Inconsistency has been the word when it comes to the Tennessee running game thus far during spring practice.
Tauren Poole has shown promise at tailback, running for 181 yards off 20 carries, but just over 120 yards have come from just two attempts. Head Coach Derek Dooley said the inconsistency stems from several sources.
"It's a lot of things," Dooley said after Tuesday's practice. "Sometimes we are struggling with blocking movement, but it's also a lot of the fundamentals at the running back position. The first two steps, the eye control, what they're looking at, when to make cuts. So we have a lot of work to do."
While offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is listed as the main running backs coach, but graduate assistant Chino Fontenette handles most of the day-to-day duties when it comes to UT's backfield. Fontenette is anxious to show his charges some consistent faces on the offensive line.
"With the inconsistency of moving guys around and trying guys at different spots, (it's) changing some of the run reads," Fontenette said. "Once you get consistent in those areas (offensive line), we can set our run keys and allow our backs to see one thing every time they run each run.
"Right now they are getting different keys, but it's still on us. We need to be able to read those keys and make those adjustments."
Poole agreed that it would be nice to see the same guys on every play, but at the end of the day it's still about the running back doing the right thing.
"It's all about being patient and it sucks sometimes when you switch guys up, because you get so used to seeing certain guys, but the keys tell you everything no matter who is in, it don't matter," Poole said.
Despite inconsistency Poole has sprung two extremely long runs in the two scrimmages thus far during spring practice, but Fontenette says Poole is getting a lot of help on the long scampers.
"At the second level he has done some great things, broke some tackles and he is seeing the hole. When all eleven guys come together you can get those results."
Last season the Volunteers featured Montario Hardesty at tailback and he took most of the snaps out of the backfield. Hardesty was that one-size-fits-all runner that coaches dream about, but this season Vol fans might see a little something different.
Fontenette said the Vols coaching staff hasn't quite found a feature back, but he is excited about what all three running backs bring to the table.
"It's invaluable to the offense, it gives us a lot of dimensions between the twenties," Fontenette said. "We are still looking for that guy to be able to take it all the way, take it the distance. We are still finding ourselves up front, in the backfield and obviously at quarterback. Once we can all get consistent you are definitely going to see some more positive results."
While Poole may be the leader in the clubhouse at this point, Poole said he thinks the competition is far from complete.
"I think we are all still going to be competing for that number one job," Poole said. "I don't think they will really name a guy right now. They don't want people to get complacent; they want us all to continue to work at it."
Even if Poole is the guy, he said he could be more excited about the guys that would be following him in the lineup, including David Oku, Toney Williams and even newly signed recruit Rajion Neal.
"We have guys that can get the job done and we have one coming in, Rajion Neal, that is going to do a great job here," Poole said. "It feels great to have guys like that behind you because you know when everything is off your shoulders you have someone to come in and pick up the slack when you come out of the game."
Georgia native Williams is just getting back into the swing of things after recently being cleared to return to practice following a torn ACL injury and extensive rehab. Fontenette is excited about Williams' development to this point.
"He is pushing very hard," Fontenette said. "I think it is a very difficult process coming back from the injury and having to hit the ground full speed. We don't have a lot of depth at running back, but he is working his way through it."
David Oku, the Volunteers other tailback, seems to be growing into his role quite nicely as a sophomore and has impressed Fontenette at times.
"David is doing a good job right now maturing. He is seeing a lot, he is very erratic, but he does a good job when he locks in and focuses on his keys."
All three Tennessee tailbacks will be on display Saturday afternoon for the Orange and White game in Neyland Stadium.