Tailback depth 'unbelievable'

The Tennessee Vols discovered in 1998 that you need more than one horse in the stable.

When superstar tailback Jamal Lewis suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 4 at Auburn that fall, backups Travis Stephens and Travis Henry picked up enough of the slack to guide the Vols to a 13-0 record and the national championship.

Arian Foster, the starting tailback for 2008, may not be another Jamal Lewis but he is a thoroughbred in his own right. And he does appear to have some capable backups ready, willing and able to step into key roles, if needed.

Those backups are 6-0, 210-pound junior Montario Hardesty, 6-1, 210-pound sophomore Lennon Creer and 5-10, 200-pound freshman Tauren Poole.

"It's unbelievable depth," first-year Vol running backs coach Stan Drayton says. "I'm very fortunate to have kind of depth, that kind of talent. All of those guys are going to need each other during the course of the season."

Hardesty runs exceptionally hard when healthy, which is a rare occurrence. He'll get the first call off the bench in Monday night's opener at UCLA.

"Montario Hardesty is a guy who has some SEC experience," Drayton notes. "He brings a physical component to the game. He's going to complement Arian in a lot of different ways."

Creer, a heralded Texan, is comparable to Foster in that he does a lot of things well.

"You have Lennon Creer, who has similar versatility to Arian Foster," Drayton says. "We'll be able to use him in a lot of different ways – in the pass game, third-down situations, things of that sort."

Poole enrolled at mid-term and made such an impact in spring practice that UT promptly moved bright prospect Daryl Vereen from tailback to safety.

"Tauren Poole is a freshman who will be in a limited role but we'll be creative in putting him on the field," Drayton says. "We'll get into a two-tailback system at times and get him in there to do some of the things we want him to do to keep the speed of the game where we want it."

No one is suggesting that the 2008 tailback stable is on par with its 1998 predecessor. Incredibly, that '98 group featured three 1,000-yard rushers – Lewis (1,364 yards in '97), Henry (1,314 in 2000) and Stephens (a school-record 1,464 yards in 2001). What the '08 stable does have is a variety of skills that will enable Tennessee to do a lot of things offensively.

"It's unbelievable," Drayton says. "It just keeps your offense moving. Our offensive coordinator during the course of a game does not have to second-guess a call because of who's in the game. He can feel comfortable with any one of those four guys in the game.

"If I put a different tailback in there, we don't have to change our call because of that. That's an unbelievable advantage we have right now."

Sounds like Stan's eager for Monday night to arrive, doesn't it?

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