Poole's baptism of fire

Imagine you're a true freshman tailback about to play your first snap in a college game. Already tense, you feel your nerves spike when the quarterback calls a play giving you the football.

Oh, yeah ... and you're on your own 3-yard line.

No pressure, right?

Incredibly, all of the above happened to Tennessee's Tauren Poole Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium. Granted, the Vols were leading UAB 35-3 in the fourth quarter. Still, giving a freshman the ball on his first college snap from his own 3-yard line is tempting fate, isn't it?

Not if you're Stan Drayton. The Vol running backs coach says he had no reservations about putting Poole in such a high-pressure situation.

"None whatsoever," Drayton said, flashing a big grin. "That's the one kid that has not put the ball on the ground since he's been here."

Poole, a mid-term enrollee from Toccoa, Ga., has "been here" since January. He showed in spring practice and again in preseason camp that he is good with the ball in his hands and even better at KEEPING the ball in his hands.

As Drayton put it: "From a ball-security standpoint, from a demeanor standpoint, I had absolutely no reservation about putting him in the game at that time."

Poole's first carry, predictably, was a run up the middle designed to get the ball off the goal line. He was stopped in his tracks for no gain. His second carry – on the very next play – was a virtual replay of the first. After a 42-yard pass play got the Vols close to midfield, Poole got another carry up the middle. This time he gained one yard.

Poole took another handoff to start Tennessee's next possession. Again he was decked for no gain.

Four carries ... one net yard ... not exactly a scintillating debut.

Poole finally got some running room on his fifth carry, bursting 17 yards off right tackle. Three plays later he rambled for a 19-yard gain.

Poole finished his debut with 43 yards on nine rushes, a solid average of 4.8 yards per carry. Those numbers are skewed by two factors: One, he was running behind second- and third-team offensive linemen. Two, he was running against a tired UAB defense.

Still, Drayton was thrilled that Poole – listed No. 4 at tailback behind senior Arian Foster, junior Montario Hardesty and sophomore Lennon Creer – managed to get some actual game experience.

"It's priceless to get younger guys in the ball game because you know you're going to need them at some point during the course of the year," Drayton said. "We've got 11 straight weeks (without an open date), and playing running back takes a toll.

"I'm very, very fortunate to have four guys to be able to spread some of those hits. If I'm able to continue to do that in a respectful rotation, we'll have four backs at the end of the year really changing the pace on people. A lot of people can't do that from an offensive standpoint."

Creer and Poole never left the sidelines during Tennessee's Game 1 loss at UCLA, so they were understandably pumped about getting some snaps and, more importantly, some carries in Game 2.

"They enjoy playing the game and want the football," Drayton said. "The opportunity presented itself for them, and they took full advantage. Those guys have the skill and the athletic ability. They were just waiting for the opportunity, and they got it."

Dividing snaps among four tailbacks is easy when you're facing a nondescript foe such as UAB. Dividing snaps among four tailbacks when you're facing an SEC-caliber opponent will be a lot more difficult.

"I'm not going to lie to you; it's hard," Drayton said. "But my goal is to have four guys prepared at any given point in time. That is a challenge but they understand what my goal is and they're on board with that."

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