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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Tennessee running back Ty Chandler (8) runs for a 13-yard touchdown against UTC during a NCAA football game at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019 in Knoxville, Tenn.

By amassing 246 rushing yards against Vanderbilt and earning Gator Bowl MVP honors, Eric Gray provided an undeniable late-season impact on Tennessee's 2019 football team.

His impact on fellow running back Ty Chandler continues several months later as the Volunteers keep prepping for their Sept. 26 opener at South Carolina.

"I'm just grateful to be able to be in the room with him," Chandler said on a recent Zoom call. "He has a great skill set that he brings to the game, and he's even taught me things. We talk about stuff all the time, and we just feed off each other. I'm grateful to be able to go out there and compete with him.

"I feel like he gets me better. He gets the whole team better. I love it."

Chandler and Gray should give Tennessee one of the top tailback tandems in the Southeastern Conference this season, with Chandler having averaged 5.0 yards per carry over his three-year career and Gray having averaged 5.3 as a freshman. Versatility has been the name of Chandler's game, with the 5-foot-11, 205-pound former Montgomery Bell Academy standout entering his senior year with 2,724 career all-purpose yards.

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Ty Chandler

Former Vols receiver Peerless Price is 10th on Tennessee's all-time list for all-purpose yardage with 2,900.

Chandler has nine career rushing touchdowns, three via receiving and one on a 91-yard kickoff return as a freshman in 2017 against Indiana State. He has three career rushes of 50 or more yards and is motivated for a grand finale after collecting a team-high 630 and 655 rushing yards the past two seasons.

"I just want to be able to finish runs and see different things such as reading keys and holes," Chandler said. "I want to go out and be able to execute and play consistent. I really want to improve on catching balls out of the backfield — just being able to take that to the next level is something I wanted to improve on and making people miss and stuff like that."

The top-five running back in the 2017 signing class can look around in practice and see a lot of familiar faces, with the most notable newcomer being running backs coach Jay Graham. A former Vols star who rushed for 1,438 yards on the 1995 team that went 11-1 and beat Ohio State in the Citrus Bowl, Graham spent the past two seasons as Texas A&M's running backs coach.

"He brings a positive energy to the table," Chandler said. "He's taught me a lot about angles, taking on defenders and being able to read blocks. He's improved my game a ton and helped me take it to the next level. Overall, he's a great mentor and a great guy to learn from, and I've enjoyed the time being with him."

As for the familiar, Chandler loves getting to run behind a talented and veteran offensive line.

"They're a great group of guys," he said. "They come out every day and work hard, and I'm grateful to be able to run behind them. I feel like we can build off last year and be even better than we were.

"We are going to keep building, and I'm looking forward to it."

Johnson passes

Bill Johnson, a starting guard for Bowden Wyatt's Vols during the 1956-57 seasons, has died in his hometown of Sparta, Tennessee, at the age of 84. Johnson holds the distinction of becoming the first player in program history to earn All-America and Academic All-America honors in the same season, accomplishing the feat in 1957.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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