Creer has extra gear

First-team tailback Arian Foster wasn't on the field for Tennessee's last possession against Auburn. Nor was second-team tailback Montario Hardesty.

And, no, they weren't injured.

So, why was third-team tailback Lennon Creer in the lineup with the Vols trailing 14-12 and the game on the line? Because Tennessee needed a big play, and Creer seemed most likely to provide one.

As offensive coordinator Dave Clawson put it: "One of the reasons we had Lennon in the game late is that we were struggling in the pass game, and we thought, if we were going to break a big one, he might give us our best opportunity."

Creer might be the most highly regarded third-team tailback in college football. Ironically, Tennessee's coaches seem more inclined to give him praise than to give him the ball.

"He hasn't played a whole lot of football but he gets in there and he's a change of pace," running backs coach Stan Drayton said.

Asked what makes Creer a "change of pace" from Foster and Hardesty, the Vol aide replied: "Just the threat of taking it home every single time he touches the ball."

In addition to his ability to turn little plays into big plays, Creer has a knack for turning no-gains into modest gains.

As Drayton noted: "When a play is not quite blocked perfectly or there's not a big enough seam, he just finds a way to gain yards and be creative ... make something happen when there's not something there."

Couple this ability to "make something happen" with Tennessee's offensive futility to date, and you wonder why Creer hasn't gotten more touches. He has just 13 carries this fall, compared to 47 for Foster and 34 for Hardesty. In spite of this, Creer has UT's longest scrimmage run of the season, a 45-yard burst vs. UAB.

"He's definitely going to be added into the fold a lot more," Drayton said. "He showed a great maturity level out there (vs. Auburn). He was composed. He made zero mistakes last Saturday, so I'm excited about getting him more in the mix."

Tennessee designed its 2008 offense around Foster, who ran for 1,193 yards in 2007. The way Creer is playing, however, the offense may be tweaked a bit to better accommodate his skills.

"What Lennon brought to the table Saturday kind of forces you to game-plan some things specifically for him," Drayton said. "If you get to a point where you feel like Lennon is doing certain things better than everyone else, you start to scheme personnel groups where he is more involved. That's the way we're going to do it."

The key to Creer moving higher on the Vol depth chart is staying lower to the ground. It's a battle the 6-1, 210-pounder has fought ever since he arrived on campus from Tatum, Texas.

"That's been a huge improvement of his from the spring to now," Drayton said. "He was a guy who ran with high pad level; now he's running with low pad level. You see the result of that when contact is made; he's able to bounce off of contact.

"He has more of a physical running style than you would expect from a body type like Lennon's. We're definitely going to find a way to get him involved more because he's definitely bringing something special to the table."

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