Tailback trios

Tennessee head football coach Phillip Fulmer is looking forward to a threesome this weekend at Sanford Stadium, and so is Georgia head football coach Mark Richt. Menage a trois? Nope. Tailback a trois.

Richt has been dividing the Bulldogs' tailback duties this fall among three players – Kregg Lumpkin, Thomas Brown and Danny Ware. Now that Arian Foster is healthy again, Fulmer plans to split the Vols' tailback snaps among Foster, LaMarcus Coker and Montario Hardesty.

Can Tennessee's tailback trio outplay Georgia's tailback trio Saturday night in Athens? If it can, that would be a significant advantage for the Vols. The return of Foster, who has carried just twice the past three weeks due to a sore ankle, looms large for Tennessee.

"We've got Foster back, which is encouraging," Fulmer notes. "He ran without a limp Monday for the first time since his injury against Air Force. Having Coker, Hardesty and Foster would be a definite plus for us. We can use them in a variety of ways in the ball game. Hopefully, that will be a strength for us and help us offset Georgia's really outstanding trio of running backs."

Asked how he'll determine which tailback gets the most snaps, Fulmer answered without hesitation: "Whoever's hot will play. Coker will start, then we'll go from there."

Coker did not carry in Games 2 and 3 but starred as a reserve in Game 4 and started Game 5. He has 324 rushing yards to date and a whopping 7.2 yards-per-carry average. Hardesty, who started Games 3 and 4, has scored four touchdowns but is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. Foster, who started Games 1 and 2, has carried just 26 times for 96 yards, averaging 3.8 per attempt.

Lumpkin has 269 yards and a 5.6 per-carry mark for Georgia. Ware has 188 yards and a 5.7 per-carry average. Brown is struggling thus far, averaging just 2.9 per carry in compiling 124 net yards.

Tennessee's ground attack has been erratic since Foster went down early in Game 2. The Vols finished with minus-11 rushing yards in Game 3 vs. Florida and failed to score on three line smashes from the 1-yard line last weekend at Memphis. Foster's rushing skills should prevent that from happening again.

"He should help us," Fulmer notes. "We had the series against Memphis where we didn't get the ball in the end zone, and that was crap. That was bad. Arian will help us all the way around. He's a good pass protector, he's an outstanding receiver and we all know he can run the football."

Naturally, Vol running backs coach Kurt Roper is thrilled to have three proven tailbacks at his disposal.

"It's a good thing that you've got three guys that can go play for you in this league at that position," he says. "This is such a physical league it's hard to stay healthy. You've seen that with Arian this year. You saw it with (Gerald) Riggs and Montario last year. The more players that can help you win a game, the better."

Roper isn't sure how he'll spread the carries among his tailback threesome but doesn't seem overly concerned.

"Are all the carries going to even out in every game? I don't think that's very easy to do," he says. "But everybody that gets himself ready in practice and has a chance to help you win a football game, you've got to count on them on Saturday. I think it's a good problem to have."

Whereas Foster is a glider with excellent vision, Hardesty is a pure power back and Coker a pure speed back. The three tailbacks offer three distinctive running styles. Is that an advantage?

"I don't know what kind of problems that causes for a defense because your offense doesn't change much based on who's in the game," Roper notes. "They've got to be able to do it all (run inside, run outside, catch the ball, block).

"Potentially it does give the defense some issues when all of a sudden the game speeds up on ‘em or gets more physical on ‘em. But that might be a better question for some of the defensive coordinators in this league."

Maybe someone can ask Georgia's Willie Martinez Saturday night.


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