That raises the question: What will Vol head man Phillip Fulmer do once he gets all three of them healthy at once?
A. Smile a lot
B. Consider himself very blessed
C. Divide the carries as best he can
D. Go with the “hot hand” whenever possible
E. All of the above
If you answered E, congratulations.
Arian Foster averaged 148 yards in his five 2005 starts but is still recovering from a Game 2 ankle sprain. Montario Hardesty is a power runner who has a nose for the end zone. LaMarcus Coker is a burner who popped an 89-yard TD run en route to 146 yards vs. Marshall last Saturday.
When a team has three tailbacks capable of contributing, finding carries for all of them is the kind of dilemma a head coach is happy to face. Once Foster’s ankle is 100 percent healed, it’s the dilemma Fulmer will face. So, how will he handle the situation?
“The same way we’ve always done,” Fulmer said this week. “Whoever’s running the ball well (will get the most carries). We usually play two or three. We didn’t have any problem with James Stewart, Aaron Hayden and Charlie Garner. We’ll be fine.”
Clearly, a tailback trio can work. Junior college transfer Garner gained 926 yards in 1992 but Stewart still chipped in 386 and Hayden 321. Garner ran for 1161 yards in ’93 but Stewart (537) and Hayden (217) were productive, as well.
Based on his 2005 success, Foster was the clear-cut No. 1 tailback heading into 2006. Hardesty won the No. 2 job mostly because Coker was hampered by wrist problems. Coker has been the Vols’ most impressive tailback thus far, however, averaging a whopping 10.5 yards per carry. By comparison, Foster is averaging 3.6 and Hardesty 3.3. In fairness, though, it should be noted that Coker did not carry against the one quality defense the Vols have faced, Florida’s.
Fulmer seems genuinely excited about the prospect of having a tailback rotation of Foster, Coker and Hardesty. He believes the advantages of this approach are obvious.
“It wears on defenses,” Fulmer said. “It gives people changes of styles, so they don’t get a bead on (one guy). And it keeps ‘em all healthy. As a running back you’ve only got so many hits in you over a period of time. If you’re carrying that thing 30 times a game, you’re getting beat up, whoever it is. We like to spread those (carries) around as much as we can.”
The only disadvantage of splitting the carries among three backs is trying to keep all of them happy with their roles.
“They’ve got to be very unselfish,” Fulmer noted.
Having three tailbacks the caliber of Foster, Coker and Hardesty would seem to be the perfect scenario, the best of all possible worlds. Then again, maybe not.
“When we had two 1000-yard rushers (Gerald Riggs and Cedric Houston in 2004), that’s the perfect scenario,” Fulmer said. “Then you’re doing something.”