As the Orange & White Game approaches next weekend, there's always that list of newcomers we're most eager to see. There are several names out there drawing the attention of Vol nation, but among message board chatter and sound bites and despite a thigh bruise in camp, Alvin Kamara will head into next Saturday as the clubhouse leader in preseason hype. We'll have to wait to August to see if Kahlil McKenzie can chase him down by the season opener.
The best news about Kamara is that he doesn't have to be our most optimistic projections of him right away, something that's true for most of Tennessee's newcomers representing Butch Jones' second elite class. Kamara doesn't have to be the answer at running back thanks to sophomore Jalen Hurd, another highly-touted recruit who turned in 899 yards last fall. Instead, the Vols have the makings of one of their most dynamic one-two punches in a long time.
These days even teams that don't have a Hurd/Kamara-esque combo in the backfield are splitting carries among several players. In the last seven years only eight SEC backs have averaged 20+ carries per game, and only one of them (Montario Hardesty, 21.6) played for Tennessee. Quarterbacks are running more throughout the SEC, and that part has shown up in some strange ways for the Vols statistically: in 2011 with the decidedly non-mobile trio of Bray, Simms, and Worley at the helm, Tauren Poole ran 15.5 times per game, and that was third most in the league.
Last year Hurd got 190 carries, representing 66% of the meaningful carries for Vol RBs (with apologies to the work of Justus Pickett, Deanthonie Summerhill, and Derrell Scott). Marlin Lane added 86 and Devrin Young 10, missing most of the year with broken ribs. The year before Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane split carries at about a 70/30 clip.
We've mentioned this before, but when Butch Jones had a player he liked at Cincinnati they rode him all day: Isaiah Pead had 18.2 carries per game in 2011, representing 85.5% of the meaningful RB carries for the Bearcats. But last year no SEC team came close to approaching anything like that percentage.
Here are the top RBs for each SEC team last season, and the percentage of meaningful carries they got among RBs:
- Alabama: T.J. Yeldon 48.5%, Derrick Henry 43%
- Arkansas: Jonathan Williams 44.7%, Alex Collins 43.3%
- Auburn: Cameron Artis-Payne 74.6%, Corey Grant 14.7%
- Florida: Matt Jones 50.6%, Kelvin Taylor 35.3%
- Georgia: Nick Chubb 47.5%, Todd Gurley 26.6%
- Kentucky: Four backs getting between 21-26%
- LSU: Leonard Fournette 41.2%, Terrence Magee 24.7%
- Mississippi: Jaylen Walton 40.6%, two others between 20-25%
- Mississippi State: Josh Robinson 59.1%, three others between 12-15%
- Missouri: Russell Hansbrough 50.1%, Marcus Murphy 43.2%
- South Carolina: Mike Davis 56.8%, Brandon Wilds 30.2%
- Tennessee: Jalen Hurd 66.4%, Marlin Lane 30.0%
- Texas A&M: Tra Carson 48.6%, two others between 28-30%
- Vanderbilt: Ralph Webb 71.1%, Dallas Rivers 20.4%
- Average SEC Lead Back: 51.8% of the RB carries