Hill climbing

InsideTennessee takes you inside the action on Vol football. Check out this in-depth look at a running back on the rise:

Alden Hill doesn't need a big hole to gain yardage ... just a little hesitation.

The redshirt freshman tailback proved as much during Saturday's third spring scrimmage. He made a couple of nice cuts and ran through several arm tackles for a 16-yard gain on his second carry of the workout, then plowed up the gut for a 13-yard touchdown a few possessions later. Unofficially, he finished the scrimmage with 66 yards on 14 carries.

Packing 220 pounds on a 6-foot-1 frame, Hill is primarily a straight-line power runner. Still, he has shown in spring scrimmages that he has some "wiggle" in his repertoire. He displayed it on a 25-yard burst in the first spring scrimmage, a 30-yard ramble in the second and the 16-yard run in the third.

"That's the thing with being a big back: They (defenders) don't know if you're going to run through 'em or give 'em a little move," Hill said. "You've got that advantage; you can run through 'em, as well as make a move. I look to my size as an advantage."

Actually, Hill isn't as sizable as he was during his high school days in Alliance, Ohio.

"When I came here from high school I was 230 with 18 percent body fat," he recalled. "Now I'm about 220 with nine or 10 percent. I've trimmed down, gotten leaner. I feel comfortable out here."

Hill appears a step faster than he was last fall. Obviously, one step is critical for a running back.

"It always helps to have more muscle, be more lean," he said.

Hill also appears a tad shiftier this spring. He looked a bit ponderous while redshirting last fall.

"I think that had a lot to do with not playing basketball my senior year (of high school)," he said. "I couldn't play basketball because I was leaving early (mid-term), so I think I got a little lazy in that area. When you're not playing sports that happens but I came out here, kicked it into gear, and I've been working hard ever since."

With the 2012 tailback tandem of senior Rajion Neal (708 yards) and Marlin Lane (658) returning for 2013, Hill appeared relegated to mop-up duty this fall. With Lane missing the past three workouts due to a disciplinary suspension, however, Hill suddenly finds himself getting the No. 2 practice repetitions.

"I'm a different kind of breed," he said. "Whether it's five people in front of me or I'm the only guy, I'm going to be focused on what I've got to do. It (ranking on depth chart) really doesn't bother me too much. I know I'm going to come out here and execute — protect the ball, run low, be physical and do what I've got to do."

Still, 14 carries in one scrimmage suggests head coach Butch Jones is giving Hill a long look.

Marlin Lane's actions this spring may open the door for other running backs like Hill.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
"I knew I was going to be having a lot of carries, whether Marlin's out here or not," Hill said. "Whoever's here, I knew I was going to get a lot of carries because we've been progressing as a backfield. I'm not surprised."

Hill appears to be running with more instinct and less hesitation these days. He isn't surprised by that comment.

"I know what to do," he said. "I'm comfortable because I'm out here working, doing extra things. Coach makes sure we do the little things right. When you come out here you're not focused on too many things. You focus on one thing a day you want to get better at, and you're comfortable in that."

Like many freshman running backs, Hill's pass protecting left a bit to be desired in his first few months on campus. He has worked hard to improve in that area.

"I was being physical and I was approaching it right but we had to clean up some little technique things," he said. "It makes a difference if you're stepping with the wrong foot or you're too eager and leaning a little bit. That will throw you off. You've got to focus on the little things."

Hill is doing that this spring. As a result, he has a chance to earn significant playing time in 2013, whether Marlin Lane rejoins the team or not. If nothing else, Hill's power could earn him the role of short-yardage back.

"I'm doing the little things right," he said. "I'm playing smart, physical. I've always worked on being physical, staying low. I think it (improvement) is being a little more comfortable. I have the talent but last year I was a little nervous on the scheme of things."

Now it's would-be tacklers who are nervous: Will he try to blast them or wiggle past them?

See what else the redshirt freshman runner had to say following Saturday's scrimmage on Shields-Watkins Field in the video below:

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