Workhorse weekend?

Arian Foster has played a lot of roles for the Tennessee Vols this season.

He returned kickoffs in Game 1, breaking a 68-yarder. He cracked the 1,000-yard barrier as a rusher, finishing the regular season with 1,107 net yards and a 5.3 yards-per-carry average. He ranked fifth on the team in receptions with 33.

This weekend, in the SEC Championship Game against LSU, Arian Foster may be playing yet another role – workhorse.

With LaMarcus Coker dismissed from the team and Montario Hardesty slowed by an ankle injury, the Vols are down to two scholarship tailbacks on the active roster – Foster and freshman Lennon Creer. Creer is averaging a team-best 6.3 yards per carry but has played mainly in mop-up situations.

Is Foster ready to carry 30 times if necessary?

"Oh, yeah," he said. "I'll be ready. I've GOT to be ready … it's the SEC Championship."

The Vols couldn't afford to exhaust him during the regular season, but this situation is different. Foster will have until UT's January bowl game to recuperate if he fills an iron-man role vs. LSU.

"The fact we have a month before the next game helps a lot," he said. "You can lay it all on the line. That month is going to help. Everybody's beat up right now, so that month will give everybody a chance to get healthy for the bowl game."

Head coach Phillip Fulmer said on Tuesday that Hardesty's ankle has improved since team doctors gave a gloomy preliminary diagnosis on Sunday.

"We got a better report," the coach said. "We're not sure now whether he's going to be out or not. Sunday was not very optimistic. Today is more optimistic….. If he can practice by the end of the week he'll be able to play because he's a very, very tough young man."

If Hardesty can't go, the Vols might burn Daryl Vereen's redshirt. The 6-0, 195-pound freshman looked good in preseason scrimmages but did not play in the 12 games to date. Participating in the SEC Championship Game and a bowl game would cost him an entire season of eligibility.

Freshman Kevin Cooper, who has seen some game action as an H-back, could fill in at tailback, Fulmer said. Walk-on Roy Olasimbo is another possibility. Whoever the coaches decide will be the No. 3 tailback, Foster is OK with it.

"I feel like whoever's in there just has to give it everything they've got," he said. "Then the chips will fall wherever they do…. Whoever's in there (as his backup), I'm going to put my cheerleading outfit on."

Foster is only the 14th Vol to rush for 1,000 yards in a season and the first since Gerald Riggs in 2004. Coincidentally, Riggs also rushed for 1,107 yards. Foster is understandably proud to join Tennessee's 1,000-yard club.

"It is a milestone," he said. "It has a lot of meaning. It's a great accomplishment but a lot of it has to do with the offensive line. They've been solid all year, opening up the holes."

The 6-1, 225-pound junior from San Diego has a chance to reach another milestone this season. He needs just 224 all-purpose yards (rushing, receiving, returning kicks) to break the single-season school record of 1,721 set by Reggie Cobb in 1987. Foster currently has 1,498 yards – 1,107 rushing, 274 receiving and 117 on returns.

Foster conceded that breaking Cobb's record would "mean a lot," adding: "Look how many distinguished running backs have been through this program – Jamal Lewis, Travis Stephens, Travis Henry. They all played big here and a lot of ‘em are still playing in The League. That would be a great honor."

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