Poole's springboard

After missing Scrimmage No. 1 and barely making a ripple in Scrimmage No. 2, well-named Tauren Poole was hoping to make a splash Saturday in Scrimmage No. 3.

He succeeded.

Slowed by a slight miniscus tear in his knee, Poole had rushed eight times for a paltry nine yards in Scrimmage No. 2 on April 5. Scrimmage No. 3 started on a similarly bland note, as he gained just three yards on his first two carries Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium.

Tennessee's coaches decided to keep giving Poole the ball, however, and he wound up making that decision look pretty astute. The 5-10, 200-pound mid-term freshman enrollee from Toccoa, Ga., made a 5-yard run on his third carry. Two snaps later he showed a nice burst of speed in ripping off a 21-yard gain, then exhibited surprising power on the very next play with a seven-yard run up the middle.

Poole wound up getting 17 carries – matching the combined total of first-team tailback Arian Foster (seven) and second-teamer Lennon Creer (10) en route to 45 rushing yards.

"I learned today that the more reps I give him, the better and better he's going to get during the course of the game," Vol running backs coach Stan Drayton said moments after the scrimmage. "That's what you want in your running back: He's not going to wear down.

"He's got the right mentality. He's an unselfish player. He's going to do everything he needs to do to help this football team."

Poole's performance on Saturday seemed to justify the recent switch of redshirt freshman Daryl Vereen from tailback to safety. Given the promise Poole exhibits as a rusher, Vereen seems expendable. Still, Drayton insists that the two situations are totally unrelated.

"That had nothing to do with Daryl," the Vol aide said. "We're just trying to find the best situation for this team. That often entails moving guys around to see if they're a better fit at other positions.

"It has nothing to with Daryl Vereen or Tauren Poole but it did give Tauren Poole an opportunity to get more (scrimmage) reps and show what he has."

So, how well did Poole take advantage of the opportunity?

"He took GREAT advantage of it," Drayton said. "He's a tough kid who loves to play the game of football. I was happy to see him having success."

So was offensive coordinator Dave Clawson, who recently lost junior tailback Montario Hardesty for the remainder of the spring due to a stress fracture.

"Tauren had some good runs out here," the coordinator said. "He was hurt early, then every week it seems like he gets a little stronger and picks up things. He's playing faster."

Phillip Fulmer was encouraged, too.

"I thought Tauren Poole had his best day as a running back at Tennessee," the head man said. "I think he's going to be really good."

JA'KOURI RETURNS

The switch of Vereen to safety, coupled with Hardesty's injury, briefly left Tennessee with just three scholarship tailbacks – Foster, Creer and Poole. To bolster depth a bit, Fulmer has turned to a name from the past ... Ja'Kouri Williams.

Williams was a PrepStar All-American in 2003 after rushing for 63 career touchdowns at Plaquemine (La.) High School. He redshirted as a Vol freshman in 2004, scarcely played in 2005, switched to wide receiver in 2006 and to defensive back in 2007. He recorded 7 tackles last fall, all on special teams.

Williams announced earlier that he would not return for his senior season in 2008 but wavered a bit and elected to participate in spring practice. With the absence of Hardesty and Vereen thinning the tailback ranks, Williams now finds himself getting another shot as a Vol tailback.

"When I moved Daryl Vereen to the secondary, numbers-wise, we needed depth," Fulmer said. "He's given us some nice little plays. I'm glad he's back there."

Whether Williams is willing to remain with the team as an emergency tailback and special-teams player remains to be seen.

"We're going to sit down after this spring and decide if he wants to play that role and special teams or transfer to a Div. II school where he'll play a lot more," Fulmer said. "That'll be up to him … and me."


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