Vols' Sampson believes he’ll be more ‘trusted’ as sophomore

Tennessee Athletics photo / Dylan Sampson averaged 6.8 yards per carry last season as a freshman, leading Tennessee's rushing attack in that category.
Tennessee Athletics photo / Dylan Sampson averaged 6.8 yards per carry last season as a freshman, leading Tennessee's rushing attack in that category.

Three is often a crowd for Southeastern Conference quarterbacks on one team, which was reflected after last season when LSU's Walker Howard, Tennessee's Tayven Jackson and Texas A&M's Haynes King entered the NCAA transfer portal.

That's not nearly the case with SEC running backs, as Tennessee's Dylan Sampson was happy to help comprise a returning trio headed by senior Jabari Small and junior Jaylen Wright.

"I feel like I'll be trusted more in my sophomore year, and I believe this is a good thing for our running back room," Sampson said this past week in a news conference. "You don't want to be short and limited on running backs. Last year we were short at times, but we were able to get through the season.

"Jabari got banged up at times, but when we get a healthy running back room coming back in the fall, it's going to be real dangerous and really good for our team."

The Volunteers averaged a healthy 199.5 rushing yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry in last season's drive to an 11-2 record that culminated with a 31-14 downing of Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Small led Tennessee in carries with 157 and in rushing touchdowns with 13, while Wright topped the team in yards with 875.

Sampson benefited from Small and Wright wearing down opposing defenses, as he was often the third running back to enter games. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had 58 carries for 397 yards and six touchdowns, with his 6.8 yards per carry leading the team.

"My favorite moment may be the Vandy game, when I broke it for 80, but my favorite game was probably Mizzou," Sampson said. "It just felt like every run I was hitting was out of the gate. It was a good day on the ground for me."

Sampson rushed 12 times for 131 yards in the 56-0 win at Vanderbilt, with his 80-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter capping the scoring. It was a far different story two weeks earlier, when he entered the Missouri game midway through the third quarter.

The Vols were clinging to a 28-24 lead over the Tigers when Sampson caught a 7-yard pass from Hendon Hooker on his first play, which preceded a 68-yard scoring strike from Hooker to Jalin Hyatt and a 35-24 advantage. Sampson would then rush eight times for 98 yards and a touchdown as Tennessee wound up tallying the final 38 points of a 66-24 decimation.

"He provided us a spark," Hooker said after that game.

The Missouri and Vanderbilt contests were the only ones in which Sampson had at least five carries against a Power Five foe, a stat he hopes to change later this year.

"I came in and tried to learn as quickly as I could," Sampson said, "but when you get real reps and game reps, you come in with a different sense of confidence. It's time for me to take that next step and get to where I'm operating quickly in this offense like a vet.

"We have a good brotherhood here, and at the end of the day, it comes down to how much trust the coaches have in us."

Tennessee, which also has midyear enrollees Cameron Seldon and DeSean Bishop working at running back, scrimmaged for the second time Thursday and will resume spring practices Monday.

'Two segment' Dawgs

This weekend's inclement weather resulted in Georgia conducting its second scrimmage Thursday and holding an indoor workout Saturday.

In a news conference Saturday afternoon, Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said Thursday's second scrimmage was not as good as last Saturday's first one. He added that there were more false-start flags and alignment issues, particularly at receiver, where three midyear enrollees and two transfers are learning new terminology.

"I think we have two segments of our team," Smart said. "We have a segment of our team that would include this year's midyears and last year's midyears and the summer enrollees. That's about 50% of our team, and then we have another 50% who have been here for two or greater years.

"They're in two distinctly different spots, and our goal is to accelerate the learning process for the younger group and to continue to push and create depth out of our older half."

QBs please Saban

Alabama held its first spring scrimmage Friday, with coach Nick Saban claiming that redshirt sophomore Jalen Milroe and redshirt freshman Ty Simpson played equally well at quarterback.

"Both of them got opportunities, and both of them did a nice job out there managing the game," Saban said in a news conference.

Saban was not as pleased with the defense, which he said gave up too many explosive plays and did not collect enough turnovers. The Crimson Tide scrimmaged without senior outside linebacker Chris Braswell, junior outside linebacker Dallas Turner and junior cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry.

Two transfers from Georgia were singled out by Saban, who said that senior receiver Jermaine Burton made some big plays and that senior inside linebacker Trez Marshall is "doing a really good job and adds a little maturity there."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.