Spring Breakdown: Running Backs

InsideTennessee brings you a 10-part series of position battles heading into spring practice. Be sure to come back to InsideTennessee for all your Volunteer athletics information .

It is hard to imagine there is any position more up for grabs than the role of starting tailback as the Tennessee Volunteer football squad dives spring football.

The Vols have a new running backs coach in Jay Graham and five scholarship tailbacks with a meager 178 college rushing attempts, combined, in Marlin Lane (75), Rajion Neal (73), Tom Smith (13), Devrin Young (6) and Alden Hill (0).

With the position battle at tailback as open as ever, one would assume that clear front runner would be the player with the most experience — Marlin Lane. As a true freshman, Lane ran for 280 yards and added 17 catches for 161 yards in 12 games as a reserve tailback.

The Daytona Beach, Fla., native scored touchdowns in each of his first three college games, the first UT player to do so since Reggie Cobb in 1987, who scored TD in first five games of that season.

And it wasn't just success against inferior opponents that helped elevate Lane's stat line. He ran for career-high 58 yards including UT season-long 45 yarder at #8 Arkansas (11/12) and also made three catches for 12 yards.

Tennessee tailback Tom Smith
One forgotten man entering the last week of March is 5-foot-11, 205-pound Apopka, Fla., native Tom Smith who only saw action in three games during the 2011 season.

Smith, who was rated the No. 47 overall running back in the 2011 class by Scout.com, recorded just 34 rushing yards on 13 carries in his first season in the Orange and White.

Then there is the local kid — Bearden (Tenn.) High School product Devrin Young. Young still seems to be carving out a role in Tennessee's offense, but has stared in a role on special teams as a kick returner.

Young rushed the football just six times in nine games during the 2011 season. However, as kick returner the Knoxville, Tenn., native racked up 628 yards returning kickoffs as a freshman.

And don't forget early enrollee and new Tennessee signee Alden Hill who arrived on campus this spring and will surely be a factor with his unmatched size. Hill, a 6-foot-2, 220-pounder out of Alliance, Ohio will make an impact, the question is when.

During his time with Marlington (Ohio) High School Hill set school records for single-season rushing yards (2,241) and single-game rushing yards (279). He added records for career rushing yards during his junior season and accounted for 35 TDs while averaging 8.7 yards a carry.

He also finished as Marlington's all-time career rushing leader with 4,745 yards during his four-year career.

While all four of the aforementioned tailbacks were expected to be in the Tennessee backfield in 2012, one more Vol will join them a bit by surprise.

Former Tennessee tailback Tauren Poole, who is preparing for the NFL draft, confirmed to InsideTennessee that running back turned wide receiver Rajion Neal will once again return to the Vols backfield in a 'up tempo' Vols offense.

Neal, who racked up 269 yards receiving and one touchdown in 2011, has toted the rock 73 times for 331 yards and two touchdowns in two seasons, but has struggled with ball security issues as a tailback.

It should be noted that all parties involved in the race for starting tailback will have their first full-time coach since arriving on the Hill. In 2011, offensive graduate assistant Chino Fontenette, who was Derek Dooley's running backs coach at Louisiana Tech, coached the tailbacks.

Stay tuned for continuing editions of the "Spring Breakdown" as spring football looms closer and closer.

Tom Smith

Chris Price is a staff writer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously an intern for the site for two years before graduating from the University of Tennessee. He joined the InsideTennessee team in 2009.

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