We get you ready for the start of spring practice for Tennessee’s football team with our position preview series. Up next is a look at the Vols’ running backs. You can read our preview of the Vols’ wide receivers here.
Seniors: Carlin Fils-aime
Juniors: Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan
Sophomores: Jeremy Banks, Princeton Fant (RB)
Freshmen: Eric Gray
Last season, Ty Chandler and Tim Jordan proved to be a capable duo at running back for the Vols, and Jeremy Banks flashed some potential. But Tennessee’s running game needs to improve in 2019, and that starts this spring.
A lot of the Vols’ woes in the run game were more because of the offensive line rather than anything the running backs did, but UT’s running backs will need to take a step forward this upcoming season regardless. Luckily for them, new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has a history of utilizing running back talent exceptionally well. The Vols also have a new position coach at running back, as David Johnson moves from coaching receivers to coaching UT’s backfield. Johnson coached running backs for four seasons at Tulane from 2012-15 before coaching receivers at Memphis and again at UT last year.
Ty Chandler will likely be the lead back for the Vols again this year, and his play-making ability both as a runner and a pass catcher will be vital for UT’s offense. Tim Jordan needs to learn how to make quicker decisions and cut to the hole rather than dance around like he did last year. Jordan has the potential to be a very effective power back, but he needs to continue to learn the playbook and improve his craft this spring to reach his potential.
Carlin Fils-aime returned to the running back room during the season and was used sparingly, but he made some positive plays in the few snaps he got. His role in the offense will be interesting to gauge, and he’ll be battling for that third spot on the depth chart.
But the lone senior in UT’s running back group will have plenty of competition for playing time.
Rising sophomore Jeremy Banks will start out at running back in the spring according to Jeremy Pruitt, but he could end up moving to linebacker at some point. He briefly moved there last season before moving back to running back. Banks showed some promise as a powerful runner last year, but he had problems holding on to the ball, fumbling it three times in the first half of the season.
If Banks sticks at running back heading into the fall, he has a real shot of being a big-time contributor for the Vols. It’ll all depend on his ability to take care of the football and what Tennessee’s linebacking corps does.
Princeton Fant didn’t see the field a great deal last year, and that likely doesn’t change this year. It’ll be worth watching to see if he moves positions this spring, though.
The lone newcomer to the running back room is four-star Eric Gray out of Memphis. He brings a dynamic play-making ability and high-end speed that Tennessee lacks at running back, and his skill set is something none of Tennessee’s other backs have. Chandler is similar in that regard, but Gray has even more ability than most think Chandler does.
Gray was a record-setting running back in high school, and he was a huge addition to Tennessee’s 2019 signing class. He’s an early enrollee and should challenge for playing time immediately barring any sort of injuries or setbacks.
Grad transfer Madre London is the only running back off last year’s roster who doesn’t return for the spring. Otherwise, the Vols return the bulk of their production from last year in this group. Just like with wide receiver, there’s a lot of returning experience here, but the younger players could provide a shakeup to this unit.
Tennessee figures to still focus on the run game more than the passing game in 2019, so this spring will be big for UT’s stable of backs. The third spot on the depth chart is up for grabs, and not even Chandler or Jordan are safe is someone has a breakout performance in spring practices.