UT's Gen Next Tailbacks

Tennessee remains a prominent player for a couple of big-time, five-star tailbacks, but it also has a pair of four-star tailbacks committed that could easily pass as ultra elite talent.

The big targets on the Vols' radar screen are No. 4 ranked Tavon Austin of Baltimore, Md., and No. 6 ranked David Oku of Oklahoma City, Okla., a pair of five-star prospects on virtually every D-I most wanted list.

Tennessee is battling Florida State, Louisville, Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State and USC for the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Oku, and are up against Georgia, Maryland, Michigan, Penn State, South Carolina and West Virginia for the 5-foot-8, 170-pound Austin.

It's still early. There are official visits to take and phone calls to field. There are seasons still to play and impressions yet formed. In other words: UT fans shouldn't hold their collective breath awaiting a decision anytime soon.

Of course either or both could get tired of the process and call a halt by making a commitment, but they are both invested now and a quick conclusion doesn't appear to be in the cards. That could be a good or bad thing for Tennessee depending on how the season unfolds following Monday's damaging defeat.

Fortunately the Vols' quick start to the 2009 recruiting campaign netted a couple of tailbacks with next level skills and big-play capability. That's good because with leading rusher Arian Foster is a senior and Montario Hardesty is a redshirt junior, which means he would be a strong candidate for early entry into the 2009 NFL Draft with a decent 2008 showing.

Lennon Creer didn't have any carries against UCLA, but the sophomore has all the ingredients to be a standout tailback, and he should see more action in the near future. The problem for Tennessee was that the offense never established enough consistency to justify playing a third back. There was production in the ground game but there were also confusion, and Creer, who is the youngest of this tailback trio, was odd man out in a contest that was always in doubt.

Strictly from a recruiting standpoint, it's interesting to note Creer was ranked the nation's No. 9 running back in the Class of 2007, while Hardesty was the nation's No. 19 cornerback prospect in the Class of 2005. Foster was ranked No. 69 among the I-backs in 2004 and he's on pace to break Tennessee's career rushing mark.

Clearly a school can find value throughout the rankings. A lot of it depends on fit, running style, versatility, durability and applicability. In Thigpin and Giles the Vols obtain excellent value at the No. 33 and No. 34 rankings respectively.

At 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, Thigpin could become a star at cornerback, but it's hard to believe UT's offensive staff could walk away from his track speed and acute football instincts. Folks we're talking 4.34 time in the 40 with an electric 4.08 short shuttle and a standing broad jump of 10 feet. Throw in his NFL DNA (His uncle Gary Lang played for LSU as well as Denver and Atlanta.) and there has to be a hundred ways to have Thigpin plugged in UT's new, and still evolving, offense.

Giles plays bigger than the 6-0, 180, he's listed. There's no wasted motion in his running style. He hits the hole low and hard, and is near top speed in three steps. He demonstrates excellent vision and can cut on a dime. He runs a consistent 4.5 and sometimes below. Brings a combination of between-the-tackles power and safety-splitting velocity. He explodes out of his cuts into an easy glide that belies his superb speed.

With all that may ail Tennessee's offense, the running game showed promise and the balanced yardage ledger makes it tougher to defend. There is plenty of talent and depth in the backfield and there's more help on the way.

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