Tailback tandem?

Given that Arian Foster ran for 1,193 yards last fall – 820 more than Tennessee's second-leading rusher – you'd figure he might fill a workhorse role in 2008.

And you'd be wrong ...

Foster got 245 carries last season, the rest of the tailbacks 170 carries combined. That much reliance on one back is not likely to be repeated now that Dave Clawson has succeeded David Cutcliffe as Tennessee's offensive coordinator. Clawson is looking at a more equitable distribution of the carries for the season ahead.

Specifically, the new coordinator is looking for a guy who brings different attributes to the table than the 6-1, 225-pound Foster.

"We need to have a complementary back that maybe gives you a little bit of a change-up," Clawson said. "Whether that change-up comes from a guy that plays third downs or whether that change-up comes from having a big back and a little scatback – a perimeter runner and more of a between-the-tackles runner – we'd like to have a 1-A and a 1-B."

Foster, of course, would be 1-A. Well ... not necessarily. Clawson isn't ready to confer any first-team jobs just yet. The new coordinator believes there's plenty of competition at tailback in the form of Montario Hardesty, Lennon Creer, Daryl Vereen and mid-term freshman enrollee Tauren Poole.

The injury-plagued Hardesty stayed healthy long enough to contribute 373 yards and a 4.2 per-carry average last fall. Creer rushed for just 214 yards but averaged a team-best 5.9 yards per carry. Vereen redshirted last fall and Poole was still playing high school ball.

"I'm excited – not just to see what Arian can do – but to see if Montario is healthy, to see what Lennon Creer and Vereen and Tauren Poole can do," Clawson said. "We have good depth in the backfield, and whoever wins the job has earned it."

Clawson is not questioning Foster's skills or his value to Tennessee's offense. The new coordinator simply believes spreading the carries around a bit will benefit everyone involved, including Foster.

"Certainly, Arian – with what he accomplished last year – will be in there the first snap (of the first spring scrimmage)," Clawson said. "But, from what I've seen in the offseason program, we do have some talent and some guys with ability back there, and it's going to be fun to watch those guys compete."

In addition to leading Tennessee in rushing last fall, Foster ranked fifth on the team in receptions (39) and fourth in receiving yards (340). Having a tailback with good hands is a real luxury, particularly in a West Coast offense like the one Clawson is installing this spring.

"It's a luxury any time you inherit somebody who has played as much as he has," the new Vol aide said. "I think the exciting thing about our running back position is that we do have quality depth there. These guys are going to have a chance to compete and see what they can do."


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