A quick look around the SEC will show you a common trend in teams who consistently succeed in running the football week in and week out. Teams like Alabama, LSU, Arkansas and Georgia are at or near the top of most rushing statistics when compared to the rest of the conference, and each have built stables of running backs that feature minimal dropoff in either talent or production as you travel “down” the depth chart. Programs that have historically featured a single, stud running back that touched the ball nearly 40 times per game are now calling upon a committee to achieve the same results. These teams are able to cycle in fresh backs all game long which allows them to utilize the skill-sets of various players, possess the football for extended periods of time and, ultimately, wear down opposing defenses.
Tennessee’s 2014 rushing attack hasn’t been what many hoped it would be thanks to a variety of factors: offensive line play, quality of opposing defenses, being forced to pass based on the score…etc. But one of the biggest factors has been the injuries to true freshman Jalen Hurd and senior Marlin Lane that hurt this team’s ability to run the football as effectively as they had hoped. Coming out of fall camp it was clear that the coaching staff felt most comfortable with Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane, and having them banged up took an already whittled position and made it paper thin.
True freshman Derrell Scott looked poised to add some significant depth to Tennessee’s backfield with his performance during fall camp, but injuries forced Scott to the sideline and likely slowed his development. Senior running back Devrin Young had put himself in a similar situation as Scott with his production over the summer after switching to running back from receiver, but a few broken ribs against UTC have left Young unable to play in Tennessee’s last three games and his status going forward remains uncertain.
Not that anyone on Tennessee’s staff needed a reminder, but the old saying, “You can never have too many good running backs” has proved resoundingly true for the Vols this season. The good news for Tennessee players, coaches and fans is that Tennessee looks to be in position to sign another very talented class of running backs in 2015 that will almost certainly add immediate depth and talent to Robert Gillespie’s group.
Rocky Reid and Alvin Kamara are each in the midst of incredible seasons for their respective teams – Reid for Concord High School in North Carolina and Kamara for Hutchinson Community College in Kansas – and both are committed to Tennessee.
During his junior season, Reid – a bullying runner with terrific vision and deceptive speed – rushed 432 times for 3,335 yards and 39 touchdowns. That put him at an astounding 7.8 yards per carry on the season with an average of 209.7 yards per game on the ground.
When a running back has a season like Reid had as a junior, their statistics will often take a dip the following year as opposing teams put an emphasis on stopping the proven player.
Reid’s stats aren’t getting worse this year. They’re getting better.
Through nine games of his senior season, Reid has rushed for over 2,000 yards against teams that are geared to stop him; all while slashing the career rushing record for Cabarrus County, North Carolina. In those nine games this season, the 6’1, 215 pound future Volunteer is averaging 222.3 yards per game and has – by my count – 26 rushing touchdowns. Rocky Reid has almost literally carried his Concord Spiders to a 9-0 start and has shown little signs of slowing down. Reid’s dominating performances are starting to draw the attention of other coaches around the country, as Reid has recently picked up an offer from Mark Richt and the Georgia Bulldogs. More coaches are sure to come calling between now and signing day, but Reid has given zero indication that he will sign with anyone other than Tennessee in February.
Reid’s future teammate, Alvin Kamara, originally signed with Alabama out of high school as a member of the 2013 signing class, but transferred to Hutchinson Community College in Hutchinson, Kansas at the end of last season. (If Hutchinson sounds familiar, that’s because former Vol receiver and current Minnesota Viking, Cordarrelle Patterson played there.)
After not recording a carry for the Crimson Tide during his freshman season, Kamara decided on a change of scenery. Through nine games, Hutchinson sits at 8-1 and Kamara is a big reason why. On the season, he has carried the ball 172 times for 1,211 yards and 18 touchdowns as part of a three-man rotation at running back. He also has 18 catches for 219 yards and another three scores. Kamara is an early enrollee for the Vols and will be here in December to participate in any potential bowl practices should the Vols win at least six.
Butch Jones and this staff may not have done it yet at Tennessee, but they are well aware of what it will take in order to win consistently in the SEC, and running the ball is near the top of the list. Last year’s signings of Derrell Scott and Jalen Hurd proved that this staff know how to close with top-rated players at the position, and the likely additions of Reid and Kamara should only further Vol fans’ confidence moving forward that the depth issues at running back are being handled.