Tennessee Football running backs have had a lot of success on the ground this season. The “three-headed monster,” as Dylan Sampson, Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright have been dubbed, lead the nation in rushing yards per game.
Dylan Sampson leads the SEC in yards per carry, and Jaylen Wright is right behind him. As a room, they average over 220 yards on the ground a game.
That room has consisted of all three backs rotating pretty consistently, with some exceptions.
“The last few weeks, you can see (Jaylen) Wright runs out there first,” running back coach Jerry Mack said. “Last week, Jabari (Small) ended up with more snaps than J-Wright. The previous week, J-Wright ended up with more snaps than Jabari. As far as how Samp fits into the entire role, it just depends on what kind of package. I think there (is) always going to be a package or a set of situations that we want Samp in the game just because of his skill set is a little bit different — like all three of them.”
Dylan Sampson can expect a bigger role
Sampson, who rushed for 11 carries with 139 yards and two touchdowns against UTSA, didn’t have any carries against Florida in Gainesville. The offensive struggles and lack of rotation led to him staying on the sideline.
The sophomore’s mentality didn’t change after not getting any playing time. Instead, he may have even worked harder than before.
“Just the amount of work that he’s put in to work on his craft, to make sure he understands the game plan and just make sure he understands where those free hitters are down in and down out,” Mack said. “As far as coming into this last week, where he didn’t get a chance to play very much, if at all, the previous week, (I liked) just the way he handled himself in the building. You see a lot of guys, especially young guys, they kind of have an attitude and they’re different when they come in the building at times, especially when things don’t go their way.”
Wright may have suffered an injury against UTSA, but his status still remains unclear for Saturday. No matter, Mack hinted at more of Sampson being on the field.
“All three of those guys’ skill set is a little bit different from one another,” Mack said. “But I think, going forward, you’re going to see quite a bit of Dylan Sampson, for sure.”
Three unique skillsets
Each running back offers the Vols a different skill set. Each one is something that Mack hopes to utilize.
Wright has been the presumptive starter and leads the group with 312 yards on the ground. Small is behind Wright with 260 yards and Sampson has 199. The different skill sets still mean “ultimate trust” from the Tennessee Football coaching staff.
“Obviously, it’s been Jabari over the years, as well,” Mack said. “Now you see Sampson emerging — like, all three of them guys present a different skill set, and it’s just really about the flow of the game. There may be an opportunity for Jabari or Samp or whoever to go out there and catch something on the perimeter, or break a tackle in the backfield, and the next thing you know, it’s 60, 70 yards because they all have dynamite quickness and speed, as well. So I really don’t ever know who’s going to get that opportunity. I can’t tell you this: We trust them 100 percent, whoever goes in the game.”
The game plan
Mack said his staff doesn’t have a full grasp on the game plan going into Saturday. The flow of the game, or the hot hand, often determines which back is getting more carries for Tennessee Football.
Sampson offers a burst, but Small and Wright are bigger and stout enough to hold up in pass rush.
“The last few weeks, you can see (Jaylen) Wright runs out there first,” Mack said. “Last week, Jabari (Small) ended up with more snaps than J-Wright. The previous week, J-Wright ended up with more snaps than Jabari. As far as how Samp fits into the entire role, it just depends on what kind of package. I think there is always going to be a package or a set of situations that we want Samp in the game just because of his skill set is a little bit different — like all three of them.”
Sampson may not have been scripted to get as many snaps as Wright and Small, but he has played a big role for Tennessee Football when called upon. That role will be needed against the Gamecocks.