Riggs awaits opportunity

Gerald Riggs might rank No. 1 among Tennessee's tailbacks in rushing skills but he ranks No. 3 on the depth chart heading into Saturday's opener with Fresno State.

Riggs' tendency to fumble and make mental mistakes -- particularly in pass protection -- have left offensive coordinator Randy Sanders and running backs coach Woody McCorvey wondering if they can trust him in a game situation. That's why the talented young Chattanooga product is stuck behind juniors Cedric Houston and Jabari Davis in UT's tailback rotation.

Still, Sanders says Riggs is more capable of carrying out his assignments properly than he was last fall.

''Much more,'' the coordinator said. ''Gerald pretty much knows what to do at this point. It's just a matter of doing it.''

Riggs is very similar in size, speed and build to Houston. The difference is that Houston rarely fumbles and rarely blows an assignment.

''He's our guy,'' Sanders says, ''until somebody proves they're better.''

Riggs will get to showcase his talent at some point, and he's confident he'll make the most of the opportunity.

''When the game comes around, that's when I'll prove it,'' he said. ''Hopefully, I'll get a chance this Saturday. If not, we'll go from there.''

Riggs says the fumble problems he had last fall are no longer a concern.

''Everybody has times when they're weak at holding onto the ball,'' he said. ''Everybody's gone through it. All good backs have that period, then they bounce back from it.''

What cost him the trust of Sanders and McCorvey, he believes, was not the fumbles but the busts he had in blitz pickups.

''It was some pass-protection deals,'' he said. ''They (coaches) weren't sure they could trust me.... Coach McCorvey's not going to put anybody on the field that's not going to protect because that (passing game) is a big part of our offense.''

Riggs believes his pass-protection problems are a thing of the past, however.

''I think I've done a complete 180,'' he said. ''Last year I kind of knew what was going on but, at the same time, I wasn't exactly sure of myself. I wasn't very consistent, and you can't afford that. You have to be at your very best at all times.

''I'm doing a lot better now. I'm a lot more consistent and I'm able to do a lot more things to help the offense and make plays.''

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