Coker's carries

Given that LaMarcus Coker's knee is healthy and his yards-per-carry average of 7.0 is even healthier, you'd figure Tennessee's speedy tailback would get a bunch of carries Saturday against defensively challenged Kentucky.

You'd probably be wrong, though. Even though he averaged 12.6 yards per carry last Saturday against Vanderbilt (10 rushes, 126 yards), LaMarcus Coker again will share the rushing chores with sophomore Arian Foster and fellow redshirt freshman Montario Hardesty in this weekend's regular-season finale.

When asked if Coker will get 20 or more touches vs. the Wildcats, offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe hedged.

"He's not 100 percent well but he's on his way," the Vol aide said. "If you can be that productive – if you can average 12 yards per carry – we'll give him more than that. It takes playmakers, and he's trying to prove ‘I'm a playmaker. I make big plays at critical times.' Any time you do that, you've got to start thinking about getting a guy the ball."

Phillip Fulmer also hinted that Coker will carry no more than usual this weekend.

"When we've been at our best we've had two or three running backs who split the carries during the course of the year and they stayed healthy for the most part," the head man said. "I think we're there right now. I think all three of those guys are quality running backs and have different styles. You want to be healthy and fresh in the fourth quarter."

Despite rushing for 53 yards on 11 attempts in the opener vs. California, Coker did not get a carry in Game 2 against Air Force or Game 3 against Florida. When he finally got a chance in Game 4 against Marshall he broke loose for 146 yards on eight carries, including an 89-yard burst.

Coker carrued 26 times for 125 yards vs. Memphis and 12 times for 57 yards in Game 6 at Georgia, but strained a knee in Game 7 vs. Alabama. After missing Games 8 and 9, he ran for 51 yards on nine carries vs. Arkansas, then followed with his big outing against Vandy.

Although Coker's 7.0 yards-per-carry average dwarfs those of Hardest (3.7) and Foster (3.3), UT coaches seem reluctant to tab him the Vols' feature back.

"LaMarcus is one of those guys that took advantage of an opportunity," Cutcliffe said. "When he got in the ball game, I think we all realized he was something special in the Marshall game. He took advantage of an opportunity, and he's continuing to try to do that."

Since Saturday is the regular-season finale, you'd think UT's coaches might feed Coker the ball 20 to 30 times against Kentucky. That way, if they wore him out, he'd have a month to rest before seeing bowl action. Fulmer said fatigue isn't the concern, however.

"It's not wearing him out so much," the coach said. "It's just that when they're tired they're more susceptible to injury. You don't find too many backs in this league that are going to carry the ball 30 times. Jamal Lewis maybe could've."

Fulmer paused thoughtfully, then added:

"It could happen if some guy got really hot. I'm not against that at all. But, over the long haul, it's going to be difficult to do that."

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