Based on 2007, the Vols know what to expect from Arian Foster (1,193 rushing yards) and Lucas Taylor (1,000 receiving yards). With Foster and Taylor limited by health issues this spring, the Big Orange will sift through the remaining skill-position candidates to try and determine who can produce big plays – or at least a bunch of little ones – come fall.
“Obviously, the goal is to get the ball to the playmakers,” said head coach Phillip Fulmer, whose team returns to the practice field Tuesday after a week off for spring break. “Establishing those during the course of spring practice will be important.”
The competition behind Foster at running back should be really intense. Rising junior Montario Hardesty ran for 373 yards last fall and has the most experience among the reserve tailbacks but has durability issues. Rising sophomore Lennon Creer averaged 5.9 yards per carry last fall but rushed just 36 times in 14 games. Redshirt freshman Daryl Vereen and mid-term freshman enrollee Tauren Poole have never played in a college game. Redshirt freshman Josh Hawkins is sidelined by injury.
There's a logjam of contenders at wide receiver, too.
Austin Rogers and Josh Briscoe caught 56 passes each last fall but averaged just 11.1 and 9.9 yards per reception, respectively. Quintin Hancock caught 16 balls and Gerald Jones caught 11 but they averaged just 10.3 and 10.1 per catch, respectively. Other than Taylor, who averaged 13.7 yards per reception, the only wideouts who exhibited a big-play knack last fall were Denarius Moore (14 catches, 212 yards, 15.1 per catch) and Kenny O'Neal (2 catches, 59 yards, 29.5 per catch). Freshmen Ahmad Paige, Todd Campbell and Tyler Maples are looking to showcase their playmaking skills in spring scrimmages after redshirting last fall.
Fulmer believes the Vols have several proven playmakers, singling out what he called “the obvious ones – Arian Foster, Josh Briscoe, Austin Rogers and Gerald Jones to some degree.”
When drills resume on Tuesday, the head man will be scouring the practice field, in his words ”to see what those other guys can do … Montario Hardesty, if he can stay healthy … obviously those young backs like Lennon Creer and Daryl Vereen.
“And I’m excited about seeing what Tauren Poole can do,” Fulmer added. “He’s brand new to the program but he hasn’t blinked in the offseason program and has actually been establishing himself as a leader out there.”