Tailback quandary

Phillip Fulmer has talked for months about the need to pick one tailback to carry the load for Tennessee this fall, but I don't see it happening. The Vols just don't have that one do-it-all back who can be counted on for 25 carries per game.

Cedric Houston has had two years to prove he can do the job, and I'm not convinced he can. Cedric runs with power and speed but he has no vision and no balance. He misses creases and cutback lanes with alarming regularity and he gets tripped up a lot one step shy of breaking a big gain. I think it's time someone else got a chance.

Jabari Davis is a great short-yardage back. On fourth-and-goal at the 1, he's the guy I'd want to carry the ball. J-Train will get you one yard every time. Unfortunately, when it's third-and-four, he'll get you one yard then, too. Jabari has good straight-ahead speed but he simply isn't elusive enough to make something happen unless he's facing tired defenders that he can run over (see fourth quarter of 2003 Florida game).

Corey Larkins has tremendous speed and moves but he has had problems with fumbles and injuries in the past. Also, he's inconsistent. He looked terrific in scrimmage 1 and 2 but gained just 12 yards on five carries in No. 3. He also dropped a pass that cost UT a touchdown.

Gerald Riggs has everything you look for -- size, speed, strength, some jukes and vision. He looked sensational in scrimmage No. 2 (five carries for 31 yards) but gained just 7 yards on two tries in Saturday's scrimmage. He also missed a pass-protection block that forced Brent Schaeffer to run for his life. And, like Larkins, Riggs has had problems with fumbles and injuries in the past. Can you count on him for 11 games? Who knows?

David Yancey looked great last spring but missed time this preseason to be with his sick mother. He's hardly touched the ball in preseason scrimmages, getting one carry for no gain Saturday. That doesn't sound like a guy UT's staff is preparing to play a key role in 2004, does it?

Speedy freshman Ja'Kouri Williams has gotten a lot of work in preseason but has yet to do anything noteworthy. He's averaging about 2 yards per carry in the scrimmages, so I think he's looking at a redshirt year.

Based on what I saw Saturday, Arian Foster is UT's best running back. He carried seven times for 52 yards, with a long run of 17. He has good size (6-0, 200) and surprisingly quickness. He has tremendous vision and showed some slick moves as he slithered through traffic. But he's only practiced two days because of delays related to the NCAA Clearinghouse, so he's way, way behind the other backs. Fulmer credited Foster's impressive showing in scrimmage No. 3 to ''fresh legs,'' and he may be right. Still, I think Foster's a guy fans need to keep an eye on. He impressed the heck out of me.

As you can see, none of UT's seven tailback candidates has taken control of the position. Each guy provides one or two dimensions but comes up short in another area. That's why I think we're going to see a modified ''tailback-by-committee'' approach again this year.

If the season opened today, I'd start Riggs. I'd bring in Larkins as a change of pace and I'd use J-Train for short-yardage and pass protection. I'd give Yancey a few snaps to see if he can be as effective as he looked last spring. Houston would get the call if Riggs suffers from injuries or fumbles. I'd redshirt the two freshmen. However, if Foster learns quickly and continues to look as good as he did on Saturday, I'd scrap the redshirt plans and throw him into the mix. I'm telling you: This kid is a natural tailback. He isn't as powerful as Jamal Lewis and he isn't as shifty as Travis Stephens but he's got enough of each attribute to be very, very good in time.

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