Returning to the Tennessee backfield

Tennessee running back David Oku seemed to disappear from the Tennessee backfield during the middle of the Vols 2010 season, but reemerged last Saturday against Vanderbilt. Read as InsideTennessee talks with Oku about his recent rebirth as a Vols running back.

Sophomore running back David Oku, maybe a name some Tennessee fans had forgotten about, until last Saturday night when Oku reemerged in the Tennessee backfield.

As the Volunteers entered the fall Oku was thought to be the clear leader for the backup role behind junior running back Tauren Poole. And Oku did show promise in the Vols first four contests, even leading the Vols in rushing against both Florida and UAB, but seemed to disappear shortly thereafter.

"Everybody was wondering what was going on, but Coach Dooley felt like I wasn't doing good," said Oku. "As a player you don't see it, but I guess coaches see it sometimes."

Oku failed to record any offensive statistics after going without a snap against SEC opponents Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. He did manage to get into the mix on special teams, but not in the offensive backfield.

"I wouldn't say it was the doghouse. I feel like if I was in the doghouse, I would have known I was in the doghouse," Oku said. "I wouldn't have been doing anything at all."

David Oku's practice demeanor changed according to head coach Derek Dooley. The normal happy-go-lucky Oku seemingly had last his swagger.

"At the very beginning he said he felt like my practice had changed and I wasn't upbeat like I always am," Oku said.

Oku recently reemerged in the Vols backfield as the no. 2 back behind the team's leading rusher Tauren Poole. Oku carried the ball six times for 16 yards against Vanderbilt and also snagged a 34 yard pass from Tyler Bray.

"He is our (no.) two (running back) right now," Derek Dooley said. "He has played better than any of the other guys trying to play two right now."

Not only is Oku back on the field, but he seems to have regained his swagger even joking around with the local press following Tuesday's practice leading up to the team's game with Kentucky.

"He has had a much better attitude in practice and brought a lot of energy," Derek Dooley said Tuesday. "I think he hit a point in the season where he struggled for whatever reason and a lot of players do – it's a long season."

Oku has long preached patience after arriving on campus firmly entrenched behind tailbacks Montori Hardesty and Bryce Brown, but the time for patience is over and Oku is ready to take advantage of his chance.

"You feel like you have been patient and I felt like I worked really hard in the summer time, harder than ever," Oku said. "Then when that stretch did happen I got real frustrated and did wonder what was going on.

"That was (the coaches) call, but at the same time I felt like I had been patient enough and I felt like I earned what was mine – backing up Tauren. I just had to ride it out and see what happened and it felt good to get back out there."

Oku has racked up 174 yards rushing, 79 yards receiving and scored one touchdown in his 2010 campaign. Oku will get his next shot in Neyland Stadium as the Vols enter do-or-die mode against the Kentucky Wildcats.

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