While John Kelly is the man at tailback for Tennessee, the Vols need a few underclassmen running backs to provide support for their gregarious leader this fall, too.
A trio of newcomers have arrived on campus eager to earn that role, with freshmen Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan and Trey Coleman all battling sophomore Carlin Fils-Aime for the backup job.
“They’re little pit bulls right now,” Kelly said. “They’re just holding the chains back, trying to make sure they don’t bite everybody. You’d rather have them bite then tell them ‘sic ’em.’ But these freshmen running backs, they’re physical right now, definitely a lot more physical than the running backs we’ve had in the past.”
Chandler, a star at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, was one of Tennessee’s ballyhooed commits in its 2017 class. The U.S. Army All-American has already showcased his vision and explosiveness early in fall camp, impressing teammates and coaches alike.
“Ty, man, he’s going to be good,” Kelly said. “He’s going to be good. He’s a work in progress, definitely, just learning the offense, learning how everything supposed to be done the Tennessee way … but he’s going to be a good one.”
In addition to Chandler, Jordan, a 5-foot-11, 196-pound late addition to the class, has also turned heads during the first week of training camp, with Kelly touting the Florida native’s impressive power.
“He’s physical man,” Kelly said.
Kelly maintained constant communication with all three freshmen before they arrived on campus in June, making sure they were all ready to roll immediately once they got to Tennessee. His “big brother” attitude continued this summer during offseason workouts and 7-on-7 sessions.
Thus far, Kelly has been pleased with the entire running back room’s progress, saying, “It’s going a lot better than I expected. The younger guys are out there, and they’re out there ready to go. Everybody is taking a lot of coaching.
"I feel like we’ve got something special here.”
“Bump, man, he can run for a guy that was 260 (pounds) coming out of high school He can really move, and he’s really physical. He’s just a raw talent, and I think you’ll hear his name a lot down the line. He’s got great potential to be a great tight end here at Tennessee.”
— Senior Jakob Johnson on freshman tight end Latrell Bumphus
JOHNSON READY TO CONTRIBUTE
Jakob Johnson has just two career receptions — both last season — but Tennessee’s senior tight end is ready to emerge as a bigger factor in the offense in 2017.
The former linebacker turned tight end admitted he “had no hands” when he first switched to offense, but the 6-foot-3, 250-pound senior said he hasn’t dropped a ball since the spring.
“At first, when I got moved over, I had no hands. Now I feel like I have some hands,” Johnson said, chuckling.
Coach Butch Jones recently called Johnson the team’s most improved player, and during the spring, tight ends coach and offensive coordinator Larry Scott raved about Johnson’s potential to help Tennessee’s offense this fall — both as an extra blocker and a receiver.
After an offseason full of long nights on the JUGGS machine, Johnson is ready to help the Vols in his last season on Rocky Top.
“I’ve had a quiet couple of years, but I’ve been working everyday, getting better at the things I need to improve on. I think it’s finally paying off,” he said.
“It took some time. … The first step is believing in yourself that you can do it. Then you’ve just got to go out there and do it.”