Entering his final season in Knoxville, Marlin Lane is assumed by many to be Tennessee’s No. 1 running back in 2014. In his first three seasons, Lane has 296 carries for 1,472 yards and eight touchdowns. Although his numbers aren’t stellar, Lane has been a solid back when healthy and would likely see an increase in rushing attempts as the Vols’ most experienced back.

However, a young challenger may be the biggest challenge to a breakout senior season for Lane.

Freshman Jalen Hurd, one of the crown jewels of Butch Jones’ impressive 2014 recruiting class, will compete for playing time during his first year on Rocky Top. The former Beech High School standout was ranked as the No. 40 overall player by the 247Sports composite rankings and the No. 8 athlete nationally.

Vol fans have already deemed Hurd to be one of the key pieces for Tennessee to finally reclaim its stake as a dominant program. But, is the future now or will Lane carry the load for the Vols this season?

Hurd definitely presents a serious case to see early playing time. Since his early-enrollment in January, the freshman back has already shown progress in practices and with an impressive spring game performance.

But the Tennessee staff may choose to monitor Hurd’s progression conservatively. Keep in mind, the former Tennessee high school 5A state champion missed the remainder of his senior season after injuring his shoulder. It’s already a risk to give a freshman the majority of carries early, let alone one coming off shoulder surgery.

In contrast, Jones and company may be pressured to start players like Hurd early. As it stands, Coach Jones can do no wrong in the eyes of the majority Tennessee fan base based mostly on his work on the recruiting trail. However, if the Vols continue to struggle this season, there will likely be some fans calling for his job, knowing how demanding the Vol faithful really are. As the proverbial hot seat continues to increase its temperature, Jones may be obligated to start an inexperienced, yet talented class that he and his staff are responsible for rather than those of the prior regime.

Lane will likely see a 60-40 majority of carries entering the season. For Hurd, the biggest task will be how he translates next level. If you’re unfamiliar with Hurd’s style of play, he was basically a 6-3, 227-pound man amongst boys that literally ran through high school linebackers in the mid-state area. That level of dominance may not come so quickly in the SEC and sharing carries with an experienced back will benefit his progression in the long run.

Lane’s experience gives him the early nod, but there is always a chance that Hurd could be the breakout star at some point this season. However, when the Vols kickoff their season against Utah State on Aug. 31, expect experience to be the deciding factor in which back gets the edge in rushing attempts.