The Tennessee offense will gain a new identity under head coach Butch Jones and new offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. If Tennessee adopts a similar style to one of the coaches ran while at Cincinnati, the Vols will likely see more rushing attempts, a far cry from the air-raid offense displayed in recent years.
Rajion Neal enters his senior year as the starting running back for the Vols. Neal showed glimpses of the prospect Tennessee hoped for when they recruited him in 2010 last season. However, Neal lacked elite SEC rushing totals due to an inconsistent amount of carries.
With the departure of the entire starting passing attack, a new scheme and the most experience of all rushers on the depth chart, the opportunity for Neal to shine is his for the taking. During his time at Tennessee, Neal has been a victim of multiple factors that have hindered his success.
Neal was switched to the wide receiver position as a sophomore due to a lack of touches he received sitting behind Tauren Poole and eventually Marlin Lane as well. As a junior, Neal was switched back to running back and saw the meek majority of carries from the backfield.
For the first time in years, the Volunteers are built for a solid rushing attack. Despite the departure of Dallas Thomas, the already impressive Vol offensive line will likely be even better with experience next season.
Although success on running plays may have been the product of opposing defenses in pass coverage for the majority of Tennessee offensive drives, a more run oriented offense will benefit the success of the starting tailback.
Neal has the talent and is finally given the keys to the Vol offense. Since Montario Hardesty in 2009, Vol running backs have seen a major increase in production during their final season in Knoxville.
Neal is the most likely candidate to continue this trend of success with a solid offensive line and a more run-oriented offense. The odds are likely that his production in the Vols offense will increase this season.