KNOXVILLE — Tennessee enters game two of the football season with its tailback competition at square one.
The Volunteers' runners showed some good signs in the season-opening win, but the top spot in the pecking order again is up for grabs in a three-way battle among Rajion Neal, Marlin Lane and Devrin Young.
This week of practice began with the trio bracketed as co-starters, but the performance in Neyland Stadium will determine more who gets how many carries.
"Every week we're competing, and I think that's what they understand," running backs coach Jay Graham said after Wednesday's practice. "It's been a good week of practice, but the most important thing is getting to the game. Based on your practice, that determines how many reps you get.
"A lot of it depends on the flow of the game. Coming into the first half, you have a plan of, 'Hey, you're going to go here; you're going to go during this series.' We'd like to get Devrin in there. I wanted to get him in early, and we didn't get him in enough. We're going to make sure we do that."
Young got just two carries in the first game, while Neal started and ran 22 times. Lane's first carry didn't come until the second quarter, but he looked the best and led the Vols in rushing. Coach Derek Dooley said earlier this week that Tennessee ran Neal too much.
Graham said the first game was a good barometer of where his guys performed well and where they need to improve.
"It's good to have that first game to get an idea," said the former Tennessee tailback. "They get an idea of how I coach during the game, and I get an idea of their mindset during the game. I saw some good things; I saw some things we need to work on, and it was a lot of the same things that we've been working on in fall camp.
"We're improving, but we've got to continue to improve faster and faster, and that's why this game [Saturday against Georgia State] is so important."
Though the Vols ran for 191 yards against North Carolina State, they had too many zero- or negative-yardage plays.
"I think they're doing exactly what Jay wants them to do," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "The running backs have had a real mature outlook all training camp and through the beginning of the season. I don't see that changing at all.
"They're competing hard; all three of them are playing hard. We're excited about [them]. We just need to get a little more production out of them, and that comes from blocking better and them handling the ball a little bit better."
Linebackers Herman Lathers (shoulder) and Curt Maggitt (leg) did some light work on the side with a trainer during practice Thursday morning. Dontavis Sapp and Willie Bohannon were working with the first-team base defense in their places. Corey Miller and Steven Fowlkes likely would play more at end in extra-defensive-back sets if Maggitt can't play.
The Vols aren't expecting to host any football prospects on official visits this weekend, but the basketball program will have one official visitor: A.J. Davis, a 6-foot-8 small forward from Buford High School in Georgia. He has offers from Auburn, Georgia and Clemson, among others. Official visits for both UT programs will pick up next weekend for the Florida game.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...