Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney didn’t beat around the bush when he was asked by the media recently about the running back position in his offense. Chaney openly gushed about Eric Gray and Ty Chandler.
“I like them both,” Chaney said. “You can just see there’s an air of maturity with those two kids when they walk on the field. They do their business, they’re real professional in how they look at it.”
Gray and Chandler are both coming off of fairly productive 2019 campaigns.
As a junior, Chandler led the Vols in rushing for the second straight season with 655 yards and three touchdowns on 135 carries. Chandler averaged 4.9 yards per carry, while also hauling in 13 catches for 63 yards. He was also productive as Tennessee’s primary kick-off returner, averaging 22.8 yards per return.
Gray struggled to be consistent throughout his true freshman season, but ended the season on a game. Against Vanderbilt in the regular season-finale, Gray rushed for 246 yards, the most by a true freshman in Tennessee history, surpassing a record set in 1997 by Jamal Lewis. He also scored three touchdowns on the afternoon. Gray followed up his performance against the Commodores with a game-high 120 all-purpose yards in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl against Indiana. He also recovered an onside kick and scored the game-winning touchdown against the Hoosiers to earn MVP honors.
“They’re both very competitive kids,” Chaney said. “They both are determined to have good seasons.”
“They’re trying to get better at specific things as they go on the football field. Jay (Graham) has done a good job just identifying those things they need to work on.”
Jeremy Pruitt hired Graham away from Texas A&M over the offseason to be the Vols’ new running backs coach after David Johnson took a job at Florida State. In his second stint as his alma mater’s running backs coach, Graham has spent the offseason harping on the details with Chandler and Gray.
For Chandler, the focus heading into his senior season is on improving his ability to make defenders miss more frequently. As for Gray, it’s all about being more consistent as he enters his sophomore season.
“They’re out there practicing with purpose,” Chaney said. “They’re to the point in their careers where you’re not coaching effort, you’re not coaching alignment. You’re coaching nuances, the things that makes a difference in a play, with those two young men. And they’re really driven to be successful and they’re fun to be around.
“They’re practicing really hard. Eric has done a good job. As has Ty. Real pleased with those two.”