Vols’ running game a step behind

Jesse Smithey
Sports

Even some 10 days after the Orange and White Game, the University of Tennessee football team’s quarterback situation continues to spark debate.

Should Quinten Dormady be named the starter? He went 10-for-10 in the spring game.

Or maybe big-armed Jarrett Guarantano? If he doesn’t play this fall, the threat of him transferring may surface.

Maybe both should be named co-starters? Tough call for Tennessee coach Butch Jones.

In reality, that position should be the least of his worries.

Did you see that running game April 22 in Neyland Stadium? Me neither. It was non-existent.

Sure, expected running back starter John Kelly did not play. But given what his understudies showed before the storms arrived, it’s apparent Tennessee needs a quality backup.

Prized recruit Ty Chandler can’t report to the backfield fast enough.

I’m not one to look too deeply into spring game production, but it was hard not to notice a lack of playmaking ability out of the backfield – especially on a day when the defense wasn’t at SEC level intensity.

Tennessee ran for 57 yards on 21 carries. Running Back U? More like Running Back Who?

Carlin Fils-aime had the long run of the day with nine yards. And just by the time I figured out who Taeler Dowdy was, he limped off the field.

Kelly was held out of the game for precautionary reasons. When we see him again in the fall, Kelly will be Kelly. He averaged 6.4 yards per tote last season, rushing for 80 or more yards five times. He’ll need spells, though, this fall. No team can survive in the SEC with just one quality running back.

Tennessee signed three running backs in the Class of 2017: Chandler, Tim Jordan and Trey Coleman. Chandler is the 4-star, two-time Mr. Football winner from Montgomery Bell Academy who tore through Tennessee high school football as an upperclassman and garnered U.S. Army All-American honors.

Jordan and Coleman are two- and three-star talents, according to Rivals, and not expected to contribute immediately.

I’ve watched Chandler play plenty; he’s capable of pulling this off. In two state title games against a loaded Brentwood Academy team, which was twice replete with high-level Division I talent, Chandler was the best player on the field both nights – running for 218 yards (2016 Division II-AA Blue CrossBowl) and 258 yards (2015 BlueCross Bowl). He sandwiched in a 341-yard performance against Brentwood Academy during the 2016 regular season.

I actually liked Chandler as a running back prospect more than I liked former Tennessee tailback Jalen Hurd – and I watched Hurd run for a TSSAA record 394 yards for Beech in the 2012 BlueCross Bowl.

So that means the pressure is on Tennessee’s staff and running backs coach Robert Gillespie to expedite Chandler’s readiness. His keen cutting ability and uncanny burst past the defensive line and linebackers will prove valuable. 

But for crying out loud, someone teach the kid to pass block before the Florida game. Am I right, Jamal Lewis?

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