Tennessee Football has young tailbacks who had an opportunity to challenge for playing time during spring camp. They seemed to have taken advantage of it.
With more experienced tailbacks out for spring camp, either nursing injuries or simply proven enough to dodge some spring practice hits, running backs Dylan Sampson, Cameron Seldon and DeSean Bishop have been a big part of what the Vols accomplished this spring.
Sampson has been the breakout player amongst Tennessee’s tailbacks and, perhaps, the Vols’ entire team.
“Sampson’s had a lot of great work throughout the course of spring ball,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said on Saturday. “Dynamic, continue to grow in his ability to understand what we’re doing. As a smaller back, he’s dynamic out in space…He’s been really good, I love the growth.
“All of those backs have done a really nice job at pass protection. That’s been something we’ve spent a lot of time on here during the course of spring ball, too. I like their growth as a complete group. (Running back) coach (Jerry) Mack’s done a great job with them. DeSean Bishop, for a freshman that’s coming on campus, should be going to his prom here next week or the following week. He’s been really good man. He has great vision, great pace, and he’s handled spring ball as a newcomer extremely well.”
Bishop turned in 88 yards on 24 carries during the Orange and White game to lead all Vols on the ground. Seldon, who was moved from receiver to running back when camp began, ran 10 times for 43 yards and caught three passes for another 43 yards.
“Really unique player just with his skill set and the background that he has from playing running back, to playing in the slot, to the outside, to playing on the defensive side of the football,” Heupel said of Seldon. “He’s played a lot of positions. He’s never had a true home, and we felt like it was important to give him a home here early and grow and expand from that. He’s been really good in what he’s done inside the running back room.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Seldon is that he can run hard and he likes to run hard.
“He cares and competes really hard for a guy that’s got high-end, top-gear, electric speed. He’s willing to stick his foot in the ground, get vertical, get underneath his pads, find a way to get plus two (yards). If he’s going to continue to grow who he is today, I expect him to be dramatically better when we get to the kickoff of next September. I say that just because he’s going to continue to grow with the way he works. He’s got a really high-end ceiling. His ability to be a pass catcher out of the backfield is really unique and obviously a skillset we want.”
Said Seldon, “It’s been hard, but I’ve been just taking it slow, putting the pieces together. Coach told me I was doing okay, so we’re just slowly putting everything together so it can all make sense because it’s different than when I played receiver.”
The hardest part for Seldon moving to running back is, well, his past as a receiver. That’s been challenging.
“The hardest part is probably learning the details because I’ve always trained receiver,” Seldon said. “I never really trained running back, I just played it, so now I’m learning the details of it. It makes more sense, but I feel natural at running back, but I like receiver.”
The Vols’ success at tailback, even with more options, will depend largely on what how Tennessee’s offensive line plays this season. The Vols made widespread adjustments during the offseason to rebuild their offensive line. While there seems to be progress, the task is not complete.
“Today’s not the end of the competition at any position,” Heupel said. “Guys have the chance to be dramatically different in the way that they work and are made when they come back in June and July. When they come back to training camp, you’ve got to give them a chance to be a different player and judge them for who they are during the course of training camp.
“The offensive line has great competition at the tackle spots and interiorly, too. I think you guys are probably seeing multiple guys work different positions left and right. I expect there to be great competition as we go throughout training camp as well. I do like that we are a deeper unit than we have been during our first two years. You never know when and if you’re going to need that for sure.”