More spring practice previews
KNOXVILLE -- With Tennessee nearing the start of spring practice on March 25, the Times Free Press will take a position-by-position look at the Volunteers as they return to the practice field to continue preparations for the 2015 season, Butch Jones's third as coach. After beginning on Sunday with the quarterbacks, the preview rolls on today with the running backs and continues Tuesday with the wide receivers.
* Jalen Hurd (So.): The former five-star recruit led Tennessee in rushing in 2014 as a freshman. Despite missing most of two games and a good chunk of another with some minor injuries, Hurd finished with 899 yards and five touchdowns on 190 carries. He also caught 35 passes for 221 yards and two more touchdowns.
* Marlin Lane finished his senior season in 2014 with 300 yards and one touchdown on 86 carries and completed his career with 1,772 rushing yards, 517 receiving yards and 12 total touchdowns in 47 games.
* Devrin Young wrapped up a career that included 14 games missed due to a fractured collarbone in 2011, a broken hand in 2012 and broken ribs last season. The Knoxville native finished with the third-most kickoff return yards (1,543) for a career in program history behind only Willie Gault and Leonard Scott.
* Derrell Scott transferred to East Carolina after recording 40 yards on 11 carries during two games in an injury-riddled freshman season.
* Walk-ons Justus Pickett and Deanthonie Summerhill, who combined for 96 yards on 33 carries in 2014, aren't back either. Pickett left in December for academic reasons, and Summerhill was a senior.
* Alvin Kamara, the junior college transfer who redshirted his freshman season at Alabama in 2013.
* John Kelly, the three-star running back out of Michigan.
DID YOU KNOW?
Tennessee averaged 471 yards of offense in the five games (Arkansas State, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Kentucky) in which Hurd received at least 20 touches, but only 286 yards of offense in the seven regular-season games in which Hurd failed to crack that mark. Hurd's 122-yard game in the TaxSlayer Bowl was the first 100-yard game for a Tennessee player in a bowl game since Gerald Riggs ran for 104 against Texas A&M in the 2005 Cotton Bowl.
Will any position switches help the Vols add to their thin backfield? Tennessee coach Butch Jones has made it clear how big a concern the lack of bodies at running back is for next season. Though the Vols are excited about pairing together the duo of Hurd and Kamara, the physicality of the SEC means Tennessee will need third and fourth options.
At his news conference on signing day last month, Jones suggested defensive backs Evan Berry and Malik Foreman could get some work at running back this spring. Berry spent some practice time there during his freshman season while also handling kickoff returns. Foreman played running back in high school.
Kelly will give the Vols a third running back when he arrives this summer, and Tennessee is expected to land Ralph David Abernathy, a graduate transfer from Cincinnati who played running back and returned kickoffs for the Bearcats. Incoming diminutive freshmen athletes Jocquez Bruce and Vincent Perry could start in the backfield when they arrive this summer.
Receivers Pig Howard and Von Pearson combined for 16 carries in the last six games of 2014 as the Vols incorporated the jet-sweep motion into the offense with Josh Dobbs at quarterback, so both could be factors in the running game, too.
ONE TO WATCH
Hurd is primed for a big career, but Kamara has been wowing some folks with what he's shown in offseason workouts since arriving in January. At 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, he doesn't have the same size as Hurd, but Kamara possesses the kind of home-run speed Tennessee hasn't had in its backfield for a few years.
The Vols understandably were excited to land Kamara despite some of his issues at Alabama. The former five-star prospect averaged nearly 135 rushing yards in nine games at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas in 2014. Kamara was ranked the No. 2 all-purpose back by Rivals out of Norcross High School in the Atlanta area.
Kamara is expected to be an immediate-impact player for Tennessee, and he'll have plenty of eyes on him this spring.