Backs for the future

Senior Arian Foster and junior Montario Hardesty give Tennessee an exceptional 1-2 punch at tailback. But two punches aren't always enough in SEC play.

That's why reserve tailbacks Lennon Creer and Tauren Poole – neither of whom played in Game 1 at UCLA – are likely to see significant action in Saturday's home opener against UAB.

"We've always played three tailbacks and we've always had to play four," head coach Phillip Fulmer noted this week. "They (Creer and Poole) are going to play. Their biggest roles right now are to make some impact as special team's guys. They will get their opportunities to play."

A quick history lesson underscores just how important capable reserve tailbacks have been at Tennessee in recent years:

1998: After rushing for 1,364 yards in '97, sophomore superstar Jamal Lewis suffers a season-ending ACL tear in Game 4. Fortunately for the Vols, Travis Henry and Travis Stephens pick up the slack, helping UT go 13-0 en route to the national title.

2005: After rushing for 1,107 yards in '04, senior standout Gerald Riggs suffers a season-ending ankle injury in Game 6. Fortunately for the Vols, redshirt freshman Arian Foster picks up the slack, averaging 148 yards per game over the last five contests.

2006: After rushing for 879 yards as a freshman in '05, Foster misses two games due to injury and is limited to three or fewer carries in four others as a sophomore. Fortunately for the Vols, Montario Hardesty and LaMarcus Coker pick up the slack, enabling the Vols to finish 9-4.

Foster enjoyed relatively good health in '07, but what if his 2008 season is as injury-plagued as his '06 season was? And what if Hardesty's three-year run of health problems continues this fall?

That's why Creer and Poole are likely to play early and often in Saturday's game with UAB. Both need to be ready in case Foster or Hardesty – or both – should fall victim to injury this season. With a 12-game grind on tap that features eight rugged SEC tests, Tennessee almost certainly will need Creer and Poole at some point this fall.

"They're out there competing," first-year offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said. "Right now it's certain that Arian and Montario are one and two. But Lennon, I think, has had a great week of practice. He's really run hard, he's had a great attitude. And Tauren's a quality player.

"(Based on) the amount of times we're going to run the ball with our tailbacks, we need to have depth there. Those guys to some point have to wait for their opportunity, but they're probably going to get it sooner than they think."


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