Coker may fix UT run game

Coker may fix UT run game

When LaMarcus Coker ran for 338 yards in Games 4, 5 and 6, Tennessee's rushing attack appeared to be in good hands. Then Coker suffered a knee strain, however, and the Vol ground game ground to a halt.

Minus Coker's speed and big-play dimension, Tennessee managed just 57 rushing yards in Game 7 vs. Alabama, 71 rushing yards in Game 8 vs. South Carolina and 62 rushing yards in Game 9 vs. LSU. If not for a potent passing attack, the Vols probably would've lost all three games.

There's a chance LaMarcus Coker will be available for Saturday's game at No. 11 Arkansas. How strong that chance is depends on whom you ask.

Head coach Phillip Fulmer said on Tuesday that Coker "looked good yesterday, didn't show any (effects of the injury)."

The Vols' offensive coordinator isn't nearly so optimistic, however.

"I think all of us saw what LaMarcus meant to us when he came on the scene at a very needed time," David Cutcliffe said. "He has the speed and the skill to make a little impact for us but you can't depend on that right now because you don't know where he is (health-wise). Hopefully, we'll have him back full speed soon."

There's no time like the present, especially since preseason All-SEC tailback Arian Foster will sit out the first half of Saturday's game on a disciplinary suspension. That leaves Montario Hardesty and Coker, if healthy, to shoulder the rushing chores. Hardesty carried just 13 times for 45 yards over the past four games, including twice for five yards vs. LSU.

Since Coker's injury, Tennessee has become a very pass-oriented offense. Foster rushed 10 times for 44 yards (4.4 per carry) last weekend vs. LSU but got 22 of those on one carry. He averaged just 2.4 yards on the other nine attempts.

"The average was good because he broke a run," Cutcliffe said. "What we need is more runs of four or more yards a higher percentage of the time. When you start getting that is when you starting building a little momentum running the ball."

Jonathan Crompton, who relieved No. 1 quarterback Erik Ainge at the start of the second quarter, was UT's second-leading rusher against LSU with 22 yards. Crompton's mobility provides another running threat in the backfield, and that can help open things up a bit for the tailbacks.

"I think he can," Cutcliffe conceded. "He's a very physical runner, a good runner. But we only want him to take so many hits in a ball game. Those guys are physical on that other side of the ball but he certainly gives you a few other options we can look at."

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