Vol position analysis: TBs

This is the second in a series of articles comparing Tennessee football's 2009 talent at each position to its 2008 talent at the position. Today's topic: Tailback.

Given that the second-most productive rusher in Tennessee football history recently exhausted his eligibility, you'd assume the Vols' tailback corps would be a bit weaker in 2009.

Well ... maybe not.

Arian Foster got 1,193 of his 2,964 career yards in 2007, only 570 of them in 2008 ... when the entire Vol offense came to a screeching halt.

Also missing from the 2008 tailback corps is Lennon Creer, who ranked second among Vols with 388 rushing yards as a sophomore last fall. Creer quit the team midway through spring practice.

The clubhouse leaders in the race to replace Foster and Creer are senior Montario Hardesty (6-0, 215) and sophomore Tauren Poole (5-10, 203), who came out of spring practice ranked 1-2 on the depth chart.

Plagued by injuries, Hardesty has rushed for 1,046 yards in three-plus seasons, with a modest 3.8 per-carry average. When healthy, he's a quality back. The problem is that he's so rarely healthy.

Poole ran for a mere 86 yards as a true freshman last fall but turned some heads in spring scrimmages, rushing 43 times for 239 yards and a fine 5.56 yards-per-carry average. Most of those runs were against second-team defenders, however, who bear little resemblance to the SEC defenders he'll be facing this fall.

Toney Williams, a mid-term freshman, also showed some flashes during spring practice. The 6-0, 218-pounder rushed 41 times for 192 yards and a 4.68 per-carry average.

While Hardesty, Poole and Williams appear to be good backs, the guys who have Big Orange Country buzzing are two celebrated newcomers who have yet to participate in a Vol workout.

Bryce Brown ran for 1,872 yards and 30 touchdowns as a high school senior last fall, earning recognition as Scout.com's No. 1 overall prospect in America. David Oku ran for 1,905 yards and 23 TDs last fall, stats which got him a No. 9 ranking among Scout.com's running back prospects.

If Tennessee were facing the prospect of replacing the 1,193 yards Arian Foster ran for in 2007, the task would be a big challenge. The prospect of replacing the 570 yards he accumulated in 2008 is not.

With the aid of more athletic blockers and more help from a passing attack that was utterly inept last fall, Tennessee's tailbacks should be more effective in 2009 than they were in 2008.

Using my usual scale – Plus-2 (significantly improved), Plus-1 (somewhat improved), 0 (about the same), Minus-1 (somewhat weaker) and Minus-2 (significantly weaker) – I'm giving the tailback position a rating of Plus-2. All of the factors mentioned above should help make Tennessee's tailbacks a lot more productive than they were a year ago.

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