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Tennessee Football: Is Jaylen Wright the Vols’ Best running back in 2023?

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It may not be nearly as popular, but Tennessee’s running backs received some attention during the Vols’ press conference following Wednesday’s scrimmage.

While most seem to want to talk about UT quarterback Joe Milton, running back Jaylen Wright is more than worthy of a good conversation. 

Here is what Tennessee coach Josh Heupel had to say about the junior from North Carolina: 

“He’s been healthy throughout the course of training camp. His body is dramatically different. He’s one of the guys that we recognize as we started training camp for what he had done in the offseason and the changes that he had continued to make to his body. (He’s) been very intentional in his work and has continued to grow and able to have a championship mindset, being able to reset from play-to-play (and) play with passion. Not playing just straight out of emotion. 

One might have forgotten about Wright considering that last year’s starter, Jabari Small, is back and sophomore Dylan Sampson continually performed well throughout the offseason, particularly in spring practice. Yet forgetting about Wright would be just plain wrong.

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Wright was the Vols’ leading rusher with 875 yards last season, but seemed to do so somewhat quietly. There’s nothing quiet about his play – or his new approach to football – during preseason camp.

“Been great with the young backs,” Heupel said. “He’s been a great leader and great teacher for those guys. He’s into it even when he’s not the guy getting the reps. On the football side of it, he’s a guy that, early in his career, just wanted to run around everything and use his speed to his advantage. That’s how he had developed as a young back in high school with some of what they did. He can still do all of those things but he has really good vision. He understands blockers. He understands how to use them. He delivers double teams to the second level. He finds space. His vision on the backdoor cuts has grown. He’s doing it at the right time. He’s playing at a really high level.”

When it comes to an overall package, Wright may be the Vols’ best running back – by far. Wright seems to have a better “wiggle” in his running style than Small and is more powerful that Sampson. There doesn’t need to be a featured back this season nor in college football nowadays. Running back has become a committee-sort of thing. However, if the Vols had to make a decision as to which tailback to go with on a much-needed play, there’s nothing wrong with going with Wright.

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