Happy with Hardesty

Most observers were surprised when a guy with a career rushing average of 3.8 yards per carry ran for 79 yards on just four carries in Tennessee's final preseason scrimmage. Not Stan Drayton, though.

Tennessee's first-year running backs coach knew from watching Montario Hardesty on film that the 6-0, 210-pound Vol junior had big-play capabilities. So, Hardesty's gaudy stats in full-scale Scrimmage No. 3 didn't surprise Drayton at all.

"No, because there was film where you saw flashes of greatness," the Vol aide said. "You saw a great back."

Film of Hardesty at his best is hard to come by because the New Bern, N.C., product has been either sidelined or limited by injury for most of the past three years. Simply put, he has spent more time in Tennessee's training room than in Tennessee's huddle.

Here's a brief recap:

He carried just six times in 2005 before a knee injury ended his freshman season. He played in all 13 games of 2006 but was nicked enough to carry just 107 times for 384 yards. His health failed him again in '07, as a stress fracture caused him to miss three games and play hurt in 10 others. He then missed spring practice to let the fracture heal.

"It's unfortunate that he's had the misfortunes that he's had," Drayton said. "But he's been healthy (this season) and I think he can stay healthy.

"If we're smart with him during the course of the season and can keep him healthy, he can give us the component that we need."

A healthy Hardesty could be a big help for the Vols. Even at 210 pounds, he is the team's most powerful inside runner.

"He's a very physical ball-carrier," Drayton said. "Now he's taking it seriously to really learn to play the game at the speed it needs to be played. His total focus is great. I can't complain at all about Montario."

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