The Vol aide insists that Creer's increased role does not suggest that Foster will play a correspondingly decreased role. And, contrary to earlier TV reports, junior Montario Hardesty will not start ahead of Foster this Saturday night against Northern Illinois.
"Arian will start," Drayton said. "He'll be the first guy out."
Offensive coordinator Dave Clawson confirmed as much, although he conceded that Hardesty, Creer and freshman Tauren Poole are pushing hard for more playing time. Hardesty got more carries (10) and more yards (35) than Foster in the Auburn game. Creer saw some fourth-quarter action, while Foster did not.
"Arian's still the starter," Clawson said. "If he goes out there and plays well and we're moving the ball, we'll keep him in there. It's a good problem: There's not enough footballs (for four good tailbacks)."
Despite the vote of confidence, Foster's psyche may be a bit fragile after losing a crucial fumble at the UCLA 5-yard line in a 27-24 Game 1 loss to the Bruins, then losing an even costlier one at the Tennessee goal line in the 14-12 Game 4 loss to Auburn.
"It's fine right now," Drayton said of Foster's mindset. "We all make mistakes. Arian is a guy who leads our offense in explosive plays. How do you handle him? You teach him a little bit of amnesia. You get him fixed on the things that have been mistakes for us. He's fine. I think he's going to be fine emotionally. From a football standpoint, I think he's ready to go. He'll be OK."
Although Drayton is determined to keep his No. 1 tailback from dwelling on the mishap at Auburn, the Vol aide says Foster – not quarterback Jonathan Crompton – was at fault on the fateful fumble.
"It was on him," Drayton said. "It was one of those base fundamental things that you do. Every day you get hundreds of exchanges from quarterback to running back. It was just one of those freak things where he reached his exchange point and his elbow wasn't up high enough, so the ball hit the elbow.
"That's a base fundamental – that a running back have his elbow up as high as he can as he goes through the exchange process. It was his fault. It's tough to accept but we learn from that. We move on from that."