Strength of the offense? Tennessee assistant Jerry Mack talks up the potential of the team's running backs
When most people discuss Josh Heupel’s offense, the first things that come to mind often are the quarterbacks, the passing game and the incredible pace at which the system runs.
While it’s understandable that those characteristics receive first billing, it’s important to know the offense also has a strong track record of producing big numbers on the ground.
Each of the three seasons Heupel was at UCF, the offense ranked in the top 25 nationally in rushing and even finished as high as No. 8 one season. During those three seasons, eight UCF rushers had at least 500 yards on the ground in a single season.
The committee approach is likely to continue at Tennessee as running backs coach Jerry Mack has inherited a talented room, which may come as a surprise to many considering Eric Gray and Ty Chandler each left the program this offseason via transfer.
One Volunteer that’s garnered praise this offseason is sophomore Jabari Small.
Based on what Mack had to say about the Memphis native, look for Small to get the first shot at starting at running back.
“You can just tell Jabari is one of those guys that really was born to play running back,” Mack said during his recent media availablity. “He has a really natural feel. He has great instincts at the position. You can tell he has been really well coached in high school and also, too, with the previous staff.
“He has a natural feel for that position right now. Every day we come out there, he is disciplined. He is focused. He understands protections right now, which is really intriguing and impressive for a guy of his youth. He has been extremely impressive to everybody on the field. The way he handles his business, the way he goes about his business – he takes care of business like a pro.”
Perhaps the most intriguing running back on the roster is Dee Beckwith. After being moving all around the field by the previous staff, the 6-foot-5, 227-pound Beckwith appears to have settled in as a running back in Heupel’s offense.
“Dee’s doing a really incredible job just continuing to learn the finer details of the position every single day,” Mack said of Beckwith. “We talk a lot about just playing with low pad level, because he is a taller, bigger back, so just getting his pad level down and just learning some of the intricacies of the position.
“He played so many different things in high school, and last year, I think they moved him around a little bit, so he’s finally getting into a situation where he’s kind of getting settled in on a position. You talk about extremely intelligent – asking questions in the meetings and just from that quarterback background that he has, you can just tell that he’s got a sense of the entire game and situational football and how everything fits together. I’ve been really pleased with his progress over the last few practices.”
Looking for a potential breakout star for the offense this season?
Freshman Jaylen Wright could be one to watch with his big-play ability being a huge asset to the team.
“When you talk about the ability to separate from people when he gets to the second level, the speed jumps out at you about him,” Mack said of Wright. “He’s so dynamic when he gets to the second level, it’s really hard to catch him. But, the finer details of the position and down-in and down-out just learning those different things – for a young guy, especially from a protection standpoint when you come to college – the protections are really just blowing his mind a little bit, but he is getting better.
“You can just tell, right now, even though he’s struggling here and struggling there, his flashes are big, huge flashes. You can ask anybody on the field. When he gets to that next level and he gets an opportunity to get in space, he can make people miss.”
Cover photo credit: Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics