Smash and dash. Thunder and lightning. Many of the great running back duos have a nickname, and now Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, UT’s latest duo, have dubbed themselves with a moniker as they look to become one of the best in the SEC.
“We want to be the best,” Kamara, a former Alabama running back and top junior college transfer said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “That’s what we talk about. It’s CMG. That is our style. We want to take that everywhere we go, any stadium we go. As a running back, that is what we want to do. That is our job. We want to move the chains.”
CMG – or the “Chain Moving Gang” – is what they refer to themselves as behind the scenes, and now UT is getting a glimpse of what they can do on the field this spring before they get to work on the SEC this fall.
The early results are extremely positive. Even while battling through injuries this spring, both have had their moments. Kamara was the star of the first situational scrimmage in Neyland Stadium a couple weeks ago, and put together another impressive performance on Saturday. Hurd, who has been in a non-contact jersey all spring, has been more limited, but fans got a chance to see what he could do as a freshman last year as he piled up over 1,000 total yards of offense.
Running backs coach Robert Gillespie said Hurd’s come a long way even from that impressive campaign.
“Size – Jalen’s a bigger guy now,” Gillespie said of how Hurd’s progressed. “You put on Game 1 against Utah State (last year), he was just dangling around, getting banged around, but he understood pad level, how to finish runs, pre-snap reads and he’s only built on that because he’s gotten bigger and stronger and he’s aggressive – he’s got a chip on his shoulder – he’s got a lot to prove. He just wants to be the best. He realizes that there are a lot of yards he left out there, and if he would’ve stayed healthy, he could’ve add a few more here or there and could’ve helped out the team in a few more ways, so he’s just aggressive and ready to go.”
Now set to be paired with Kamara, who came in as a five-star recruit, according to some recruiting services, the Vols at least have the potential to have one of the best duos in the SEC. There’s some lofty company to keep up with in the conference. Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and LSU could also boast of a duo that could compete to be the best in the conference.
Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord has been around long enough to see some great backs in his time, and he likes the potential of the GMG.
“I like them a lot,” DeBord said. “They’re quick, they’re fast and I think they’re very durable, which that is probably the greatest measure of a running back. I like them both and, you know, we’re going to need them both.”
And while the Vols know they need them both, Hurd and Kamara have learned they need each other too. Both have the talent to start at a major program. There’s no denying that. But it’s a two-back league, and rare are the situations when a back takes 30-35 carries in a game anymore.
“I think they all know, they both know that they need each other,” said head coach Butch Jones. “You can never have enough running backs, I think that has been proven over time. Their relationship – they push each other, they coach each other, they help each other, they respect each other. I think they both play off each other’s skill sets.”
“Jalen and I – I feel like we compliment each other well,” Kamara added. “He and I are two goofy guys. We get along well in the meeting room. We blend well. I don’t really feel like there is really any pressure between him and me.”
Gillespie understands some of the potential tension. He split time with Earnest Graham at Florida as a player, and knows that it can be a thin line between helpful competition and frustration building up.
“When Shaq and Kobe played together, they probably hated each other a little bit, but he didn’t mind getting pushed,” he said. “Same thing with LeBron and Dwyane Wade. You’ve got to get those guys who want to be pushed, but can take a back seat when they have to, but also be aggressive and be leaders, and I think those guys have that kind of mindset so far.”
There’s no master vision for Gillespie yet on how the two will be utilized. One option is simple – forget the 50/50 or 60/40 idea and go with the hot hand.
“I don’t care,” Gillespie said. “I’m not real good at math. Whoever’s playing is going to continue to play. I don’t go in there with a set number. Whoever’s balling is going to ball. Whoever’s playing is going to play, so I don’t go in there with a set number – I’m not a visionary – I’m just a football coach.”
But there’s another option that could be even scarier for opposing defenses. And that’s to use them both at the same time. Both can block, both can receive and both can certainly run the ball, so the idea of keeping them both on the field in scenarios, while pushing the tempo and wearing down a defense is an appealing one to the coaching staff as well.
“Absolutely, I can see that,” said Gillespie. “I would like to see that a lot … We feel like we have two guys that can do a lot and I think that puts defenses in a bind. Add the new young guys we’ll get in the summer – I think those guys will be able to give us some versatility also, so we’ll continue to build on that package, having those guys on the field at the same time.”
Whatever it takes to keep the CMG moving.