One of the positions that Tennessee can most know what to expect of is the running back position. With a returning trio of Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan and Eric Gray, the Vols are looking to continue the running game success they had last year.
Chandler played in every game and often occupied the first position in the running back rotation, starting nine games for the Big Orange. Playing his high school ball at nearby Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Chandler’s team was a three-time state finalists and one-time state champions in TSSAA Division 2 AA — the state’s highest class at the time. Chandler was also named Mr. Football twice in his class.
For the second year in a row, he led Tennessee in rushing, gaining 655 yards and scoring three touchings in 135 carries. Additionally, he had 63 yards receiving in 13 receptions. His game-high of 85 rushing yards came against South Carolina.
Jordan has adopted Jeremy Pruitt’s tough mentality that he has implemented since coming to Rocky Top. Appearing in 12 games last season, Jordan earned four starts and finished the season third in rushing. Ending the season with 428 rushing yards, his best performance came in the win over Missouri that clinched bowl eligibility.
Gray had a spectacular freshman season after being a three-time Mr. Football winner from Memphis. He was second in rushing yards for the Vols, gaining 539 yards on 101 carries. He also had a team-high four touchdowns. Gray finished his season with a combined 366 yards in the team’s finals two games against both Vanderbilt and Indiana. His performance against the Commodores, 246 rushing yards, set the record for rushing yards in a game by a freshman, a record previously held by Jamal Lewis since 1997.
Other returning players playing the running back position include Fred Orr and Quavaris Crouch, who are featured in the ‘jumbo’ package used in short-yardage situations. Orr only played in three games and had seven rushing attempts. He managed 32 yards, a respectable 4.6 yards-per-attempt average. Crouch, on the other hand, had 10 yards and two touchdowns on seven attempts.
Also adding to the running back room is three-star commit Tee Hodge from Maryville High School in nearby Maryville. The 6-foot-2, 225 pound running back is the nephew of current NFL wide receiver Randall Cobb. While Hodge will face an uphill battle to find playing time this year, he could play a crucial role for the Vols when Chandler and Jordan leave after this upcoming season.
While much of the attention at the beginning of this offseason focused on the quarterback position, the developments with the coronavirus have shifted the focus back to the running backs.
With the cancelation of spring practice, Tennessee is left with basically two options at quarterback. They can choose either an inconsistent returning player (Jarrett Guarantano, Brian Maurer or JT Shrout) or an inexperienced new face (Harrison Bailey, Jimmy Holiday or Kasim Hill).
Either way the Vols go at quarterback, for Tennessee to find success it will need to put the signal caller in a good position to rely on the running game. This coupled with additions and retentions on the offensive line will cause the Vols to lean into the running game they already seem to favor.