Tennessee is famously known as ‘wide receiver u,’ but if the Volunteers are to have much success on offense this year it will have to come from the running backs, of which the Vols have a three-pronged attack.
With inexperienced quarterbacks and wide receivers on the roster, Rajion Neal, Marlin Lane and Alden Hill need to be the stabilizing force on offense to take pressure off those inexperience units, and they appear up to the task.
Saturday night’s scrimmage featured a 98-yard touchdown run from Neal—last year’s leading rusher—and the senior should have his first 1,000-yard season running behind the top offensive line in the SEC.
VIDEO: Big night for Rajion Neal, hear what he had to say about his power and speed: http://t.co/Z7MwSXrcOp
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) August 11, 2013
2012 was a breakout season for Neal who sports a 4.36 time in the 40 and looks poised for a breakout year after his 708 yards and five touchdowns from a year ago. More great news for Tennessee is Neal won’t be alone in having a breakout season in the Tennessee backfield.
Lane is perhaps the most gifted back on the roster, but his offseason left his status with the team in doubt. However, after returning from his offseason suspension, he has looked like a new man after his proverbial wake-up call. The 5’11”, 205 pound Daytona Beach native averaged a full yard more per carry than Neal and will be the yin to Neal’s yang this season. He also happens to be a threat receiving the ball out of the backfield which further enhances his value to the club.
Tennessee will need to adopt a ball-control offense to keep the ball out of the opposing offense’s hands this season and keep their own defense off the field as much as possible. The Vols defense struggled mightily last season under Sal Sunseri, and his departure is the classic case of addition by subtraction, but the defense still has some improvements to make.
The best friend of a rebuilding offense is a strong run game and Tennessee has the makings of that. The offensive line featuring Tiny Richardson, Alex Bullard or Marcus Jackson, James Stone, Zach Fulton and Ja’Wuan James from left to right will be the best friend to Neal, Lane and third running back and spring surprise Alden Hill.
The redshirt freshman took advantage of the extra reps in spring with Lane suspended and capped his breakthrough spring with more than 100 yards in the spring game. At 6’2”, 220 pounds, the former three-star recruit could be called upon to pick up the tough yards near the goal line and on short-yardage.
To have success in the SEC you need more than one outstanding back sharing the load in the backfield as Alabama and Georgia have demonstrated. This is magnified even more when you don’t know who will be taking snaps from center—I think it eventually will be Josh Dobbs—and the team’s best receiver, Marquez North, also is a true freshman.
Prior to the team’s scrimmage Saturday night I posed this question on twitter, “Who leads Tennessee in rushing this season?” The votes were nearly split in thirds among the three and that goes to show you the talent level of the three ball-carriers.
The Vols finished with the 62nd ranked rushing attack a season ago and that was with a hobbled Neal for the second half of the season and Hill redshirted. The 160.3 yards Tennessee averaged last season should climb by at least 25 percent and that would mean a 200-yard average. If Tennessee can average that for the season, they can gain bowl-eligibility.
Butch Jones will have quite a dilemma on his hands finding enough carries for all three, but this is the exact problem that Jones relishes and Tennessee fans should relish watching these three all season long.