Vision problem

Noting that senior tailback Tauren Poole runs up the back of his blocker on some plays and pauses before hitting the hole on others, many Tennessee fans surmise that he lacks vision.

That's understandable but the problem may be timing rather than vision.

If Poole hits the hole too early, he'll run up the back of his blocker. If he hits the hole too late and it has closed, he'll pause while deciding whether to plow ahead or seek an opening elsewhere. So, Poole's vision — the easy answer for the fact the Vols posted minus-9 rushing yards in their Game 3 loss at Florida — may not be the correct answer.

"I think he has decent vision," said graduate assistant Chino Fontenette, a former Tulane tailback who oversees Tennessee running backs. "I think his issue is his body control. Sometimes he thinks a little faster than what his body is moving. And the patience isn't always there; he wants to hit things.

"Honestly, I think it's about trusting what's going on in front of him with the offensive line play. Sometimes he loses patience and sometimes he's too patient. I think it's a matter of rhythm and trusting the guys in front of him to be effective."

Simply put: If Poole is impatient he reaches the hole before it opens. If he's too patient he reaches it after it already has closed. Those issues are related to timing, not vision.

Like Fontenette, Vol offensive coordinator Jim Chaney believes blaming Poole's vision for the running-game woes is an oversimplification.

"Tauren has his misreads, just like every other running back does," Chaney said, "but he's a tough kid who comes out to play and he dies orange, and I love that part."

Poole accepts much of the blame for the debacle at Gainesville, conceding that he sometimes ran tentatively and sometimes ran hurriedly. Either way, the result was a clogged line of scrimmage.

"You hit it late and nothing's there," he said. "You hit it early and everything's all bottled up. You just have to trust the offensive line that the hole's going to be there and hit it."

Even the best offensive line maintains an opening for only a second, so it is vitally important for the back to hit the hole at the proper time.

"That's a huge part of it," Poole said. "That starts on the practice field and carries over into the games."

The timing between linemen and back would be simpler if it were the same on every play. It isn't. Some plays develop slower than others.

"I think it's just understanding the tempo of each run," Fontenette said. "They're all different. Those guys (linemen) are growing and they understand that there are going to be some different looks they get, so the tone or pace of the run may have to change - faster or slower. Knowing that, having that experience and having gone through those ups and downs will make Tauren a better runner."

Fans don't like excuses but Poole gained 10 yards on his first carry versus Florida, strained his back, then managed just 8 yards on eight subsequent carries.

"It was a little strain that happened early in the game," Fontenette said, "and it was a little warm, so his body started cramping up a little bit. It affected how he was running."

Freshman Marlin Lane eventually took over at tailback versus Florida but fared no better, finishing with 9 yards on five carries.

"He's a freshman, and freshmen are going to have ups and downs," Fontenette said. "He's going to have to play faster, and that's what we're looking for out of Marlin — to get that suddenness about him, to stop thinking and just play free. He's doing a good job, especially in the passing game and blocking, but in the run game and getting out on routes he's got to get a little more sudden."

With Rajion Neal working almost exclusively with the receivers these days, Tennessee's third option at tailback is freshman Tom Smith. He carried three times for 6 yards in Game 1 versus Montana but has not touched the ball since.

"Tom Smith is coming along well," Fontenette said. "He's a downhill runner who has been doing a very fine job the last few days, and I'm pretty sure we'll start to see him in the rotation some."

After conceding that the performance of his running backs is "not what we expected," the grad assistant added: "It's just us hitting the holes like we need to. It hasn't been there but practice has been going well. Guys are running harder, and we expect to see some differences."

Perhaps fans will see some differences in Game 4 versus Buffalo. If not, Poole's vision will continue to be a hot topic in Big Orange Country. No one understands this better than Tennessee's offensive coordinator.

"If the passing game's not going good," Chaney said, "everybody loves the backup quarterback, (assuming) 'He'll be better.' It's the same thing when the running game's not going good. All of the blame goes to the running back, and that's not the truth."

Marlin Lane

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