Vols more grounded?

When Tennessee rushed for 514 yards in its first two games of 2010 - an average of 257 per game - it appeared the Vols had a bona-fide ground attack. It proved to be a bona-fide mirage, however.

The Big Orange rushed for a mere 906 yards in the remaining 11 games, an average of just 82.4 per game. That put far too much pressure on the passing attack and the defense, resulting in a final record of 6-7.

So, if Tennessee is to improve significantly on last fall's finish, the Vols must improve significantly in terms of their rushing attack. If they could consistently net 150 rushing yards per game, that would make the attack more dangerous.

"Real dangerous," sophomore quarterback Tyler Bray said today. "Last year we needed a little help with the running game. This year, with the linemen coming back with a year under their belts, we should be fine."

The main reason Tennessee's ground attack sputtered in 2010 was the fact the offensive line featured three true freshmen and a sophomore who had never started a college game. They took some lumps last fall but gained valuable experience and strength along the way. As a result, they should be much better run-blockers this fall.

"I think the running game is actually going to improve a lot," Bray said. "The O-line is getting bigger and better every day."

Senior tailback Tauren Poole adds an amen to that. He believes a year of added strength and maturity will make the O-line much better in run blocking this season.

"It will help greatly," Poole said. "If you all could see the strides they've made, it's incredible. You see the maturity and see the growth, and now you want to see it on the field. That's what I'm excited about - seeing the maturity and how far they've come along.

"I'm sure our fans want to see it. I would love to see it as a running back and I know Tyler would love to see it in the protection. We're definitely going to be a better offense."

If the running game improves, that relieves some of the pressure on the quarterback by making Tennessee more unpredictable and more versatile.

"It takes off a lot," Bray conceded. "Teams can't just pack the box or drop back into coverage. They have to watch out for both the pass and the run."

Although Poole ran for 1,034 yards as a first-time starter in 2010, he faded down the stretch - averaging just 66 rushing yards per game over the final three outings. He desperately needs someone to share the load this fall from among sophomore Rajion Neal and incoming freshmen Marlin Lane, Tom Smith and Devrin Young.

"I think it would help a lot - definitely with the wear and tear of your body during a 12-game schedule," Poole said. "I've definitely seen a couple of guys that can do that in Rajion, who is pound for pound one of the strongest guys on the team and definitely has the speed, and Marlin Lane, who came in as a mature running back. I know those guys are going to do a great job."

Despite rushing for 1,000 yards last fall, Poole admits feeling some heat from the competition.

"My job is not secure because they're great running backs, and I'm excited about the competition we're going to have," he said. "It's going to make the team better and make us better as backs."

If the linemen are stronger and the backs are better, head coach Derek Dooley's Vol ground game should improve noticeably in 2011.

"I think we will," Poole said. "Me, Rajion, Marlin and all of the other running backs just need to show that we can run the football and that we have to run the ball to win ball games.

"Tyler has a great arm but we can't just depend on a little-bitty arm to lead us, even though he's a great quarterback. I definitely have a point to prove to Coach Dooley that we can run the football and we should run the football."


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