Ironically, one of the most positive developments for UT's offensive attack was the direct result of one of the biggest bafflements. When junior fullback Will Revill walked away from the starting fullback job after three years invested in winning it, he left a huge hole in Tennessee's backfield and future plans. He also left the Vols without a scholarship fullback on the roster this spring.
Defection proved the mother of invention when the Vols responded to Revill's abrupt departure by moving lineman Cory Anderson to fullback. Almost immediately a starter was born as the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Anderson exhibited an aptitude for lead blocking along with the athletic ability to be a receiver out of the backfield. He also has the composition and disposition to be a superb H-back which is particularly good news for a UT ground game looking to gain traction this fall.
Without an established quarterback Tennessee's offensive staff can expect teams to stack against the run much as they have in recent years. UT's talent at wide receiver will make it more difficult for defenses to cheat the safeties up but until the Vols show they have the capability at QB to burn man coverage teams will take that risk in order to take away the run.
When faced with such scenarios the last two seasons Tennessee has chosen to counter by playing a tactical game of cat and mouse in which the onus falls on the quarterback to make a pre-snap read and check into another play.
That approach has had mixed results even with a veteran signal caller behind the center. Admittedly, Clausen didn't have the play-making talent in the backfield or at wide receiver his last two years that he enjoyed his first two seasons at UT but that was only a part of a larger problem.
The read-and-react strategy still empowers the defense to dictate what the offense won't run. Success in the running game is as much about attitude as it is execution and there are times that an offense has to be able to run the ball even when the defense is designed to stop it. In a sentence that describes the very essence of power football. Instead of taking what the defense gives you, you take what you want.
The H-back affords offenses the flexibility needed to pour personnel and pounds to the point of attack. It begins by balancing the defense with a tight end on one side and a slot to the other with the H-back in the slot. The H-back goes in motion and the off guard pulls at the snap of the ball. The tight end and tackle double team the defensive tackle while the guard kicks out the defensive end and the H-back leads through the hole off tackle. Such manipulation of personnel allows the offense to neutralize the intrinsic numbers advantage owned by the defense and run the ball regardless of what alignment the defense deploys. If the safeties cheat up in an attempt to take away the power run, the offense can pass off the exact same motion with both wide receivers running fly routes and the offside tight end settling into the area vacated by the reacting linebackers and in front of the retreating safeties. The H-back can then become a receiver on the short flag. The Vols could perform the same maneuvers with two tight ends and an H-back.
The key is having the versatility of player who can pack a wallop as a blocker and pose a threat as a receiver. Anderson appears to have that type of talent and he excelled as a fullback at Austin East High School. His return to that role after trials at defensive end, defensive tackle and linebacker has sent his stock skyrocketing much as Edward Kendrick did when he moved from tight end to defensive tackle in the spring of 2000.
The arrival of freshman fullback David Holbert will further solidify the fullback/H-back position. The progress of tight end Brad Cottam will be another key to UT's power running game as he would provide a balance to senior Victor McClure. However if Cottam isn't ready to contribute as a blocker, the Vols might look at using a mobile tackle like Eric Young to play some at tight end.
The double tight end look reduces much of the defense's ability to scheme and puts the offense in charge. That's critical because a power running game is as much about imposing your will as it is moving the sticks. That's what Tennessee football under Phillip Fulmer is all about and the offense won't return on the Hill until the power run is resurrected. The emergence of Cory Anderson should accelerate that endeavor.