Bigger Wright expected to be better for Vols this season

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee junior running back Jaylen Wright, who led the Volunteers last season with 875 rushing yards, is 10 pounds heavier this year.
Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee junior running back Jaylen Wright, who led the Volunteers last season with 875 rushing yards, is 10 pounds heavier this year.

Tennessee running back Jaylen Wright was listed at 200 pounds as a sophomore last season and is now at 210 on the doorstep of his junior year.

That was not by accident.

"This offseason, I took it upon myself to physically develop my body and create more muscle mass," Wright said in a recent news conference. "I've pushed the weight room harder, so it is a mindset. I changed my mindset to be a more physical runner."

Wright was the leading rusher for last season's 11-2 Volunteers, amassing 875 yards on 146 carries to average a sparkling 6.0 yards per rush. He had two runs of 50-plus yards to showcase his speed, but 548 of his yards, or 62.6%, came after contact.

Getting that percentage even higher is a shared goal.

"Jayen Wright has grown tremendously as an inside-the-tackle runner," Tennessee running backs coach Jerry Mack said. "When he first got here, he was really a guy who liked to bounce runs, and that's probably what they asked him to do in high school.

"What you see now is a guy who is a lot more attentive about going through a hole. You've seen the growth in his game a ton."

The former three-star signee out of Durham, North Carolina, has rushed for 1,284 yards through his first two seasons and averaged 6.6 per carry. He finished his freshman season teaming with Jabari Small, and that duo remained intact for all of last season.

Wright capped last season by rushing 16 times for 249 yards and two touchdowns versus Vanderbilt and against Clemson in the Orange Bowl for a 15.6-yard clip, but he believes his best is yet to come.

"I just changed the way I came into the building," Wright said. "I saw the way (Jalin) Hyatt and Hendon (Hooker) came into the building and how they progressed off the field as well. I'm different in every aspect. I'm different in my mindset. I'm different in my weight, and I'm different in the way I run.

"And my speed is not going to go anywhere."


Offered or not?

Virginia second-year coach Tony Elliott was Clemson's offensive coordinator in January 2021, when he was interviewed by new Tennessee athletic director Danny White for the job in Knoxville that ultimately went to Josh Heupel.

Elliott, whose Cavaliers face Heupel's Vols next week in Nashville, was asked about that time on Monday during a news conference.

"First of all, Tennessee is one of the blue bloods and one of the top-tier programs in the country," Elliott said. "When I evaluated it, there were a lot of positive things about it. It just wasn't the right time for me, so when it came down to it, I prayed about it and said, 'I want the Lord to lead me in the direction that he would have me to go.'

"So it was close, but at the end of the day, when I looked at the totality of everything, it just wasn't the right time and the right fit for me."

Elliott never mentioned being offered the Tennessee job, but White felt that those words warranted a response.

"An interview doesn't constitute an offer," White posted on Twitter. "I interviewed several candidates and offered one."


Hoop rebranding

Tennessee's basketball home will now be known as Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center after an agreement that will allow the university to invest more than $20 million over the next 10 years and will aid in renovations and upgrades to the facility's interior and exterior.

Among the planned additions to the venue, according to a university release, will be new club amenities, updates to the Ray Mears Room and a state-of-the-art, center-hung video board. The exterior facade of the facility will be modernized and the look will be more in line with Tennessee's other athletic venues.

Complete details of the enhancements will be announced later.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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