This time last year, the Vols had two experienced running backs ready to carry the load on offense in Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd. This year, Tennessee has a somewhat experienced back in John Kelly and a wealth of talented but inexperienced backs behind him.
Kelly is the lone scholarship upperclassmen in the group of running backs for the Vols this season. Behind him is sophomore Carlin Fils-Aime and three freshmen backs. And according to Butch Jones, that trio of freshmen will all see playing time this season.
“All three of (the freshmen) are going to play,” Butch Jones said after practice on Tuesday. “I think they’re pushing John Kelly, and he’s doing a great job of bringing energy and teaching them the expectations. We’ve been very excited and encouraged by all three.
“All three are going to have to play. They’re going to be very important to the success of our season.”
Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan, and Trey Coleman are the three freshmen running backs Jones thinks will play for the Vols this season. Chandler was a consensus four-star running back and a top-100 overall player in the country in the 2017 class according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Coleman was listed as a three-star athlete while Jordan, a late addition to the Vols’ 2017 class, was the lowest rated player in Tennessee’s 2017 class according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
But regardless of their individual rankings, Jones says he likes what he’s seen from all three of them, and that includes more than just running the football as well.
“I see them continuing to get better not just in terms of running the football, but also in pass protection and also playing out on the perimeter as well,” Jones stated. “There’s a difference between being a rusher and a running back. And in our offense, a running back has to have a number of different skill sets.
“And again, it’s not just the ability to run the football and take care of it, but also what we ask of them in the throw game and in the pass protection game. How you carry out the ball fakes, and all those things that go into that.”
The freshmen have had such a strong start to fall camp that a more experienced back in Carlin Fils-Aime has taken a bit of a backseat when it comes to media coverage. But Jones made sure to clarify that the sophomore is still in the mix at running back.
“He’s progressing as well,” Jones said of Fils-Aime. “The great thing is there’s competition, and he’s being pushed every single day by the youngsters.”
The last true freshman that made significant contributions as a running back for the Vols was back in 2014 when Jalen Hurd backed up Marlin Lane and eventually overtook him as a starter. Hurd ran for 899 yards and five touchdowns on 190 carries as a freshman. He also hauled in 35 receptions for 221 yards and two scores.
None of the freshmen backs this year will be asked to take on a Hurd-like role in 2017. But Butch Jones likes what he’s seen from his young backs so far, and he expects all three will play in some capacity this season.