We get you ready for the start of Tennessee’s 2019 fall camp by previewing the Vols’ roster position-by-position. Make sure to check out our look at Tennessee’s wide receivers. Next up is our look at Tennessee’s running backs.
Seniors: Carlin Fils-aime
Juniors: Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan
Sophomores: Jeremy Banks
Freshmen: Eric Gray
Tennessee returns three of its top four running backs from last season heading into the 2019 season. The only loss is Michigan State graduate transfer Madre London, who rushed for 206 yards and three touchdowns on 42 carries last year.
With London being the only loss, 87 percent of Tennessee’s rushing production returns with junior Ty Chandler leading the way. Last season, Chandler rushed for a team-high 630 yards and four touchdowns on only 115 carries.
Chandler’s production wasn’t all positive, though. While he led the team in rushing, 48.9 percent of his production last season came off eight carries spread across several games. On the other 104 carries, he averaged just 3.2 yards per attempt.
Chandler possesses big play potential every time he touches the football, and he’s just as much of a weapon through the air as he is on the ground. Last year, no receiver was more productive in the middle of Tennessee’s season than Chandler. Against Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, and South Carolina, Chandler had 19 catches for 183 yards and three touchdowns. He set a school record by becoming the first running back in UT history to catch a touchdown pass in three-straight games.
But in the other eight games of the season, Chandler failed to pull in a reception.
Most of Chandler’s consistency issues stem from poor offensive line play and Tyson Helton’s inability to properly use his offensive weapons. Under new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, Chandler is poised for a breakout junior season if he can stay healthy.
Tim Jordan enters camp as the apparent No. 2 back. Jordan rushed for 522 yards and three touchdowns on a team-high 132 carries in 2018. He averaged 4.0 yards per rush and received valuable snaps throughout last season.
Though Jordan’s production is similar to Chandler’s, he’s the forgotten man in the Vols’ backfield. He’s capable of providing a positive rush, and he’s a real threat in the passing game where he caught 12 passes for 116 yards.
But in order for Jordan to take the next step, he must improve his vision. If he can do that, then Chandler and Jordan could become a true one-two punch.
Jeremy Banks is the wildcard of Tennessee’s backfield. Banks, a former three-star out of Cordova, Tennessee, is a battering ram. He’s unlike any other back the Vols have. Banks runs angry, willing to lower his head and run a defender over.
The issue with Banks, however, is that he can’t hold on to the football. He rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns on 52 carries as a true freshman last year, but fumbled the football multiple times, leading to dwindling play time midway through the season.
Jeremy Pruitt and Chaney prefer bigger running backs, but that’s not the makeup of this group. The only one who is close to fitting that mold is Banks. If he can prove he can hold on to the football, the Tennessee native could have a much bigger role out of the backfield as a sophomore.
Carlin Fils-aime is another interesting option. The former four-star out of Florida has had an interesting career, bouncing back-and-forth from running back to defensive back. He’s been unable to carve out a role for Tennessee, but he could as a senior.
Chaney loves the jet-sweep out of the backfield. Fils-aime proved to be a good option for that play in the South Carolina game last season. He’s a likely candidate to have the same role this year.
The newcomer to the group is four-star Eric Gray. Gray was an early enrollee after signing in December, but he missed spring practice due to shoulder surgery.
The true freshman out of Memphis brings a dynamic to the running back room that only Chandler can offer. He’s a shifty, three-down back who is also a capable option out of the backfield in the passing game. He’s explosive and could find a role as a true freshman.
Tennessee ranked 114th in the country in rushing yards per game last season, and in order to prevent it from happening again, Tennessee’s 2019 running back room will need to be a group effort.