Tennessee Football: Derek Dooley Doesn't Have Much of a Ground Game to Work With

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJuly 19, 2012

COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 30:  Head coach Derek Dooley of the Tennessee Volunteers watches on against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 30, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The biggest questions facing Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley this offseason is whether he can keep his job past the 2012 season.

One of the determining factors in that is if the Vols can establish a threat in the running game. That threat was remarkably absent last season, which is a big reason why the Vols sputtered to a 5-7 record.

This season, Marlin Lane, Rajion Neal and Devrin Young are all vying for time as the feature running back.

"Running back is still by committee," Dooley said. "They have different skill sets, which is nice, and we hope that all three of them plus we expect some freshman to help."

Talent at the running back position was great, but that wasn't the full reason why the running game struggled. The offensive line was still learning to work together. They worked well together in pass protection, but struggled in the running game.

Just how bad was it? Tennessee finished last in the SEC with a 90-yard-per-game average on the ground—34 yards per game behind 11th place Kentucky.

Dooley thinks that another offseason together will help that offensive line.

"We inherited an offensive line that had three starts," said Dooley. "Now, we have 106 starts. We have a talented group. There are some NFL guys playing. Offensive line is in a really good place and is eager to live up to where they're advertised."

New offensive line coach Sam Pittman was brought in to fix that, and that's certainly a start. But if offensive coordinator Jim Chaney falls in love with the pass again, it could be a long season on Rocky Top and a quick exit for Dooley and Co.

Talking about continuity is one thing, but proving its benefit is another.

I'll believe it when I see it.


Barrett Sallee is a lead writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.