X-Factor Tennessee: Jalen Hurd will be a home-run threat for the Vols
In preparation for the 2014 college football season, Saturday Down South takes a look at the X factor for every SEC team. Not only do these players have the opportunity to make major contributions for their respective squads, but they could also be the difference in a successful season or a losing season.
Today, we’re discussing the X factor for the Tennessee Vols
- OLE MISS
- MISSISSIPPI STATE
- SOUTH CAROLINA
- TEXAS A&M
LaMarcus Coker. Jamal Lewis. James Stewart. Arian Foster.
These are the four running backs that have led their respective Tennessee teams in rushing as a true freshman.
On the 2014 roster, there’s perhaps another running back that could be included in this group by the end of this season – true freshman Jalen Hurd.
Head coach Butch Jones has made it clear to fans that they should expect a bowl appearance this season. A big part in the success of Tennessee will be their ability to pound the rock. Senior Marlin Lane is expected to get the starting nod, but Hurd will definitely see on-the-field action.
“[Jalen] has made a lot of progress. “I mean, he’s still making some mental assignments he has to clean up here as we’re starting to put in some game-plan stuff,” running backs coach Robert Gillespie said about the true freshman. “But he’s leaps and bounds from where he was from a conditioning standpoint in the spring.”
Although he’s a true freshman, Hurd’s virtually been a part of the Tennessee program for nearly a year. After his senior season was cut short by a shoulder injury, Hurd spent virtually every single weekend on campus during the first half of his senior season and then was an early enrollee in January.
With his height, Hurd is a taller running back than say a prototypical tailback, but his skill set is awfully similar to that of smaller backs. He’s a home-run kind of player who can break a big play anytime he touches the ball. His top end speed is unusually high for a back as big as he is.
As is the case for almost all true freshman running backs, there are questions about how he’ll hold up in his first season in the SEC, physically and mentally. However to his advantage, I believe the six-month head start he had on most other incoming freshman will pay off for him in that respect. He’s assimilated himself in the condition program and based off Gillespie’s comments, he’s made significant improvements physically.
The Vols were ninth in the SEC last season in rushing offense (188.4 yards/game) and that number needs to improve. If you look at the top half of the conference in rushing offense, you’ll see the likes of Auburn, Missouri, Alabama, LSU, South Carolina. To be successful in the SEC, running the football and running it well is an absolute must.
The starter, Marlin Lane, is very talented back in his own right and will see the bulk of the carries early on. But with Hurd’s impressive physical size and his ability to break a play open on every touch, the true freshman could easily be getting the starting reps before the end of the season.