During the 2009 season there was no question Montario Hardesty was the Vols workhorse coming out of the backfield. Hardesty led the Volunteers with 1,345 yards rushing in 2009 along with 13 touchdowns.
Derek Dooley and his newly formed coaching staff will be faced with the tough challenge of replacing Hardesty in the 2010 season, although there will be no shortage of talent to choose from.
Looking ahead to 2010 let's preview the Volunteer backfield.
Tauren Poole – Junior (Toccoa, GA)
5'10" 203 lbs.
Tauren Poole will be entering his junior season in 2010 and will certainly receive Tennessee's new head coach with open arms. Poole seemed to have fallen off the radar in 2009 when Lane Kiffin signed highly touted recruits Bryce Brown and David Oku.
Poole only saw offensive action in four of Tennessee's 2009 games. Poole collected 85 yards on just 10 attempts during the 2009 season.
With a new coaching regime Poole will again have the chance to prove that he has the talent to be Dooley's lead dog.
Bryce Brown – Sophomore (Wichita, KS)
6'1" 215 lbs.
Bryce Brown was Lane Kiffin's claim to fame during his first few months on Rocky Top. Brown was considered by many to be the top recruit in the country in 2009 and was treated as such during his first season at Tennessee.
Brown was second in line behind Montario Hardesty throughout the 2009 season. Brown accumulated 460 yards rushing and broke for three touchdowns. He was also heavily involved in the Volunteers passing attack.
If there was any negative to Brown during his freshman season it would have to be durability, as the newcomer battled several concussions as well as a nagging hip injury during his opening season in the orange and white.
Brown will have to prove to his new coach that he has what it takes to be an every down back in the SEC.
David Oku – Sophomore (Midwest City, OK)
5'10" 186 lbs.
David Oku saw limited action during his opening season with the Volunteers. Many may recall seeing Oku as a steady performer in the return game rather than the rushing attack.
As a freshman, Oku rushed for 94 yards on only 23 attempts and collected two touchdowns. Out of high school Oku was highly touted as an all-purpose running back that could run and catch the ball out of the backfield.
During his opening season Oku preached patience, but with a new coaching staff look for the youngster to try to plow his way into a more consistent role in the Tennessee rushing attack.
Toney Williams – Medical Redshirt Freshman (Alpharetta, GA)
6'1" 227 lbs.
Toney Williams could be the most talented and yet the most overlooked runner heading into spring practice. Williams seemed to be one of the Vols most talented running backs after his showing in the 2009 spring game.
After an excellent stint during spring football, Williams tore his ACL during 7-on-7 summer workouts. The young tailback has since undergone surgery and extensive rehabilitation and will be ready for spring football once again in 2010.
Williams signed with the Volunteers as a four-star prospect that collected over 1,800 yards during his senior season. Look for Williams to make a splash with new head coach Derek Dooley and possibly emerge as a top threat for the Volunteers.
Rajion Neal – 3* commitment (Tyrone, GA)
5'11" 201 lbs.
Rajion Neal is Derek Dooley's only running back commitment for the 2010 signing class. Assuming Neal inks with the Vols he will enter the Tennessee program in the summer of 2010 seemingly buried on the Tennessee depth chart.
Neal will enter Tennessee's football team behind a stable of more talented and more experienced tailbacks. Pending injuries, look for the freshman to be a redshirt during his opening season with the Vols, but keep your eye out for this talented young man heading in to 2011.
Tennessee headmaster Derek Dooley will have no shortage of talent to choose from at running back entering his first season at the helm of the Volunteers. The question is, who will emerge as the Vols lead rusher?