Arian's the 'other' tailback

Arian Foster averaged 148 rushing yards per game in five late-season starts last fall but that was only a preview of coming attractions. He's healthier, stronger and quicker now than he was back then.

Foster played the last month of 2005 with knee and shoulder injuries that would've forced a lesser man to the sidelines. He had surgery to repair both problems during the offseason and reports that he is good as new. In fact, he may be BETTER THAN new.

"I'm 110 percent," he said. "I'm ready to go."

That should enable the 6-1, 206-pound sophomore from San Diego to be even more effective at the start of 2006 than he was at the end of 2005.

"I HOPE I play better when I'm feeling good," he said, grinning impishly.

Most of the pre-game hype surrounding Saturday's opener with California has focused on Golden Bear tailback Marshawn Lynch, rated a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy. That's providing added incentive for the "other" tailback.

"It's motivating," Foster said. "He's a great tailback. I feel like the stage is set, and the time to perform is now."

Asked if Tennessee's running game is being overlooked, Foster shrugged.

"You can't really focus on that," he said. "Everybody - including us and Cal - has to go out there and prove ourselves. Nothing's given to us."

Despite Arian Foster's success running the football, Tennessee's offense struggled to score points last fall. New offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe has made some changes that could produce benefits this season.

"We're a lot faster, more efficient with everything," Foster said. "There's a lot more sense of urgency."

Tennessee's offensive linemen took a lot of grief for being overweight and underproductive last fall. Foster says the guys upfront are improved this fall.

"They're a little quicker," he said, "and a little more hungry."

Foster may be hungrier, too. He worked more and ate less during the offseason. As a result, he lost five pounds, toned up a bit and gained some speed.

"I'm a step quicker," he said, "and I feel like I'm lighter on my feet."

With the Vols coming off a 5-6 season in 2005, a good start in 2006 could be monumental. That's why a strong showing against ninth-ranked Cal is vital.

"This is a huge game," Foster conceded. "Coming off of last year ... nobody expected that. Everybody has a little bit lower expectations this year, so we've got to come out and prove ourselves from the get-go."

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