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Tennessee Football: Is Dylan Sampson The Most Versatile Vol?

There is no shortage of ways to describe Tennessee’s skill-position players.

Wide receiver Bru McCoy may be the Vols’ most talented. Slot receiver Squirrel White may be the most freakish athlete. Running back Jaylen Wright may be the Vols’ most powerful. However, no one is more versatile than Dylan Sampson.

The running back from Baton Rouge, La., showed off that versatility last season. He was the tailback most adept at using his speed and quickness to reel off long gains, as evident by his 6.8-yards per carry, which led the Vols in 2022. Now a sophomore, Sampson may be able to do much more. 

First, Sampson should be a better pass protector this season just by being around the Vols for an entire year. Second, he should be more familiar with UT’s playbook and more adept and being the lead tailback in more offensive plays. Lastly, he could play an entirely different position.

“Dylan can do everything for us,” running backs coach Jerry Mack said. “Dylan can go out and flex out in the slot (at receiver). He can play in the backfield obviously. From a pass-pro (standpoint), that’s probably one of the things that you’ve just got to make sure that Dylan is spot on with what he’s supposed to do. Those smaller guys – Samp has increased his weight, he’s about 195 pounds now, still probably a little bit lighter than we would like, but it is increasing and it is going up – but the biggest thing for him is going to be in pass-pro.”

Tailbacks, no matter how well they can run, just aren’t going to be a factor in Tennessee’s aggressive passing game if they can’t pass protect. That surely held back Sampson a year ago. It shouldn’t this season, as long as he’s physically ready. Sampson should know where to be in pass protection. Being able to actually protect the passer, however, is another matter.

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“He’s got to be able to eat up the cushion,” Mack said. “Don’t let those 230, 240-pound linebackers get started. Stop those guys before they can get their feet moving and drive and close that cushion, then go ahead and strike, because he’s not afraid of contact. Samp can play defense, he could play corner if he really wanted to. I mean, he will stick his face in there and he’s not afraid of it.”

It’s good that Sampson likes the physicality of pass blocking. However, that doesn’t mean that his slight frame can handle the requirements. Nevertheless, Sampson has had one of the best off-seasons of any Vol on the roster, so he’ll be a bigger factor this season than last season.

Sampson can do so many things that it’s important for Tennessee’s coaches to correctly ascertain what exactly he does best. Having a smorgasbord of talent is nice, but being versatile doesn’t necessarily mean being productive. Sampson has seemingly done all he needs to do to be ready to make explosive plays. Now, it’s time for him to be put in position to do so.

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