The second leading rusher on Tennessee’s roster last year was a quarterback who didn’t start the first eight games of the season.
That may not come as a huge surprise to those who witnessed Joshua Dobbs transform into an elusive ground threat who galloped for 469 yards and eight touchdowns under center to lead the Vols to a 4-1 record to end the year. But it’s certainly not an ideal statistic for an SEC program wanting to establish a threatening ground game.
Freshman Jalen Hurd, who rushed for a team-high 899 yards as the premier back, handled the bulk of the carries last year and showed Vol fans just how talented he can be despite nagging injuries.
Because he was forced to handle a heavy load at such an early age, Butch Jones challenged Hurd to add durability to his already-large frame — a challenge the rising sophomore accepted vigorously.
“Being 6-foot-3, obviously, he runs with a physical presence, but it’s lowering the pad level. He’s added the size and the weight he needs to,” Jones said at SEC Media Days July 14.
“He’s about 242 pounds. Right now we’ve challenged him with his sleep, we’ve challenged him with his nutrition and taking care of his body. He’s been as determined and focused a young man as we have in our program right now.”
Hurd is steadily meeting those expectations, and he was able to break off some impressive runs in spring practice that turned the heads of both the defenders who trailed him and the fans in attendance.
But the rising sophomore needs another back to complement his powerful style of play, and he got it last signing class with the addition of Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College standout Alvin Kamara.
A Scout five-star recruit who rushed for 1,211 last season, Kamara has already developed into the perfect complement to Hurd to give Tennessee a formidable one-two punch in the backfield.
“Now you couple that with Alvin Kamara, and we’re really, really excited,” Jones said. “Alvin stepped in our program from day one and didn’t say a word and just kept working and working and working, and he has earned the respect of his teammates.”
Kamara originally chose to play for Nick Saban at Alabama before transferring to Hutchinson, and his experience at the college level and familiarity with the new “team CEO” of the Vols has already made him a welcomed addition to the roster.
“I’ve actually known Alvin since the fifth, sixth grade,” Dobbs said. “We played basketball against each other and football with and against each other, so me and Alvin, we’ve known each other for a while. It’s great to have a familiar face back on campus, back on my side playing. It’s definitely great to have Alvin in addition to Jalen Hurd.”
We’ve already seen a microcosm of what they’re able to do together.
Hurd ran for 40 yards on just three impressive carries in April’s spring game. Kamara received 10 carries and bulldozed for 34 yards himself while showing off his shifty running style throughout spring practice. Both have showcased enough talent to put them in the upper half of rushing duos in the SEC despite just one year of FBS experience between them.
“I do think they’ll complement each other,” Jones said. “As you all know, in this conference, you can never have enough running backs, and it’s all about durability.”
With a healthy, experienced Hurd-Kamara combination for Tennessee behind an improving offensive line that returns 64 career starts, Dobbs’ position as the No. 2 rusher on the team could be in danger in 2015.