Vol RBs are fired up

First-year running backs coach Trooper Taylor knows many Tennessee fans are grumbling that his troops lack the ability to make plays.

''Everybody's been talking about 'These guys can't get it done,' '' Taylor said. ''They (backs) are sick and tired of it ... and so am I.''

Apparently so. Veteran tailbacks Cedric Houston, Jabari Davis and Gerald Riggs appear trimmer and more determined than last spring.

''I think the competition level is making 'em get in shape,'' Taylor said. ''I'm really proud of the guys. They've been working hard.''

After keeping the first-team tailback job the past two years almost by default, Houston is in a real dogfight this preseason. A recent comment from head coach Phillip Fulmer that, ''We don't have a No. 1 tailback,'' obviously stung Houston's ego.

''Cedric knows the job's not being handed to him,'' Taylor said. ''He knows he has to come out and work hard every day. Coach Fulmer was telling the truth; we don't have a No. 1 tailback right now.''

When he was hired last winter, Taylor promised that all of UT's backs would have a ''clean slate,'' and he clearly is keeping his word. He says everyone has an equal shot at the first-team job.

''I wiped everybody's slate clean, which was a bad thing for Ced (Houston) because he had a good slate,'' Taylor said. ''But for Riggs and those guys who didn't, it was a good thing. These guys know that I'm going to grade 'em off what they do every day.''

Davis has dropped probably 10 pounds since spring. There's a reason for that.

''I told Jabari that if he didn't lose weight he'd be in a three-point stance two yards behind the quarterback ... it's called fullback,'' Taylor said, grinning broadly. ''He took it to heart and got himself in shape.''

Riggs also appears slimmer and faster than last spring.

''Gerald's quicker, without a doubt,'' Taylor said. ''Gerald feels like he's got a whole new life. He's got a lot of weight off his shoulders. He feels like he's got a fair shot at it (first-team job) and he's going after it.''

In Wednesday's scrimmaging, Riggs took a handoff and hit a brick wall up the middle. He kept his legs churning, however, and eventually popped free for a 20-yard gain.

''I've watched some tapes, and that looked like some of the days he had in high school,'' Taylor said. ''The kid's been working his butt off. With him, it's just one day at a time.''

In addition to Houston, Davis and Riggs, the tailback corps boasts a couple of scatbacks in senior Corey Larkins and redshirt freshman David Yancey, a walk-on who turned heads with a strong showing last spring.

Yet another entry in the tailback derby is freshman Ja'Kouri Williams, who may have the fastest feet on the team.

''I'm very impressed with his speed and how fast he learns,'' Taylor said.

The Vol aide also is impressed with his top two fullbacks -- 6-3, 270-pound Cory Anderson and freshman David Holbert.

Taylor admits that he never had a 270-pound fullback during his days at Baylor and Tulane.

''I never had a defensive lineman that big and good,'' he said. ''He's unbelievable. The kid is hungry and he's got his priorities straight. He's doing a really good job.''

Holbert, who took a short dump pass over the middle 50 yards for a touchdown in Wednesday's scrimmaging, also earned praise from Taylor.

''Holbert has done a good job of getting in the playbook and not having very many missed assignments,'' the Vol aide said. ''He and Ja'Kouri Williams weren't ready for the practice tempo we have but, as far as alignments and assignments, I've been really proud of those guys.''

There's a good chance that running back will be the most improved area of Tennessee's team this fall. That's a tribute to Taylor's belief that production, not potential, is all that matters.

As he put it: ''For me, a player that WON'T do it is no better than a player who CAN'T.''

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