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Josh Heupel Highlights Running Backs Room as Scrimmage Playmakers

Tennessee Football
Tennessee running back Dylan Sampson. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics.

Josh Heupel ended Tennessee’s first scrimmage of the spring camp slate by complimenting the Vols’ defensive play.

That was on April 1, though.

Coming out of Tennessee’s second scrimmage in Neyland Stadium this past week, Heupel turned his attention and praise to the running back room: sophomore Dylan Sampson, freshman Cameron Seldon, and freshman DeSean Bishop.

“I thought the running backs as an entire group were extremely positive today,” Heupel said after the scrimmage last week. Dylan Sampson made some people miss and did a great job pressing double teams. Cameron Seldon did a really nice job running the football. Great job taking good care of it, DeSean Bishop. There were a lot of really good things from those running backs.”

With returning veteran backs Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright both limited due to injuries during the spring, the Vols have been able to get their younger and newer players plenty of reps during practices and scrimmages.

Sampson, a breakout star from the back half of the 2022 season, uses his speed to his advantage and has a knack for making opponents miss in the open field. Tennessee defensive back Christian Charles specifically pointed to Sampson last week as a player he has seen significant improvement in between the last season and spring camp.

The Tennessee sophomore ended his first season in Knoxville with 397 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns on 58 attempts, also adding in three receptions for 24 yards.

Cameron Seldon, 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, comes to Tennessee as a four-star athlete in the class of 2023 and is getting his majority of work at running back before the coaching staff expands his role to other spots and positions on the field. Unfortunately, though, an injury has limited him at times throughout camp. When not injured or limited, Seldon has been a bright spot among Tennessee’s newcomers, as Heupel alluded to following the scrimmage.

“I thought today – the last couple of practices have been really solid from him,” Heupel said about Seldon. “He’s ran with good pad level. He’s transitioned from playing a lot out in space to being in the running back position really full-time . He’s continuing to grow in his understanding of how to press the line of scrimmage and understand how things are going to be brought from some different fronts. Took good care of the football today, he got pad under pad, he finished plus-two, a lot of positives.”

More from RTI: The Orange & White Game is Officially Around the Corner

With so many of Tennessee’s running backs in and out of spring camp nursing injuries, freshman and Knoxville native DeSean Bishop has been able to step up and perform in front of the coaches. Bishop, from Karns High School, was a three-star recruit in the class of 2023 before committing to Tennessee in late December.

The 5-foot-10, 195-pound back has certainly been a welcomed surprise to the Vols’ spring camp. Well, maybe not a surprise to Heupel.

“Not surprising what DeSean has done,” Heupel said after the scrimmage. “I say that, he’s handled the transition into college football extremely well. We thought he was extremely athletic, he had a great vision, pace as a running back coming out of high school. He’s done a really good job of handling the communication system and not being too big for him since day one. Really proud of him.”

The big names in Tennessee’s running back room consist of Jabari Small, Jaylen Wright, Dylan Sampson, Cameron Seldon, and DeSean Bishop. And while all five aren’t like to see playing time in the same games, the Vols do have a fairly injury-prone running backs room, providing new and sudden opportunities throughout the season.

“We are going to need them all,” Heupel said about the younger running backs last week. “There are times where you stay healthy for a long period of time. You never know when your opportunity is going to come. We are going to need all of these guys throughout the course of the season. With competition, iron sharpens iron. We are going to need that. Everybody on this roster better believe they will have an opportunity to play next fall and continue to sharpen their skills. It’s fundamentals, it’s technique and it’s understanding what we do offensively, defensively and on special teams. Being able to be a mature competitor and handle everything that comes at you.”

Tennessee will close out the spring camp slate with The Orange & White Game coming up this Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium. All the information for Saturday’s game can be found here.

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