Thinking man's tailback

He has broad shoulders, soft hands, shifty hips, powerful calves and quick feet. Still, the greatest attribute of Tennessee's top tailback is above the neck, not below it.

What sets Arian Foster apart is his sharp mind. That's the word from first-year Vol running backs coach Stan Drayton.

"The thing that impresses me the most is how smart of a football player he is," Drayton said this week. "With most players, either their body has to do it for them to learn it or he has to physically see it to learn it."

Many football players want to know their assignment and ONLY their assignment. Foster takes a different approach.

"Arian, if you don't give him the whole concept of what's going on, then he doesn't understand it," Drayton said. "He learns like a football coach. He needs to know exactly what the receivers are doing. He needs to know what the offensive linemen are doing. He needs to understand what the coordinator is thinking when he calls the play. Once he has all that, he's good to go."

Since the most physically gifted player on many teams is the No. 1 tailback, exceptional talent obviously is an absolute necessity. But brains can be a significant attribute, as well.

"The advantage for me on game day is to be able to make adjustments," Drayton said. "When you have a player out there who sees it all and understands it and can give you good information as to what's going on out there, you can make the adjustment and keep the pace rolling.

"That's a huge advantage for me, and I've had that only one other time in my career. That was with Brian Westbrook."

Westbrook, the only player in Villanova history to produce 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving in the same season, has gone on to become an all-pro with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. Thus, comparing Foster to Westbrook is quite a compliment.

"Brian was cerebral like that, and Arian definitely has that quality," Drayton said. "Once these NFL scouts pick up on that, he'll be a hot commodity, no question."

In addition to his intelligence, Foster possesses a rare level of versatility. At 6-1 and 225 pounds, he has the size to run between the tackles and pass protect. He also has enough speed to get outside and exceptional hands that catch just about everything thrown his way.

"Arian's greatest strength is that he's very versatile," Vol offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said. "He's obviously good with the football as a tailback but he's also a very good pass protector and he's skilled enough that you can line him up at receiver at times and get him the ball in space."

Even before joining the UT staff, Drayton recognized Foster's versatility. He saw it displayed once per season while coaching at SEC East rival Florida the past three years.

"I knew he had the ability to catch the football," Drayton said, "and I knew we had the ability to put him in a lot of different situations to have success outside of just giving him the football behind the line of scrimmage."

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