Arian's eager

He entered this fall as the second-team tailback on one preseason All-SEC list. Now he's the third-team tailback on Tennessee's depth chart. Clearly, the 2006 season isn't going the way he planned.

That's why Arian Foster will be looking to prove himself when the 13th-ranked Vols visit the 10th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs Saturday night in Athens.

Coming off a spectacular 2005 season which saw him average 148 rushing yards per game in five late-season starts, Foster appeared destined for greatness in '06. Thanks to a Game 2 ankle injury, however, he carried just twice in Game 3 vs. Florida, then sat out Games 4 and 5 altogether. In his absence redshirt freshmen LaMarcus Coker and Montario Hardesty assumed the tailback duties.

Coker, who started Game 5 vs. Memphis, will start again at Georgia. Hardesty and Foster will see action in backup roles. Asked how it feels going from "The Man" to one of three tailbacks, Foster shrugged.

"Tennessee's always had a lot of successful running backs," he said. "We take pride in that, and we look forward to the challenge."

Splitting carries with Coker and Hardesty means Foster will require more time to shed three weeks of rust than he'd need if he were getting most of the carries. Foster concedes that the situation is less than ideal but says there's an upside to it.

"It is a little (difficult) in the sense that you've got to get in a groove," he said. "At the same time, it makes you better because you've got to produce early. You know you've got guys behind you that are hungry and are going to get carries, so you've got to produce early."

Foster played through ankle, knee and shoulder injuries in 2005. He'd hoped for a pain-free 2006 season but that has not been the case. Naturally, his three-week hiatus due to ankle problems was disappointing.

"It was a little disheartening being out because you put in a lot of work during the summer," he said. "You get a little discouraged but I kept going. Now I feel good and confident, and I'm ready to play."

The past three weeks weren't a total loss. Watching the Vols play without him gave Foster a stronger sense of resolve.

"I'm a little hungrier than I was at the beginning of the season," he said. "I wouldn't say I wasn't hungry before; it was just that I lost my goals. I got humbled and I'm hungry now."

Coker ran for 146 yards vs. Marshall in Game 4 and 125 vs. Memphis in Game 5. Thus, Foster may have some difficulty reclaiming his first-team job. He concedes that there is stiff competition – from Hardesty, as well as Coker.

"I feel competition but it's a friendly competition," he said. "We all like each other and everything. You know what you can do as a football player, so you're that much hungrier."

Foster's goal for 2006 was to lead the Vols to an undefeated season. He watched from the bench as that goal crashed and burned in Tennessee's 21-20 Game 3 loss to Florida.

"The Florida game really hurt because I tried to go and I couldn't go," he recalled. "The main goal was to be undefeated. That was MY main goal. Now I'm just ready to go."

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