Tennessee has more than one option at tailback. However, one option seems to be a little bit different.
No offense to Jabari Small nor Jaylen Wright, but Dylan Sampson brings a bit more speed and quickness to the Vols than they have otherwise. Sampson showed flashes of his unique, scatback ability last season. After a solid offseason, there should be more long-yardage gains in his future, especially now that the sophomore has a better feel for what Tennessee is trying to accomplish offensively.
“Just having knowledge of the system,” Sampson said of how he has improved since arriving on campus last year. Playing more and more, everything is starting to mesh together like understanding the whys of what we’re doing. The time that I’ve spent in the system developing myself has made me more comfortable.”
That may make things a bit more uncomfortable for those in charge of Tennessee’s offense. Small and Wright figure to receive more carries this season, but it would be unwise to forget about Sampson.
“Our job is to find creative ways to get them the ball and utilize their skill set,” Tennessee offensive coordinator Joey Halzle said when asked about feeding the “hot hand” out of the back field. “You’re exactly right though, hot hand, sometimes a guy gets rolling and you don’t take that guy out of the ballgame. The way we play with tempo and the number of snaps we’re going to get, just because you’re not the first guy on the field doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get the most carries that day.
“It’s rolling guys through, making sure everyone stays fresh and making sure that we always have a guy on the field that’s capable of being ready and going at that moment and not gassed out.”
Sampson is the quick back. Small is the power back. Wright is the overall tailback. While that is oversimplifying things to a degree, it underscores the varied talents that the three tailbacks bring to the field.
“I think it’s the versatility and the drive to want to be the best,” Sampson said when asked what could make the Vols great in the backfield. “This whole running back room is talented from head to toe. Young guys are coming along and asking questions and they’re playing hard and physical. I think we are going to have three running backs that have experience.
“Going into this season, it’s great to have. You never know when you will need to lean on somebody. Playing with those guys every single day, we make each other better. I couldn’t ask to be a part of a better running back room.”
Tennessee’s older tailbacks could have turned a cold shoulder to Sampson when they saw his unique traits as a freshman last season. Per Sampson, that hasn’t been the case.
“I think it started with last year,” he said. “I came in ready and eager to learn by watching them. I’ve seen them grow in different ways. Jaylen has been more vocal. He’s always been energetic, but he’s taken more of that leadership role coming into this season. Jabari has been present and helping as he always does.
“I really feel like I took what they taught me last year and have been able to use it to develop myself and me being a leader on this team. We help each other out through our practices. They come to me and ask me what I see and what they think is wrong, and I ask them the same thing. We can only be as good as the best man.”