Houston sets modest goals

Cedric Houston plans to be a horse this fall but not a workhorse. Tennessee's first-team tailback gave a surprising answer recently when asked how many carries per game he expects.

''I'd take 15 a game,'' he said. ''Twenty, 25 or 30 wouldn't hurt me, but I'd take 15.''

Most backs want 25 to 30 carries per game, so they can pile up 100-yard rushing performances and earn all-star recognition. Houston's goal is much more realistic, perhaps because he knows he has three quality backs -- Jabari Davis, Gerald Riggs and Corey Larkins -- behind him.

Houston unselfishly acknowledges that sharing the carries with his backups will make him a more effective back.

''That'll help me go through the year a little longer, instead of carrying the ball 35 times a game,'' he said.

Reminded that Travis Stephens was such a workhorse for the 2001 Vols that he wore out near season's end, Houston nodded.

''Travis was a workhorse a couple of years ago,'' he said. ''I don't know how many carries he averaged per game but he carried the ball A LOT.''

Although his per-game carries projection is modest, Houston believes he has proved himself capable of packing the pigskin more often, if needed.

''I think toward the end of last year I showed the coaches I can go out and carry 20 to 25 times a game,'' he said. ''My sophomore year in high school I carried probably 35 times per game, so I know I can do it.''

Some observers figure Tennessee's depth at tailback and its inexperience at receiver will cause the Vols to rely on a ground-oriented, smash-mouth attack this fall. Houston smiles at the suggestion but hints that fans shouldn't sell UT's passing game short.

''I think it's going to be a smash-mouth, run-it-down-your-throat offense,'' he said. ''But I also think a lot of receivers are going to step up -- Tony Brown, Mark Jones, Derrick Tinsley, C.J. Fayton, James Banks and some of the freshmen.''

With a grin, he added, ''But I'm up for that if the offense does turn out to be smash-mouth.''

After playing at 225 pounds last fall, Houston dropped to 215 last spring and looked much quicker. He appears still quicker this fall, although his weight is up around 220.

''I've gained about five pounds but I am a little faster than I was in the spring,'' he said.

Asked how he could gain speed and gain weight at the same time, Houston replied: ''Johnny Long (Vol strength coach) ran me all summer long. He made me and Jabari run extra, so that's probably what did it.''

Houston rushed for 779 yards and a 5.1 yards-per-carry average last fall, despite being limited by injuries in four games. He hopes to continue his emergence as a star-quality back this fall.

''I'm trying to bring that on this year,'' he said. ''I'd like to start with a couple of 100-yard games, then go from there.''

In addition to his rushing skills, Houston is a solid receiver out of the backfield. He caught just nine passes for 55 yards last fall but expects to double or triple those numbers this season as offensive coordinator Randy Sanders tries to diversify the offense a bit.

''Coach Sanders is trying to get Casey (Clausen) to throw to the backs a whole lot more,'' Houston said. ''Usually the back is wide open or one-on-one with a linebacker, so they're going to try and get it to us more this year.''

Although Tennessee's offense struggled mightily last fall, Houston believes fans will see a much-improved product this season.

''As the year goes on, I think we're going to get better and better,'' he said. ''If we do things right the majority of the time -- the blockers block and the running backs run -- I think we can have a pretty good season.''

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