Tennessee wide receivers coach Darin Hinshaw and running backs coach Jay Graham are challenging their position players to play harder, more physically and to capitalize on opportunities.
“Finishing runs and being very physical, playing a slashing style,” Graham said. “All the things we have to do as running backs, you know, everything we have to do as running backs to make the run game successful and the whole offense.”
The run game averaged staggering numbers of just 90.1 yards per game and 2.8 per carry last year, but Graham’s not focused on what happened last year. Except for maybe one thing.
“We try not to think about what happened last year or anything, but just finishing runs,” Graham said. “I think that’s important and that’s something we’ve put an emphasis on that we’ve been trying to work hard on.”
Hinshaw is hoping big plays by his wideouts will ignite the running game.
“Our emphasis is be physical, play fast and then we have to make plays,” Hinshaw said. “If we realize if we play like that every snap in the run game, we’re going to have bigger runs that are going to help our run game.”
Justin Hunter — who caught 16 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns before tearing his left ACL in the third game of last season — is good to have on the starting roster, but so are the other wideouts, as long as the offense is successful.
“Any time you have a guy like Justin and he’s there, it’s nice,” Hinshaw said. “I don’t think that when you break it down that the mistiming throws, the situations where we could’ve ran our routes a little bit better. If we work on those, the passing game’s going to be fine. So I don’t think it has anything to do with Justin Hunter, it has to do with us doing our job every single snap and executing the offense.”
Someone who has been doing his job is Da’Rick Rogers. Hinshaw said the All-SEC wide receiver may not have been getting as many passes, but the wideout wouldn’t let up.
“Well you know that’s the thing, we don’t go in there and go, ‘Well, we’re gonna work and get the ball to him’ or this,” Hinshaw said. “It also teaches you a lesson that sometimes in the game, it may be three quarters and you haven’t caught a ball and it’s just because the coverages and the different situations that are happening ... the ball doesn’t come to you. Well keep playing, get ready for that opportunity. In the fourth quarter you may have to catch six balls to win the game. And now the balls are going to come to you. And I was really proud of how he practiced and how he worked hard throughout the scrimmage.”
The UT coaches may have new emphasis for the upcoming season, but it’s nothing new for the players who are still in the early stages of spring.
“I just think they’re trying to figure things out right now,” Graham said about the running backs. “We’re going fast and trying to get some things done especially when we go to individuals and stuff like that. I think the guys are doing well.”
One of the “guys,” Rajion Neal, ran for 100 yards on 15 carries in the first scrimmage last Friday. Graham wouldn’t deny it being a good day in the ground game, but the UT running backs coach is trying to build the running game one run at a time.
“I think it’s good,” the former Tennessee running back said. “I think he had some good runs, but we don’t put much into that. This is the first carry, managing every run. And we’re looking at every run and going, ‘OK, what could we have done here better?’ Or, ‘This was good, let’s try to recreate that and do the same thing on the field.’”