have to continuously think about holding that elbow tight and doing those things. I am just trying to make them focus on that."
The effort is there, according Graham, and will be crucial in order to get the Vols rushing average out of the basement of the SEC.
"We have to run hard, we have to run physical and we have to be desperate to gain every extra yard we possibly can," Graham said. "Whatever they give us. If they give us one yard, we have to fight and strain to get three."
Watch as Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney addressed the media Wednesday below: