Tennessee running back coach Jay Graham and inside linebacker coach Brian Niedermeyer talked with the media over Zoom Wednesday, discussing their position groups 10 days out from Tennessee’s opener at South Carolina.
Jay Graham is back at Tennessee for the first time as a coach since 2012. The former Vols’ tailback has earned a reputation as a top end assistant coach in his time at Florida State and Texas A&M.
Graham has come back to Knoxville during odd times, but the strange circumstances have given him a good look at the mind and resolve of his top two running backs, Ty Chandler and Eric Gray.
“Before, when I was watching them on tape you could see some athleticism, the ability, the speed,” Graham said. “It’s been a joy being around these guys. We’ve been through an adverse situation, so we’ve almost gotten to know each other more because of that. They’ve prepared and worked hard through every situation they’ve had to deal with.”
The duo of Gray and Chandler is expected to receive the bulk of the Vols’ carries this season. Chandler led Tennessee with 655 yards on 135 carries a year ago, while Gray ran for 539 yards and four touchdowns in his freshman campaign.
After the top two, Tennessee is low on proven running backs. With Tim Jordan getting kicked off the team this summer, the Vols are likely to have to lean on one of their young running backs to provide playing time.
Those concerns have been magnified this fall camp, with Gray and other backs missing time due to contact tracing. Graham says the key to getting better with players out is everyone being ready to work.
“The way you solve it is guys stepping up and being ready to go,” Graham said. “You have to stay ready; you have to study up. You can’t sit there and go, ‘I’m third team,’ and be sad about it and *snap* next day you’re the starter. You have to prepare yourself every single day. You have to stay ready.”
While Niedermeyer was at Tennessee a season ago, he finds himself at a new spot coaching linebackers instead of tight ends. Niedermeyer has been impressed with what he’s seen out of his new position group in fall camp, specifically the versatility.
“We’re a versatile group that can do a lot of different things, so it’s been nice. We’ve been able to put people in different positions,” Niedermeyer said.
Niedermeyer also praised Jeremy Banks, who was reinstated to the football team this summer with a rigorous list of standards he must uphold to remain in good standing with the team.
“Jeremy has been great,” Niedermeyer said. “He continues to do all the right things and give his best effort every day and that’s all we ask from him. For us, it’s how do we put him in a good position to be successful.”
When it came to Quavaris Crouch’s move to inside linebacker, Niedermeyer only said, “He’s adjusted well.”
However, Niedermeyer did explain his thought process on what he needs to see from guys before trusting them with playing time.
“It’s open competition at all times,” Niedermeyer said. “For Henry (To’o To’ o), for everybody. Doesn’t matter if you’re the mike, will, money or mack. It’s an open competition each day. You talk about production number one; you talk about being accountable and doing all the right things on and off the field. That’s what it’s about.”