The University of Tennessee has a very rich history of successful running backs. In the last 20 years alone, the Vols have featured Travis Henry, Arian Foster, James Stewart, Jamal Lewis, Cedric Houston, Jay Graham, Montario Hardesty, Travis Stephens, Charlie Garner, and Gerald Riggs.
Only Riggs, with 1,893 yards, didn’t surpass the 2,000-yard mark during his Tennessee career.
Tauren Poole is the latest addition to that list of productive running backs. During his four years in Knoxville, Poole amassed 1,883 yards, most of which were accumulated in his final two seasons.
Poole’s breakout season came in 2010 when he turned in just the 16th 1,000 yard rushing season in program history. His senior campaign was a disappointing one, with just 693 rushing yards.
Even after a disappointing 2011, Derek Dooley and the Vols will be searching for players to step up and fill the open void. The question seems like a simple one. However, the answer does not appear as simple as one might think.
Tennessee enters the summer with plenty of choices at the running back position. Sophomore Marlin Lane, Junior Raijon Neal and Sophomore Devrin Young all have experience at the position. However, it’s very clear that there is plenty of uncertainty surrounding the position.
Tennessee’s post-Spring depth chart listed Lane, Neal and Young all as co-starters. This is a clear sign Dooley hasn’t made a decision yet. Each running back offers a different dimension to the Vols’ offense.
Who will lead the Vols in rushing in 2012?
Lane is a dependable between-the-tackles back, but lacks the top-end speed of the other two.
Neal is explosive outside of the tackles and is very good catching the ball out of the backfield. However, he’s readjusting to the position after spending last season at wide receiver, and he’s had trouble at times holding onto the football.
Young is the most explosive of the three, but he is also the smallest of the bunch. Because of his size, it’s hard to see him being the feature back of an offense, especially in the SEC.
The battle for the running back position seems to be an ongoing one that will carry well into fall camp. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the starting running back change throughout the season, with Derek Dooley riding the hot hand.
So how do the Vols plan on replacing Poole’s production? It’s going to be an all hands on deck effort, and the hope is that the current group of players far surpasses Poole’s 2011 numbers.