KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Butch Jones sees it as “a good problem to have” when it comes to choosing between Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara and John Kelly for playing time at tailback.
Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said no decisions have been finalized yet, as far as which tailback will start the next game and how the distribution of carries might go.
“We’ll talk about it as a staff tomorrow, because we have practice today, and we’ll go through that practice today,” said DeBord, who commonly orchestrated backfields loaded with great runners during his tenure at Michigan.
The No. 9-ranked Vols (5-1, 2-1 SEC) play host to No. 1-ranked Alabama (6-0, 3-0) at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Neyland Stadium (TV: CBS).
Tennessee is coming off a 45-38 double-overtime loss at Texas A&M, a game in which Kamara stood out with 288 yards rushing and receiving, shining in the absence of Hurd.
Hurd was promoted as the lead back of the team entering the season, a former 5-star recruit from Middle Tennessee who had been on course to become the program’s all-time leading rusher this season.
Hurd might still break the record this season, but he was struggling to get up to speed prior to the mysterious injury that prevented him from traveling to Texas A&M.
Jones has said before there’s competition every day in the Vols’ practices, so the tailback position wouldn’t be any different as far as the fourth-year head coach is concerned.
CBS analyst Gary Danielson made it clear he thinks Kamara is the best of the three, saying: “In my mind, the top back in the league right now. Name anybody. I’ll take Kamara.”
Jones told CBS the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Hurd had a “lower-body extremity” issue along with another injury that Hurd asked not be disclosed.
According to a Vol Network reporter with access to the sideline during the game, Hurd was dealing with concussion-like symptoms.
But the lower-body extremity issue could explain why Hurd has not looked as explosive as last season (25 first-down runs of 2 yards or less) and has worn a green no-contact jersey in practices since the second week of fall camp.
Hurd’s yards-per-carry average has curiously fallen from 4.7 his freshman season, to 4.6 last season and 4.0 through the five games he has appeared in this year.
Kamara and Kelly, meanwhile, looked quick and able running out of the shot gun set against the Aggies, bringing the Tennessee run game to life for the first time this season.
DeBord said he and the coaches have had some discussion of how the Vols’ run attack might look moving forward, but nothing has been decided.
“As we’ve put the game plan together we’ve talked about it a little bit, and that will happen more tomorrow,” DeBord said. “We’ll talk about who’s going and when they are going.”
Running backs coach Robert Gillespie will control the substitutions, said DeBord, whose focus must remain on play-calling during the game.
“When you’re calling the game, you can’t all the sudden say ‘I need this guy or that guy,’ (because) we’re going so fast,” DeBord said. “Robert does a great job of trying to get them in by play.”
2016 running back comparisons
Jalen Hurd 101 carries, 407 yards, 4.0 AVG., 2 TD, 81.4 yards per game
Alvin Kamara 56 carries, 292 yards, 5.2 AVG, 2 TD, 48.7 yards per game
John Kelly 16 carries, 107 yards, 6.7 AVG, 2 TD, 21.4 yards per game
Alvin Kamara 20 catches, 253 yards, 3 TD, 42.4 yards per game
Jalen Hurd 7 catches, 82 yards, 2 TD, 16.4 yards per game
John Kelly 2 catches, 19 yards, 0 TD, 3.8 yards per game
VOLS ALL-TIME RUSHING LEADERS
1. Travis Henry (1997-2000), 3,078 yards, 5.5 yards per carry
2. Arian Foster (2005-08), 2,964 yards, 4.6 yards per carry
3. James Stewart (1991-94), 2,890, 5.4 yards per carry
4. Johnnie Jones (1981-84), 2,852, 5.5 yards per carry
5. Jamal Lewis (1997-99), 2,677, 5.5 yards per carry
6. Cedric Houston (2001-04), 2,634, 5.4 yards per carry
7. Jay Graham (1993-96), 2,609 4.8 yards per carry
8. Jalen Hurd (2014-), 2,594, 4.6 yards per carry
After calling 3 UT games Gary Danielson on Alvin Kamara: “In my mind, the top back in the league right now. Name anybody. I’ll take Kamara.”
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) October 12, 2016