Drayton has reason to smile

Some of the most significant gains made by Tennessee running backs this spring won't show up on a stat sheet. They're the ones that can't be measured in yards.

That's the kind of gains Vol running backs coach Stan Drayton is referring to as he looks back on last weekend's tuneup scrimmage and looks ahead to this weekend's Orange & White Game.

"We've made some gains," Drayton says. "Obviously, this offense starts with running the football, and we were able to do that (last Saturday). We haven't been able to do that previous to this scrimmage. There's no doubt about it: We're going to walk away with a positive attitude."

The chief positive in recent weeks has been the play of senior tailback Arian Foster. After a nondescript performance in the first spring scrimmage, he ran nine times for 45 yards in Scrimmage No. 2 and seven times for 38 yards in Scrimmage No. 3. That's 16 rushes for 83 yards, an average of 5.2 per carry, over the past two weekends. In addition, he looks quicker than last fall.

"He's really showing me some good stuff," Drayton says. "It looks like he has a little more of a burst about him. He's accelerating. He looks very decisive."

Foster has a gliding style that enables him to feel his way along until he finds an opening. There are times, however, when his position coach would like for him to be more of a north/south runner, especially on third down.

"I want to change his mindset a little bit in short yardage," Drayton said. "He's a cutback kind of a player, and there are opportunities where he can take those big old pads and put 220 pounds behind 'em and get the first down.

"He's working on pad leverage and all of that stuff, and I'm very pleased with Arian right now."

Drayton also is pleased with Lennon Creer, a 6-1, 210-pound sophomore who averaged 5.9 yards per carry in limited playing time last fall. Creer showed great acceleration on a 37-yard run in Saturday's scrimmage and finished with 47 yards on 10 rushes.

"Lennon has some explosion," Drayton notes. "He played on contact, dropped his pads a couple of times."

Like Foster, Creer needs to be a little more of a north/south guy in certain situations. For instance, he was kept out of the end zone on back-to-back snaps from the 1-yard line.

"There were a few situations on the goal line where I felt he should've found a way to score," Drayton recalls. "We'll work on that. That's a pad-leverage situation but he's working on it."

One thing Tennessee's coaches love about Foster is that he's always where he's supposed to be when he's supposed to be there. Creer is still developing this attribute.

"He didn't have any mental breakdowns (in the most recent scrimmage), and that's huge for Lennon," Drayton says. "Lennon's always been pretty good with the ball in his hands. It's when we don't have the ball in his hands ... that's the part of his game we need to improve."

Creer can be pretty special when he has the ball in his hands, as he showed with a beautiful four-yard touchdown run on the final play of Saturday's scrimmage. Running a stretch play to his right, he waited for a crease to open, then bolted into the end zone. That was the kind of patience Drayton has been waiting to see.

"Earlier, Lennon would've maybe tried to cut that thing across the field and not let the play develop," the Vol aide says. "That was a step in the right direction."

Junior tailback Montario Hardesty missed the scrimmage due to a stress fracture, giving mid-term freshman Tauren Poole a chance to showcase his skills. He made the most of the opportunity, exhibiting a terrific burst on a 21-yard run and finishing the afternoon with a scrimmage-high 17 carries for 45 yards.

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

Given the Vols' glut of talent at tailback, that may consist of simply waiting his turn.

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