Running back Alvin Kamara, working with the first team, took the second play of Saturday’s situational practice/scrimmage to the short side of the field, but looked to be bottled up by the first-team defense for what should’ve been, at best, a short gain.
But go back to Kamara’s junior college film and you’ll see that being bottled up in the backfield doesn’t always lead to bad results for the offense. And in what among UT’s first truly live situations this spring, Kamara showed that he very well may be able to do the same type of things at the SEC level.
On this instance he set up a block, shook free and sprinted down the sideline, leaving much of the defense behind. Veteran safety Brian Randolph appeared to have the angle on him, but a quick stutter step from Kamara threw off Randolph’s trajectory.
Approximately 40 yards later, he set the first-team offense up in scoring range. With Jalen Hurd sidelined for contact drills, Kamara finished the job as well, taking four straight handoffs inside the 10 before punching it in for the first touchdown of the day on fourth-and-goal.
“On offense (standing out) it was Alvin Kamara,” said head coach Butch Jones. “Alvin continues to just show up, have a workmanlike approach, run with very, very good pad level, be able to make you miss and also pass protection. He is a very good back without the ball in his hands and a good back with the ball in his hands.”
And while the normally live-action deprived media was largely impressed by Kamara’s run on Saturday, the players that see him on a day-to-day basis said it was just another big play in a series of them this spring.
“It’s not surprising,” said linebacker Dillon Bates when asked about the run. “When he first got here, we were throwing the ball with him, and you can tell he’s going to be a playmaker. He’s been playing really well. I’ve been really impressed with Alvin all spring. He’s a hard runner, he’s a fast runner, he’s kind of a quick-twitch guy, and he can get down the field really fast.”
Jones isn’t surprised to see what he’s doing either.
“It is basically what we expected,” he said. “What you see on video is what you see in person. He runs with very, very good body lean, very good pad level. The things you don’t see on video though has been great. You try to research every player that comes in your program, but our football team has embraced him.”
Perhaps slightly more surprising, however, has been how he’s stepped up as a leader. On the surface, he’s somewhat of an unlikely candidate to do that. It’s been well-documented that a few off-the-field missteps at Alabama led to his detour in junior college that eventually led him back to the SEC, this time at Tennessee.
Even in the best of scenarios, a player like that generally might need some time to acclimate into a new program. Kamara, the only fully healthy scholarship back on the team this spring, seems to be fully embracing his second opportunity.
“He is becoming a leader of this football team, he shows up with great consistency and approach every single day,” Jones said. “We know what we are getting with him. He is very, very competitive. He had an ankle sprain on Thursday and we were saying, ‘Okay, let’s see if he goes,’ and he had his best practice. Then he put two practices back to back. He has been extremely productive for us. He has been a great spokesperson for the culture here and what we are building here.”
He even showed some humility and leadership when asked about his big play on Saturday.
“It was the O-line,” Kamara said. “They got some good blocks up front, got some good push, and I was able to read it, be able to understand what they were doing up front, was able to read it, get that big run and get able to start the scrimmage off right.”
He doesn’t lack confidence, however. He recounted a story of beating linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin to the corner on UT’s first practice in pads. And he said that big run on Saturday wasn’t his first of the spring, and probably not the last either. Tennessee fans hope that’s the case. He’ll be counted on to bring that kind of production to Neyland Stadium when the Vols strap it on for real this fall.
“I’ve had a couple (big plays this spring),” he said. “It just goes to understanding the offense and understanding the tempo of the game, and when I’m comfortable with that, I can break runs all day.”