Weaponizing the Vols' backfield

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Sod in the facemask. Blood running down the forearm. Lactic acid burning the thighs.

The marker flips to third down. The distance to extend the chains looks like an acre away.

The running back taps the top of his helmet. He’s spent. The last shot to the ribs from the All-SEC linebacker caused a pain that makes it tough for the running back to even get upright.

Without needing to point or motivate, the coach sees another back run onto the field.

Coach doesn’t drop his head. He knows there’s no drop-off from his starter to the back-up. A dump-off to the flat to the next man up could just as easily turn into a first down.

When Jalen Hurd tags off to Alvin Kamara and vice versa this fall, the weaponization of the Tennessee backfield won’t be any less.

“It’s actually very important (to have multiple backs),” Kamara told InsideTennessee. “That’s really vital to the health of your team, your offense. You have to have a running back. Having more than one is really important because that one running back, as everybody knows, you can't go a whole season with one running back running the ball in the SEC. Every week is going to be a challenge. Every week is going to be a test. No matter how good a team is or isn’t, it’s the SEC.

“Just that pounding that a running back would take throughout the season you need somebody that can come in and kind of counter that and keep everybody fresh. With me and Jalen, I feel like he took a lot of pounding this year because he kind of got dinged up a little bit. Marlin came in and did the best he could. Then, they kind of had a few guys that came in here and there and gave Jalen a little rest. It's really going to be interesting to see how this works when I get in, just see how we can balance it out and just compliment each other and just add to the offense.”

Both runners were prep All-Americans, both have a year of experience in an SEC offense and the duo combines to give Vols fans expectations beyond even that of the Cedric Houston (181 carries-1,005 yards) and Gerald Riggs (193-1,107), who combined to net over 2,000 yards rushing in 2004.

"I think they will complement each other well,” second-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “As we found out, in this conference you need more than two running backs. So again, it is going to be a great opportunity for other individuals as well. You have to have two complementary backs and they complement each other just in terms of different skill sets and in terms of speed, make you miss, they are both very good at pass protection and (Kamara) will be involved even more in the throwing game. So very, very excited but we need to continue to recruit that position and develop that position as well, but very excited about that. That was a great, great recruiting get for us.”

(Chad Simmons/Scout)

High-school football fans cheer when running backs pass the century mark or reach pay dirt any given Friday. Mommas and Papas think their baby has what it takes to play in college.

With all due respect…no.

Southeastern Conference level running backs are a different breed. Hurd and Kamara were household names long before they finished up their prep campaigns. They stuck out, and that’s what coaches seek. If the film turns on and it’s not apparent what number is the college prospect, move on.

In their final full season in high school, Hurd and Kamara ran for a combined 5,621 yards with 69 touchdowns.

As a true freshman running behind a completely rebuilt offensive line with true freshmen at tight end, Hurd racked up 899 yards on 190 carries. The 6-foot-3, 227-pounder also caught 35 passes for 221 yards. He totaled seven touchdowns.

“(Hurd) runs with some attitude,” Kamara said. “Everybody knows he’s a younger guy so just getting a year of experience under his belt was really good for him going into next year because he kind of got through that first year of the ‘do’s’ and the ‘don’ts’ and now he can come in seasoned in the spring and know what to do and know what not to do and just how to really play the running back position in the SEC.

“Just seeing him run, he’s a powerful runner. He was pretty instinctive just being a young guy he had pretty good instincts. He just needs more time to develop with that being his freshman year. I’ll probably be able to learn some stuff from him, and he’ll be able to learn some stuff from me. It’ll be cool to finally get in there and just get rolling.”

As a redshirt freshman at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, Kamara piled up 1,469 yards of total offense with 21 touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder earned Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference offensive player of the year.

“(Kamara) has the ability to make you miss at the second level,” Jones said, “but also has a toughness to run in between the tackles. You talk about being a complete running back, we feel he is a complete running back. Getting to be able to get him at mid year is going to be a big boost to our entire offense, we are still way down in numbers at the running back position, so the continually recruiting and elevation of that position is critical but to be able to bring him in a midyear is very important for us in moving forward. He can catch the football, he can do a lot with the ball in his hands and he is a tough competitive young man."

Among all the Volunteers that were handed the football in 2014, 154 attempts and 507 yards were vacated. Kamara gets to work this spring to learn his role and to make the most of whatever attempts he gets.

“This spring, it really benefits me coming in early, being an early enrollee and getting in the system before the real class of 2015 comes in June or May,” Kamara said. “Just being able to learn the offense and how things work because every program is different.”

Spring practice gets underway March 24.

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