Creer due a chance

Tennessee's Game 1 depth chart showed freshman Lennon Creer No. 3 at tailback behind Arian Foster and Montario Hardesty.

Tennessee's Game 2 depth chart shows Lennon Creer No. 4 at tailback behind Foster, Hardesty and LaMarcus Coker, fresh from a one-month disciplinary suspension.

Creer, a 6-1, 202-pounder from Tatum, Texas, deserves an opportunity to carry the football based on his sterling work in preseason scrimmages. With Coker's return leaving the freshman stuck behind three veterans, however, that opportunity may not be forthcoming anytime soon.

The Vols aren't planning on using four tailbacks in Saturday night's home opener against Southern Miss, are they?

"As far as getting those guys ready to play, you HAVE to," running backs coach Kurt Roper said. "It's difficult because you see the number of snaps they get limited in a football game but we feel like you've got to have four ready to play."

Although Coker's return has complicated matters by crowding the tailback picture, Roper isn't complaining.

"I think it's a good thing," he said. "You're getting another good football player back. You do have a limited number of reps. Is it easy? No, it's not easy. But it's a good thing."

With Coker suspended, Roper had every intention of getting Creer some first-half carries in the season opener last Saturday at Cal.

"It wasn't so much getting him a set number of snaps as getting him in the game early – in the first half," Roper said. "If you wait around too long it doesn't happen. At the end of the game you're trying to put together a two-minute drill and you want the experienced guys in at that point. We wanted to get him in early."

Roper succeeded, inserting Creer into the lineup with Tennessee facing a third-and-two at the Golden Bear 38-yard line late in the second quarter. The call was a hand-off to Creer but fate did not cooperate.

A Cal linebacker roared through untouched on a blitz, preventing Vol quarterback Erik Ainge from handing the ball to Creer. Ainge tried to shovel the ball but it wound up on the ground, where Creer fell on it. The play was categorized as a "team" loss, so the rookie running back was not credited with a carry.

"Lennon did a good job of covering up the ball in that situation," Roper said. "It had a chance to be a good play but Cal did a good job of timing the blitz and running through. The guy made a good play."

After a shrug, the assistant coach added: "I was anxious to see Lennon run with the football there."

So were Tennessee's fans. But they didn't get the chance. And they may not get the chance in Game 2 vs. Southern Miss now that Coker's return has created a logjam at tailback.

Foster enjoyed a terrific Game 1, rushing 13 times for 89 yards (6.8 per carry). He also returned a kickoff 68 yards and scored a touchdown on a 12-yard reception.

"He's talented," Roper said. "He's got a lot of skills. He's good in space. He's a good route runner. He has good hands. I thought he played a really good football game. He's a guy that can make plays. Any opportunity he has to get the football is a good thing. That's why he started on kickoff returns. It's just another touch for him."

Although Hardesty picked up just 27 yards on nine attempts (3.0 per carry), Roper said that figure is misleading.

"I thought he did a good job of running the football," the Vol aide said. "They had stunts on on a couple of his runs that made it a little more difficult. And he had two goal-line runs – where you're trying to average 1 or 1½ yards per carry – that affected his yards-per-carry average. I thought he was productive with the ball in his hand."

No one knows yet how productive Creer can be with the ball in his hand. Maybe he'll be no better than average. Then again, maybe he'll be another Jamal Lewis, who led the SEC in rushing as a Vol freshman in 1997.

This much is for certain: One ill-fated snap against Cal proved nothing.

As Roper noted: "Obviously, more snaps would've been good."

With Coker back in business, getting those snaps may be tricky.

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