These are the contenders:
- David Yancey. This 5-8, 198-pound senior isn't a great pass protector but he has excellent vision and balance. He carried 23 times for 114 yards (4.96 per carry) in the three preseason scrimmages. He probably is UT's best receiver out of the backfield, catching six balls for 35 yards in Scrimmage No. 3. Yancey has carried 44 times for 179 career yards, primarily in mop-up roles.
- LaMarcus Coker. This 5-11, 205-pound redshirt freshman is probably the chief home-run threat of the four due to his combination of speed and elusiveness. He carried 20 times for 69 yards (3.45 per carry) in the three scrimmages and caught three passes for 16 yards in Scrimmage No. 1. His weakness: A tendency to dance too much before turning upfield.
- Montario Hardesty. This 6-0, 205-pound redshirt freshman may be Tennessee's most effective runner between the tackles but he is coming off ACL surgery. He carried 15 times for 37 yards (2.47 per carry) in the last two scrimmages after missing the first one due to swelling in his knee. Hardesty rushed six times for 18 yards in 2005.
- Ja'Kouri Williams. This 5-10, 190-pound sophomore might be Tennessee's fastest back. He carried 18 times for 70 yards (3.88 per carry) in preseason scrimmages. Williams sprained his ankle after gaining just 10 yards on six rushes in the final scrimmage, however.
Since there aren't enough carries for Foster and all four of his backups, at least two of the contenders eventually must be relegated to special-teams/mop-up roles. Fulmer obviously can't play five tailbacks.
"When we've been our best we've played three – two a lot and one some," the coach said. "I hope we can get to the point where we can do that, and I think we're headed in that direction."
Clearly, choosing a second-team and a third-team tailback from among Yancey, Hardesty, Coker and Williams is going to be a difficult decision.
"Yeah," Fulmer conceded, "but those are the kind of decisions you like. I wish we had that kind of competition at every position."
All things considered, the head man is very happy with the preseason production he's seen from Tennessee's tailbacks. Asked if they're on schedule, he shook his head.
"Probably a little ahead," he said. "I'm really excited that Hardesty's come back and done as well as he's done. Arian has done a good job. I didn't think LaMarcus looked as good (in Tuesday's scrimmage) as he had but our legs are tired coming out of camp."
Incidentally, Foster had 18 carries for 54 yards (3.0 per carry) in the three preseason scrimmages. He also caught three passes for 20 yards in Scrimmage No. 2. He earned his spurs last fall, however, averaging 148 yards per game in five 2005 starts.