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How Tennessee’s DeSean Bishop, Cam Seldon, and Khalifa Keith Will Develop in Year One

Tennessee running backs Cam Seldon DeSean Bishop
Tennessee RB Cam Seldon. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee boasts a three-headed monster of a running back room in 2023 with Jaylen Wright, Jabari Small, and Dylan Sampson.

The three combined for 2,006 yards on the ground last season and are all returning to continue (or finish) what they started as a trio last year.

Behind them, though, Tennessee also has a trio of talented, young freshmen running backs that are itching to contribute to the team this season. That trio includes DeSean Bishop, Cameron Seldon, and Khalifa Keith.

With three talented running backs in Wright, Small, and Sampson, the Vols’ freshman trio will likely do lot more listening and learning than actual playing on the field during year one. And each one of the three have different and unique ways to grow during the season.

Starting with DeSean Bishop, the Knoxville native suffered an injury during training camp that will see him miss a couple of months according to head coach Josh Heupel on Wednesday. Mack spoke on Friday about the ways that he wants to see growth from Bishop despite being on the shelf for portions of his first season.

“Obviously, you need reps to actually get better, and we are a little heartbroken about that, because that guy was really doing a good job for us,” Mack said about Bishop. “He was coming along; we had really high hopes for him in the first part of the season. Hopefully, he will get the opportunity to come back this season at some point in time. I do think you treat it like a redshirt year.”

Bishop’s growth during his first season will come in the meeting room and on the sidelines, soaking in and getting an understanding of everything that is happening on and off of the field.

“I have no reserve about saying he is going to come back in the spring and be a different player, just for the simple fact he is going to understand all the ins and outs, things that he did not understand quite as well during the previous spring,” Mack said.

More from RTI: How Tennessee Coaches Learned From Their Mistakes During Last Fall Camp

Cameron Seldon is a four-star wide receiver/athlete from the class of 2023 with incredible potential at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds. The Tennessee coaching staff recognized Seldon’s ability to play offense all over the field but decided to start him out at the running back spot in order to focus in on some of his skills and traits. Offensive coordinator Joey Halzle said during the spring that once Seldon is good and comfortable at the running back spot, then the staff can start growing a guy with extra roles.

With his inexperience at the running back position, Mack says that just playing behind five linemen every single day is going to continue to make him more comfortable and better overall at the position.

“Every practice, he gets a little bit better,” Mack said about Seldon. “Not having the baseline like I talked about in the spring, working with him over the summertime, working with him all through camp, [and] being able to get quality reps. I talk about it at the staff meeting a lot of times; Cam is a guy that needs to play in front of the big five linemen as much as humanly possible. Every opportunity he gets to have those guys in front of him, understanding leverage and understanding pad level, that is going to be huge for him. The only way he is going to continue to grow is just continuing to play football.”

Mack did note that Seldon is “really good out in space on the perimeter” with his knowledge of being a wide receiver and highlights the comfort that Seldon has when running on the outside.

Khalifa Keith, a three-star running back from the 2023 class, is a pleasant surprise for the Vols’ coaching staff during training camp. Mack highlighted the 6-foot-1, 230-pound running back’s skill catching the football based on prior experience on the basketball court.

“Big, strong, powerful guy,” Mack said about Keith. “He is everything that, when we recruited him, we thought he could be. He came in about 225 or 230 [pounds]; he has continued to maintain about that body weight, and he can move with it and make plays with it. One thing about him, he does have really good hands. He was a former basketball player in high school, too. Really athletic; his deal is really just learning our system and how we go about doing things here at Tennessee.”

Similar to the other two running backs, a key aspect of Keith’s early growth at Tennessee this season will be just soaking in the Vols’ offense system, pace, and style. While it is still to be seen if Keith can get some touches on offense this year, Mack was already pointing to a special teams role for the Birmingham, Alabama native.

“I think as a player, you are going to see that guy involved in a lot of special teams this year,” Mack said. “Coach [Ekeler] is extremely excited about his role and what he can be. As a runner, he is a lot further along than I really even anticipated right now. Running between the tackles, people do not want to come up and tackle him too much. He just has to continue to learn, to play his way into shape more than anything else. He is going to contribute this year for us in some kind of capacity.”

Tennessee will kick off the season on September 2 against Virginia in Nashville’s Nissan Stadium.

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