Gerald Riggs Jr.

Gerald Riggs Jr.

Tennessee running back Gerald Riggs Jr. has a new nickname: Seabiscuit.

Gerald Riggs Jr. has been mentioned by numerous outlets as a darkhorse candidate to win the Heisman Trophy.

Running backs coach Trooper Taylor couldn't resist.

``We tease him,'' Taylor said. ``The media calls him a darkhorse so we call him Seabiscuit, a broken up guy coming back trying to win. He says that makes me the big, blind jockey. So, I'm going to work on my weight and he's going to work on his wins.''

Riggs is on his way to some ``wins,'' Taylor said.

``He's working hard,'' Taylor said. ``He understands he's got to go out and do it and not read press clippings. He's got his weight down. He's been a leader, finishing off his runs and getting these other guys ready to play, too.''

Most players respond to competition. When they don't have competition, some relax. That hasn't been the case with Riggs.

``My biggest deal is a player that won't do it is no better than a player that can't do it,'' Taylor said. ``I tell him that all the time and he understands. We've set the bar high. I think last year (1,107 rushing yards) gave him an eye-opening experience that he can do some things special.''

Greg Adkins, UT's recruiting coordinator, thinks Riggs' versatility sets him apart from most backs. Riggs can run with power and speed. He can run inside and outside.

Adkins said that when he was an assistant coach at Georgia, Robert Edwards was a good outside runner, but not effective inside the tackles. Olandis Gary was dynamite inside the tackles, but couldn't run outside.

Adkins said Riggs can do both well.

The race for the No. 2 tailback spot is heated.

Here's Taylor's take on the other running backs.

On Adrian Foster: ``He's getting his pads down low and doing a better job taking care of the football. He's got some things he needs to work on as far as protection is concerned. … He now has a sense of urgency about him that's obvious.''

On Montario Hardesty: ``I like his quickness and his maturity for a freshman. He hasn't had many busts. He does a good job getting north and south and not losing yards on plays.''

Taylor said Hardesty got 50 of 52 pass protection assignments.

``He set a record,'' Taylor said. ``It's unbelievable. The kid is so impressive. I tell you what, he came here and wanted to know the history of Tennessee's backs. I made a copy of all the great backs that have been here and he took the video and he can tell you all of them and probably how many yards they rushed for. … And he knows what to do with the ball under his arm.''

On LaMarcus Coker: ``He has speed. He can get outside. And he has toughness. I really questioned his toughness when we were in shorts. When he put the pads on, he made a fool out of me because he stuck his face up in their and didn't flinch and I was very proud to see him do that.''

On Ja'Kouri Williams: ``He's been banged up and that's been disappointing because I tell him, `You can't make the club in the tub.' He hurt his knee. It's unfortunate for him because he really needs to get into competition with these guys.''

* Some 94 football players have made verbal commitments to SEC schools.

But only six of those commitments come from Tennessee high schools. Cornerback Tremayne Coger of Columbia has committed to Alabama, linebacker Brandon Jackson and LaDerrick Vaughn, both of Memphis, have committed to Ole Miss, and Lee Smith of Powell, Dustin Lindsey of Alcoa and Jacques McClendon of Chattanooga have committed to Tennessee.

By comparison, 12 players from Florida have committed, 11 from Louisiana, 10 from Georgia and Mississippi and nine from Alabama. Heck, a dozen Texans have made pledges to SEC schools.

Six are from Arkansas and South Carolina. Three are from Kentucky.

That's another indication of which states produce the top high school talent and another indication of why Tennessee has to recruit nationally to be a national power.

Here's a list of SEC schools and their commitments: Georgia 15, LSU 13, Ole Miss 11, Auburn and Florida nine each, Alabama and Mississippi State eight each, Vanderbilt seven, Arkansas six, Kentucky five, South Carolina and Tennessee four each.

* At the Greater Knoxville Hall of Fame banquet earlier this week, Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer made a bold statement about one of his offensive linemen.

``Arron Sears is as good an offensive tackle as I've had at Tennessee,'' Fulmer said.

That's extraordinarily high praise for a 6-4, 330-pound junior with just 13 career starts. He has played three spots – both tackles and left guard – as a Vol. He believes his best position is left tackle.

Apparently, so does Fulmer, who's had such tackles as first-round draft picks Charles McRae and Antone Davis, as well as NFL veterans Bruce Wilkerson, Chad Clifton, Trey Teague and Jason Layman.

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