Tennessee running back Dylan Sampson has proven that he doesn’t duck competition. Not even a little bit.
Sampson wasn’t afraid to sign with Tennessee in 2022 with two more experienced tailbacks, Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright, ascending on the roster. Sampson wasn’t afraid to sign a scholarship alongside a higher-rated tailback in the Vols’ 2022 class either. That worked out. Former Tennessee tailback Justin Williams-Thomas was a 6-foot, 205-pound, four-star running back. Sampson was a 5-9, 180-pound, three-star tailback. No matter. Williams-Thomas transferred to California. Sampson is still a Vol and still enjoying the competition.
“I believe this is a good thing for our running back room,” Sampson said when asked about the running back depth that the Vols suddenly have. “You don’t ever want to be short or limited on running backs. We got a healthy running back room coming into the fall and it’s going to be really dangerous. We all compliment and help each other.”
The Vols will add other tailbacks this summer. Signee Khalifa Keith from Parker High School in Birmingham, Ala., is scheduled to be Tennessee’s short-yardage/power back in the near future. Tennessee also signed DeSean Bishop from Karns (Tenn.) High School.
Being younger and less experienced, spring camp is huge for Sampson. The Vols know what to expect out of Small and Wright. Sampson still has plenty to prove.
“I would say just operating in this offense,” Sampson said when asked what he wanted to improve upon during this offseason. “I came in and I tried to learn as quickly as a could, but when you get real game reps, you come in with a different sense of confidence. So, now it’s time to take the next step: being solid in pass protection and just operating quickly in this offense like a veteran.”
Of course, the Vols had things rolling early and often last year. That made it tough to trust a true freshman when quarterback Hendon Hooker and company were setting national marks. Now, Sampson has proven himself a bit more. That should result in more playing time this fall no matter how deep the running back depth chart might be.
“I feel like with my progression, they might trust me a little more going into my sophomore year,” the Louisiana native said.
Getting on the field in Tennessee’s offense as a running back usually means one thing. Any tailback hoping for more playing time has to be as adept at pass protection as they are at running the football. How does Sampson accomplish that?
“Diving in the playbook, being locked in on details and calls, all the calls, knowing where my eyes start, being physical, that’s all of the things I’ve been working on,” he said. “I’ve been doing pretty good on the back half of the season and going into the spring as a whole.”
Sampson can bring a spark to Tennessee’s offense out of the backfield. He’s a bit quicker and faster than his contemporaries. And he’s certainly not afraid to compete for every snap he can get.