Running game fixed on Rocky Top?

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ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. — Even though the month of August is filled with more anticipation than any other for college football fans with everybody's team being undefeated, it's also 31 days loaded with delusion.

Fans of likely teams likely to go 6-6 think they'll win the conference and be in a BCS bowl. Others expect an undefeated record with just six returning starters. It gets out of hand.

The die hards that follow training camp have a tough time taking the news with a grain of salt as well. For example, just because your team runs for 301 yards in the first scrimmage, doesn't mean it's got the ground game figured out and all is well in the world.

Temper the enthusiasm. It's August.

In Saturday's scrimmage at Science Hill High School, Tennessee running backs posted numbers that in no way resembled the product on the field in 2011. Is it something to get excited about? Sure. Does it mean the Volunteers can go 91 yards on 12 plays and chew up 8 minutes, 46 seconds against Florida in less than five weeks? No.

"Are we the greatest running team in football history, no, but I think we are an improved football team running the ball from the previous season."

Jim Chaney

"I am happy (with the run game) but I am hoping that we can keep building on it," coach Derek Dooley said after the scrimmage. "It wasn't a surprise. I have said that we have three guys that can help us win and run the ball and we have to do a good job around it of blocking and throwing the football because we aren't going to line up two tight ends and pound it. We aren't those kind of guys."

Rajion Neal (nine carries, 134 yards), Marlin Lane (8-34), Devrin Young (7-36) and Quenshaun Watson (6-60) all posted eye-opening numbers against the Orange & White defense. However, no starting jobs were cemented and scrimmage settings are not cut-and-dry in terms of the situation and script.

"I think it's too early to finalize (a pecking order), but I am pleased with how they are competing," Vol offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "I think if we had to go play tomorrow I think (Neal and Young would come first on the depth chart). Coach makes those decisions, but that would be my recommendation right now. We are a long way from the first game and I think Marlin had a pretty good day today and I think he will have something to say about that before it's all said and done."

Simply knowing what the beef in front of them is going to do once the football is snapped is a step in the right direction for a bunch of runners that will be under the microscope much of 2012 as the Vol Train looks to get back on the tracks. After that knowledge becomes back-of-the-hand, the runners just have to hit the holes provided, make people miss on the second and third levels and it's all house calls from then on.

Sounds easy, right? Not in the Southeastern Conference where NFL-bound prospects are littered along the depth charts of the top teams.

When your backs average 6.54 yards per carry in the first scrimmage of training camp, something is starting to go right. Yet, again, Chaney suggests it's not time to hand out the party packs.

"I think some of these statistics in camp can be so misleading," the fourth-year Tennessee assistant said. "We have our moments when a play looks clean and we block it. The next time we don't block it well or they make a mistake and the stats might look good, but I think that we are doing better. We are trying to be more physical with the ball and we are securing the ball better. I am happy with where we are at right now. Are we the greatest running team in football history, no, but I think we are an improved football team running the ball from the previous season."

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The second the Vols fell to Kentucky last November the goal to become a much more physical football team commenced immediately. The strive for aggression is evident in each position group. If the staff is able to achieve the level of physicality sought, there will be more chances to grind away victories in the fourth quarter.

As eye-opening as his runners' stats were Saturday, assistant coach Jay Graham wasted no time passing along some of the praise to the offensive line.

"The guys up front are doing a great job being physical and helping us get to the line of scrimmage," Graham said Tuesday.

Tennessee scrimmages again on Friday evening. Performances that night combined with shown consistency will help the staff quite a bit in putting together a depth chart and defining roles.

"It's a little bit too early," Graham said of who the top backs are. "We want to get through the scrimmage. and as we get closer to the game, we'll start making decisions."

Note: Sophomore Tom Smith didn't gear up for Tuesday's workout, but he isn't injured and should be back soon.

"He's doing alright, got a little nicked up," Graham told InsideTennessee. "He'll be fine. He's been running the ball very physical and that's the key to him — he's a physical, hard, tough runner. Be who you are. At times, he's learned to have that little wiggle he needs to have in order to break a tackle."

To hear more of what Graham had to say about his backs, including his thoughts on Neal's big Saturday, click play on the video below:

Get an update on the entire offense from Chaney in the video below:

Danny Parker is currently the Managing Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the InsideTennessee team July 2011.

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