"We're preparing for him to have to play this year," Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer said Tuesday. "Whether he's ready to play this game (Saturday vs. Georgia) or not will be in question but we're going to prepare to get him in the mix to play.
"If we don't have to (play him), that's OK. If we do, then we need to. But I think we will play him this year if he develops quickly enough."
Coker was rated one of the top five tailback prospects in America when he signed with the Vols last February. He missed much of preseason drills with a back problem, however, and fell behind Hardesty, redshirt freshman Arian Foster and junior David Yancey in the battle for playing time behind first-team tailback Gerald Riggs.
"He (Coker) was held back some with his back injury early – the back end of camp and the first week or so of the season," Fulmer said. "He missed a lot (of time). Hopefully, he'll not have any other (health) issues and he can catch up with us."
Like Hardesty, Coker has the speed to be a home run threat. Breakaway speed has been a missing ingredient in UT's ground game this fall, which may explain the decision to burn Coker's redshirt year.