After coming into 2016 loaded at the position, running back is in a very different looking spot heading into the 2017 season. It’s gone from a position of strength with Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, to a bit of a question mark. Tennessee will have junior back John Kelly return, but after that it’s a guessing game at this point.
Kelly received a bump in work after Hurd left the program in the middle of last season, showing impressive balance and tenacity between the tackles. He and Alvin Kamara actually formed one of the better duos in the SEC late last year. It’s now John Kelly’s job full time.
Kelly gained 644 yards on just 98 attempts last season. His workload is going to increase in a very big way. He’s going to be the catalyst of this offense as Tennessee ushers in a new era at quarterback after the departure of Josh Dobbs. I think Tennessee fans are excited about Kelly — rightfully so — but are worried about what is behind him.
Most everyone believes true freshman Ty Chandler will handle RB2 duties. Chandler is a four star prospect out of Montgomery Bell Academy in Brentwood. He was one of the prized possessions of Tennessee’s 2017 class. It’s hard to project playing time for freshmen, but this is one I’m pretty confident in.
I don’t think you can totally write off Carlin Fils-aime here. He’s the next logical guy in line, but only checks in at 5-11, 175 pounds. Chandler is a little bigger and will probably weight in around 200 pounds. Both of these guys should see work, but it’ll be interesting to see how quickly the staff gains trust in Chandler. You may see Fils-aime get more work early on with Chandler coming on later.
After these three, it’s anyone’s guess. There’s a heap of names that Tennessee is hoping they don’t have to count on at any point in time. Taeler Dowdy got the first work behind Fils-aime in the Orange and White game and would be my guess to land the 4th running back role.
Overall, there’s some uncertainly at this spot, but there’s at least two really talented guys on the depth chart. Tennessee doesn’t have the numbers here and will be sweating an injury all season long, but the position is in good hands with John Kelly at the top. Butch Jones and Larry Scott just need a little bit of luck here. If Kelly happens to go down, Tennessee might be in big trouble.