Riggs makes a statement

Tennessee fans who have been waiting for Gerald Riggs' breakout performance may have seen it Wednesday night at Neyland Stadium.

Slowed by ankle injuries throughout his first two years on campus, Riggs was better known for his off-field problems than his on-field performances. That may be about to change, based on his showing in the Vols' second preseason scrimmage.

Exhibiting speed, power and balance, the 6-foot, 220-pounder from Chattanooga ran over, under, around and through tacklers en route to 31 yards on just five carries. Asked what is different about him now than previously, the talented junior smiled.

''It's the fact I'm healthy more than anything,'' he said. ''I'm able to get out here and do some things I haven't been able to do since high school. It's been a blessing I've been able to do that. It's made a world of difference for me, as far as confidence.''

He rarely left the bench when Woody McCorvey was Tennessee's running backs coach but Riggs has gotten a new life under Trooper Taylor, McCorvey's successor. Taylor promised every Vol back a ''clean slate'' last spring and has been true to his word. Knowing that Cedric Houston no long owns the tailback job by default has made a dramatic change in Riggs' attitude and his performance.

Asked how much Taylor's arrival has helped him, Riggs replied, ''In more ways than you'll ever know -- being able to have a fresh start, being able to have somebody I can relate to, somebody who knows the issues I'm going through because he's not far gone from those.''

Moving from the 54-year-old McCorvey to the 34-year-old Taylor has injected a burst of youthful energy into the Vol running corps, and no one appreciates that more than Riggs.

Referring to McCorvey as ''a father figure,'' the Vol back added: ''Sometimes you do better when you have someone who's more like an older brother ... who's not far in age from you. I look at him (Taylor) more as an older brother. Sometimes your older brother can get more out of you than your parents can, and I definitely appreciate the relationship with him.''

There were times in the past when Riggs seemed sullen and frustrated. He appears much more upbeat since Taylor arrived on the scene, and his performances in practice reflect it.

''You always want to perform well for those who stick behind you,'' he said, ''and Trooper has definitely stuck behind me in a lot of situations. I don't want to disappoint him because he's done so much to help me out. I want to do my best -- not only for myself and for the team -- but also for him.

''It makes a world of difference to know you've got the confidence of the man in charge, the guy who's coaching you.''


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