Back with a vengeance

He injured an ankle in Game 2, carried but twice in Game 3, then missed Games 4 and 5. Just as he appeared to be rounding into form, he was arrested at a bar in the wee hours of the morning.

Given how the rest of 2006 went for Tennessee tailback Arian Foster, it was virtually inevitable that he should spoil his best performance of the season by fumbling on his way to the go-ahead touchdown in the Outback Bowl.

Now he's back – with a vengeance – and determined to wipe out the awful memories of 2006. Foster took a significant step in that direction in Saturday's initial spring scrimmage, rushing 19 times for 98 yards. He ran hard. He ran tough. He ran like a man looking for yardage and redemption.

"Obviously, he's a motivated player right now," running backs coach Kurt Roper said. "I thought he ran hard. I thought he made plays. I thought he finished runs."

Best of all, he held onto the ball. Foster isn't prone to fumbles but his tend to come at the most inopportune moments. He lost one as he crossed the goal line in the fourth quarter of Tennessee's 16-15 loss to South Carolina in 2005, then lost another in the fourth quarter of the 20-10 Outback Bowl loss to Penn State.

Roper's task is obvious: Stressing ball security without stressing out his talented tailback.

"Ball security is a topic of discussion for us all the time at running back," the Vol aide said, "and, obviously, something we need to improve on."

After rushing for 879 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2005, Foster was voted second-team preseason All-SEC for 2006. Now that he has survived the sophomore jinx that followed, he's determined to get back on the fast track.

"I think he's excited," Roper said. "I think Arian Foster is one of those guys that truly loves football … the whole process – the weight-lifting, the conditioning, the practices. When he gets a chance to put the pads on, he really likes to go out there and do it. "

If he keeps running as impressively as he did in Saturday's scrimmage, Foster will get the chance to "go out there and do it" an awful lot this season.


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